Anyone remember UCUNF? An electoral pact reuniting the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties in 2009 for the European Parliament election. Jim Nicholson was elected an MEP under this banner of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists — New Force. Although he is a member of the ECR group, his personal website now lists him as a UUP member, following the demise of the arrangement in June 2012. The UCUNF banner was also used in the Westminster general election in 2010, but the alliance failed to deliver even one MP.
Reg Empey resigned as UUP leader and is now on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords along with a predecessor, David Trimble. Sir Reg was replaced by Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott, who stood down in 2012. The UUP elected former UTV presenter Mike Nesbitt as leader. He has had a difficult job to keep the party together. An ongoing row with Basil McCrea that resulted in the Lagan Valley MLA being ticked off after an internal disciplinary hearing.
Then there was the loss of moderate unionist David McClarty, who was deselected by the party for the Assembly election in May 2011. David McNarry resigned from the party in January 2012 and now sits in the Assembly as a member of UKIP. Tonight comes the news that South Down MLA John McCallister has resigned from the UUP and will sit as an independent unionist. He told the party leader:
“Your determination to act in concert with the DUP – over parades, flags and Forum – has significantly contributed to forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches”.
Mr McCallister made a very interesting speech last month to a heritage group across the border in Killanny, Co.Louth (near Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan) in which he hit out at plans for a unionist forum to deal with the flags issue. He described it as a “cul-de-sac” for unionism.
At the same time as this leakage from the Ulster Unionist Assembly mainstream, the UUP leader is talking to the DUP leader Peter Robinson, first of all in the context of the Forum and now in a move towards electoral unity in a constituency west of the Bann. The two leaders announced their selection of a joint unionist candidate for the Mid-Ulster bye-election. This is the Westminster “seat” held, but not taken up by, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister. The man who has the backing of Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt is Nigel Lutton, whose father, a 39 year-old RUC Reservist, was shot dead by the IRA in 1979.
Francie Molloy has been chosen by Sinn Féin to contest the election. I look forward to reading some of the analysis in the morning about the implications of the latest developments within unionist politics.