The media was taken aback when the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists revealed that they had been in secret talks about joining forces to ‘create a new electoral force’ in Northern Ireland with a view to bringing the region into ‘normal’ UK politics.
The other political parties in Northern Ireland were equally taken aback by the announcement. The DUP did not know whether to attack their rivals or not – possibly for fear of damaging their relations with the Conservatives even further. The DUP’s decision to support the government on the vote on 42 day detention vote, Iris Robinson’s remarks about homosexuality and the need for the government to uphold ‘God’s Laws’ have hugely damaged the party’s relations with the Conservatives.
Mr Cameron in particular shocked the ‘experts’ who appear to believe that he would be very pragmatic and ‘keep in’ with the DUP in case there is a hung Parliament. Others felt that Mr Cameron might be tempted simply to seek an alliance with the UUP under which any future Ulster Unionist MP would take the Conservative whip. However, in the event, Mr Cameron staked a flag in the ground in favour of a complete merger.