The Ulster Unionists have ‘form’ when it comes to ‘own goals’ ie taking initiatives that backfire in the eyes of their supporters and the wider electorate. The ‘link up’ in the last Assembly with the Progressive Unionist Party – who are linked to the paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force offended supporters and potential supporters alike.
The UUP, however, appeared to have turned over a new leaf when, back in July, it was announced that it had been having secret discussions over a period of months about an electoral arrangement with the Conservative Party that would allow people to vote for what is currently the main opposition party at Westminster and the party which may well form the next UK government. The media reacted very positively and Sir Reg was praised for his strategic vision.
This week the party reverted to type with the announcement that it wanted its supporters to consider giving their second and other preferences in the European election to other unionist parties – including Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice. This went down like the proverbial lead balloon, not just with UUP supporters, but with the Conservative leadership. On one level the idea that a unionist party should ask its voters to give their second preferences to another unionist party is unremarkable but in the context of on going talks with the Conservative Party and given the nature of the TUV this meeting and the subsequent release of a joint statement and photograph was simply insane.