Friday, 26 March 2010
DUP: King-makers in North Down
Following months of speculation surrounding her future, the current MP for North Down Lady Silvia Hermon (above) has finally resigned as a member of Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). It was widely known that Lady Hermon had been deeply unhappy with her party’s official electoral alliance with the UK Conservative Party. The UUP and tories electorally aligned last year under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionist New Force (UCUNF) banner. Immediately after confirmation of her resignation Lady Hermon announced that she will now contest the North Down constituency as an independent unionist candidate in the forthcoming UK Parliamentary election.
Traditionally a unionist seat, North Down now finds itself an interesting political battleground between the internal fractures within Unionism - with media focus now on whether Lady Hermon can beat her old party and win the seat as an independent. I personally admire her ideological stand in opposing the UUP-Conservative alliance - but I do not fancy her chances.
But ultimately the interesting point in all this is that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has yet to nominate a candidate or confirm their intention to contest the North Down constituency in the forthcoming election. Although the DUP having not declared a candidate for the seat as of yet, I believe this to be a tactical ploy. You can bet that the DUP have been watching every development in North Down very closely as the Lady Hermon debacle has unravelled over the last number of months.
If the DUP decide to put forward a candidate the split in the previous UUP vote, between Lady Hermon supporters and the UUP party loyalists, will be enough to allow the DUP victory. If the DUP do not contest the election I suspect that the UUP will win comfortably. The UUP know this and so do the DUP. Media sources are claiming that the DUP have not put forward a candidate in order to allow Lady Hermon a free-run at the UUP, but I do not see that as the case.
I believe the issue of whether the DUP will contest the North Down seat is now a negotiation tool in the ongoing DUP and UUP narrative over “Unionist Unity”. Will the DUP trade a DUP no-show in North Down for a UUP no-show in Fermanagh South Tyrone? And vice-versa? There is much at stake in North Down for the UUP, including the future of UCUNF and even the future of the UUP itself. North Down, the only seat that they held in the current parliament, could be the UUP's Alamo and therefore they will be prepared to use any means necessary to retain it. At all costs. So it is very possible that they will be prepared to explore such "diplomatic" avenues.
I suspect some high-politics will be at play now over the next week or two between the UUP and DUP. If the UUP lose the North Down seat and do not gain another then their alliance with the Conservatives will be virtually in tatters and defunct and they will be left with no MP. It will be a devastating blow to the party. The major question is how far are the UUP are willing to go in order to prevent this from happening?