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Northern Ireland needs new brand of unionism

What will leave Northern Ireland best placed to cope with the deepening jobs crisis and heightened security alert after recent murders? Closer links between the UUP and the Conservative Party, says Johnny Andrews

The recent moves by the Ulster Unionist Party to forge formal links with the Conservative and Unionist Party show the beginnings of normal issue based politics in Northern Ireland.

The two emerging brands of unionism highlight the differences within unionism and show the UUP returning to its traditional roots as its ideals and policies converge with the Conservative and Unionist Party with which it has had close relations since the Home Rule crisis and the foundation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921.

More than ever Northern Ireland needs a new outward looking and confident brand of unionism if unionism is to survive and be credible and recognised in the rest of the Kingdom.

The recent atrocities have highlighted the urgent need for the Executive to address the issue of sectarianism and deprivation in our society.

Sectarianism remains endemic and must be addressed and marginalised if we are to live in stable society and put violence fully behind us. While as democrats we all welcome the joined up approach of the First and Deputy First Ministers in condemning the atrocities we need to see action.

Sinn Fein/DUP in government have consistently failed to address sectarianism.

In fact, the recent five month stand off at Stormont emphasised the polarisation and institutionalised sectarianism in government enshrined by DUP/Sinn Fein at St Andrews.

The UUP/Conservative link will facilitate the consolidation of a more moderate, tolerant, inclusive, outward looking, free market, pro environment, brand of unionism under one banner.

This link will strengthen and give new impetus to the centre ground and enable the UUP as a non-sectarian brand of unionism to regain its pro union vote from the left of centre Alliance party which has continually failed to make an electoral breakthrough.

The new link will enable the UUP to fulfil its historic role as reaffirmed in its new party constitution to not only maintain the union but to promote and contribute to the union right up to cabinet level.

Unionists need full time representatives in the sovereign parliament rather than the situation at present where too many of our MPs currently have multiple mandates. For too long have the people of this province been disenfranchised and unable to vote for the government of this United Kingdom.

With the economy sliding into the most severe recession in 80 years the DUP who promised to deliver in government were caught in a stand-off at Stormont leading to paralysis government under mutual vetos and side deals, unable to make the big decisions necessary on the education system,the budget and the new stadium leaving both in limbo at best and chaos at worst.

They along Sinn Fein, their partners in government remain in a comfort zone of little Ulster nationalism, polarisation, carve up politics and state intervention. On the most important constitutional issue of this parliament, iea referendum on the proposed Lisbon Treaty, a number of DUP MPs failed to turn up to vote.

It is these important issues of state along with other reserved matters, the economy and taxation on which the DUP and Sinn Fein consistently fail to represent us with their part time or non- attendance at Westminster.

The importance of the upcoming EU election must not be underestimated as some 70% of our laws are now framed in Europe.

With Jim Nicholson, a Questor of the European Parliament re-elected under the joint ticket we can ensure dedicated, full-time, committed and effective representation in Europe.

Moreover, with Jim re-elected as a Conservative and Unionist he will have unique and direct access to ministers in a future Conservative government, this is the best way to defend Northern Ireland's interests.

There is now more than ever a need for a more tolerant, pluralist, inclusive unionism that can keep its head high and be proud of its diversity and historic roots in fighting for the maintenance of the union. With an increasing threat now also from Scottish nationalism, these links will strengthen unionism and give renewed impetus and purpose to ensure it remains a credible and recognised force throughout the UK.

In line with our new objectives and allied to the Conservatives and their policies of social justice, efficient public services, financial stability and a return to sensible economics, the Conservatives and Unionists can now offer a real and progressive outward looking confident vision.

This will help maximise the vote and attract the increasing numbers of English, Scots and Welsh voters moving to the province who have difficulty in voting for the DUP's alternative anti-environmental, more theocratic, divisive and confrontational style of unionism.

Above all the UUP will be in a position of influence with any incoming Conservative government in terms of public spending, new infrastructure projects and local taxation incentives for small and medium sized businesses, which will together form the backbone to economic recovery.

Johnny Andrews is a former party officer with the Ulster Unionist Party and member of UUP/ Conservative Joint Working Party

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