Page last updated at 19:44 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Birth of a party or a marriage?

Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
BBC NI Politics Show

Lady Sylvia Hermon
Lady Sylvia Hermon's position on the new arrangement is not known

Many people, and I'm guilty too, have wrongly characterised the link between the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives as a marriage.

In fact, it's a birth.

I know this because of the language being used.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey is "delighted". Conservative Leader David Cameron is "delighted". Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson is "delighted".

That's according to a press release that confirmed David Cameron's attendance at this weekend's UUP conference.

It read like a notice from the Births, Marriages and Deaths section of The Times with the delighted triumvirate already cooing and aah-ing over the newborn.

But this is a very unconventional little political nipper - it is the 21st century after all.

Election time

For a start, it doesn't have a name. The Tory leader calls it "a new political force", but that's more of a description than a name.

The voters need something to put their tick beside come election time.

Is it "Conservative Unionist", or "Unionist Conservative", or something longer and more double-barrelled such as "Ulster Unionist and Conservative Coalition"?

You can imagine the potential arguments on this one. But it's a legal requirement that this baby gets properly registered and they can't keep on calling it "new political force".

There are other tricky issues: big ones such as committing the "new political force" to fight every Westminster seat, and taking the Tory whip at Westminster.

And we still don't know how the Ulster Unionist's sole MP - Lady Sylvia Hermon - feels about all of this, although we've had a few clues to suggest she, for one, is not "delighted".

That's why this is clearly not a political marriage.

No vows of union have been exchanged in front of witnesses. And yet we have a child.

It's all very unconservative, even for David Cameron.

In a speech last year he offered the fact that "one in two co-habiting parents split up before their child's fifth birthday, compared to one in twelve married parents."

A union that may not last the lifetime of a parliament? That's the danger. Both sides know it.

But there are enough commitment-phobes in the UUP and Conservative Party to leave the trip up the aisle some way off.

On The Politics Show this Sunday I'll be speaking to David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey.

We'll also have live coverage of the Ulster Unionist conference on BBC 2 on Saturday beginning at 12.45pm.

See you then,


PS - The UUP conference is in the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. It coincides with a wedding - not just reception, but ceremony too. With all the elements of situational comedy and farce in place, let's just hope party managers and hotel staff know what they're doing.

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