Senior conservatives remain determined to make a success of the link-up with the UUP despite Jeffrey Peel’s resignation from the joint committee and his publication of details of negotiations to Slugger O’Toole and on the Talkback Radio Show.
In stating the reasons for his resignation, yesterday, Jeffrey Peel revealed that he had reached a view that the Conservatives would be better off without the link-up with the UUP.
Last night, I met rank and file Conservatives, as well as committee members, at the monthly supper club in North Down. It is now clear that Senior Conservatives have long regarded Jeffrey Peel as a “loose canon” and “not a team player”. Rank and file members, many of whom had expressed their opposition to the link up before it was formed, were of the view that the link up should continue.
Having felt pessimmism in the extreme after Jeffrey Peel’s announcement, I accept that we have to hang on in there whilst an election plan is worked out by the remaining members of the committee.
There is no doubt that Jeffrey Peel was wrong to reveal details of internal negotiations with the UUP. His position as Vice Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives is untenable. He must have known that when he resigned from the Joint Committee. His resignation can be likened to a political suicide bomb and is an indication of the strength of his feeling about the continuation of the link-up. That “bomb” did cause damage including some temporary damage to the political opinion-forming part of my own mind.
His email to Slugger O’Toole did not mention the Orange Order issue but this did surface during his interview with the BBC. I believe this is at the heart of his difficulties with the link-up. He has always been outspoken on this issue. At the same time, the difficulties of preparing the partnership for election were not unknown to Jeffrey when he allowed himself to become appointed to the joint committee.
Conservatives knew that when the link-up was agreed, the partnership could not work unless there was a considerable newness to the joint force and a determination to deal with the reasons for previous unelectability of the UUP within the Catholic community. There was a plan there to deal with this. There were always going to be difficulties in negotiations behind the scenes. I think this has always been well understood by the senior membership of both parties.
Whilst Jeffrey Peel is no longer on the committee, it is to be hoped and expected that they will continue to weigh his viewpoint. His ghost will haunt them unless they achieve the right the formula for electoral success.
Yesterday, the First Minister, Peter Robinson, poked fun at the link-up. This is a salutary warning to the joint committee that they can not afford to “wash their dirty” linen in public. We look forward to hearing from the committee when they have agreed all and are singing from the same hymn sheet. When that happens, we will do battle with the DUP and we will have the last laugh.
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