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UUP must get back to the grassroots

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

If the election-battered Ulster Unionists lurch to the Right to combat Paisley, they'll only fall off the political spectrum.

Talk of going into opposition at Stormont, or re-grouping as a radical Right-wing party is plain daft.

Assembly seats will not be clinched holding debates in party rooms at Parliament Buildings about how to suck up to the Catholic unionist tradition, or develop a base among migrant workers.

Real power will only return to the UUP when its MLAs and councillors implement constituency policies which help people at the grassroots.

The UUP still has to address its core problem – how to win back the 100,000 Protestant unionist voters who abstained in March's Assembly poll.

Trimble's failure to shift to the Right cost him his leadership. If his successor Empey jumps to the Right too soon, the party will implode.

The unionist and loyalist communities want peace, progress and prosperity – they won't have any truck with unionism's second squad if it carries on snipping at the DUP.

And its no use waiting for the dissident anti-Paisleyites to oppose the DUP/Sinn Féin power-sharing Executive.

They lack a dynamic leader, and unless Independent MEP Jim Allister fronts it, then the dissident United Unionist Coalition Party will crash and burn like Bob McCartney's UK Unionists in March.

In spite of rumblings First Minister Paisley faces a coup in a few weeks time in his Free Presbyterian Church, most of the Protestant electorate will give the Paisley/McGuinness roadshow more than a fighting chance.

If prime minister Gordon Brown calls a snap election within the next year, the DUP will again sweep the boards in unionist constituencies.

Why? Because the Paisley camp is making the Assembly work.

If the Assembly continues to tick over smoothly, former disillusioned UUP voters may well return to the polling booths.

But it will only be to reinforce the DUP's mandate of power-sharing.

Why vote for the outdated UUP or the Ulster Says No dissidents if the DUP is delivering stable government?

The UUP must wait until some point before the next Stormont poll in 2011 when the DUP's socialist wing will pull in the opposite direction to the party's traditional religious fundamentalist powerbase.

Without an Ian Paisley to maintain party unity, the DUP will inevitably split.

Then the UUP should bid for power and move to the Right.

If this strategy flops, the UUP can only merge with the DUP, and be known simply as The Unionist Party.

August 16, 2007

This article appeared in the August 13, 2007 edition of the Irish Daily Star.