Lady Sylvia Herman expresses doubts.


The sole Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Westminster MP Lady Sylvia Hermon finally, publicly, confirmed the widely held belief that she is unhappy with the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force (UCUNF). Following a BBC interview, the Belfast Telegraph has followed through with a series of points on which her disquiet may be founded:

• She feels she was excluded from all discussions about the possibility of a link-up between the parties, despite being their only Westminster politician.

• She was left to discover the dramatic changes in a shop where she spotted the newspaper headlines.

• She has been hauled in (thedissenter emphasis) for meetings with Tory heavy-hitters including Ken Clarke, as well as for talks with David Cameron, flanked (thedissenter emphasis) by the party’s Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Paterson, and Andrew MacKay, a former shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

To these is added her general feeling that the Conservatives have little understanding of Ulster politics. Having listened to a number of presentations by Conservatives in Northern Ireland over the past months that is something that has some resonance with thedissenter.

Print journalists use language to emphasise points or to communicate emotion. thedissenter emphasis in the final point above, suggests that meetings with Sylvia to address ‘issues’ were less of a round table and more of a telling off – serious men telling off a silly woman who should only be impressed at meeting Ken Clarke, David Cameron, Own Patterson and (er) Andrew McKay; men of such importance, she must surely have been impressed.

But why does Sylvia speak now? Perhaps it was the simple opportunity; a radio interview on expenses developed onto other topics, as they do. However, a simple answer that suggested she had had a lot on her mind recently and was still taking time to consider the issue would have stopped the new line of questioning in its tracks.

The opaque nature of all the UCUNF deliberations makes it impossible to know exactly what has happened, or is going on, in the background. For certain, Sylvia has always been an Ulster Unionist. It is a heartfelt statement when she says “If my party chooses to move to call themselves by a different name, I’m terribly sorry and terribly disappointed by that but I remain an Ulster Unionist.” Surely in discussions the emotion of her position would have been recognised – though the apparent tenor of the meetings suggests not; the Conservatives talked, but maybe they didn’t listen.

Perhaps though it was Sylvia’s legal eye that made her snap into being perpared to make her position known. It has been suggested that Sylvia may have been upset at the sight of the very Conservative (in line with UK-wide format) Jim Nicholson Conservative and Unionist election posters that expunge the Ulster Unionist connection. How much more would she be upset at the first of the Jim Nicholson election material. In the small print, to the bottom right of the SURVEY on the leaflet, is a Data Protection declaration. Here it is clear that the information being provided is for the benefit of the Conservative Party and the Conservative Party alone: because as there are still two parties as Sir Reg keeps repeating, the information cannot be passed onto a third party (UUP).

Hardly an example of an equal, sharing, partnership.

In all aspects of the UCUNF collaboration Sylvia may simply be concerned at the imbalance of the relationship between the two parties. As her emotions are in the frame, perhaps it is instinct that is telling her this deal is fundamentally wrong. Sure, the Conservative money to fund this election is very welcome to a cash strapped UUP; a lifeline. Sylvia may well be right in questioning a Conservative lifeline that is ever so loosely tied around the neck of the UUP, for now.

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