Northern Ireland

Former Ulster Unionists in call for new party

Tom Elliott
Image caption Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has previously rejected the idea

Five former UUP members have called on the party to disband and form a new party with the Conservatives.

They say there should be a "a new centre-right, free-market, pro-union party in NI, within the auspices of the national Conservative Party".

Harry Cullen, John Lund, Bill McKendry, James McMillan and Roderick Oliver signed a letter backing the formation of a new Conservative Party in NI.

The UUP said few people would take the letter seriously.

A spokesman said: "It is a bit rich for five people who are no longer members of the Ulster Unionist Party and who are now in a grouping which has not managed to get a single councillor elected - let alone an assembly member - to call for the disbandment of the Ulster Unionist Party.

"Those who have spoken out have no electoral mandate and were so committed to the future of the Ulster Unionist Party that they chose to leave.

"Few people inside or outside the Ulster Unionist Party take them seriously, and that situation is unlikely to change."

The new party proposed by the five former members would include current members of the Conservatives and the UUP.

Their move comes after Lesley Macaulay, an Ulster Unionist assembly candidate, said a Conservative plan to disband the UUP and the Northern Ireland Conservatives and form a new political grouping was a "golden opportunity".

'Bold proposal'

Last month, Conservative Party Chairman Lord Feldman suggested that the Northern Ireland Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist party should be wound up and a new grouping formed .

Lord Feldman said the offer was a "bold proposal" and he hoped an agreement in principle could be agreed by Christmas.

However, UUP leader Tom Elliott described the proposal as "unacceptable" to the vast majority of the Ulster Unionist Party's members and voters.

The letter which has been sent to local newspapers comes from five current Conservative Party members who were previously active within the UUP.

Harry Cullen was a former chairman of the UUP's East Londonderry Association.

Roderick Oliver was the UUP's chairman in Lisburn and Bill McKendry was chairman of the UUP in Comber.

James McMillan and John Lund were both active in the Lagan Valley constituency. John Lund had previously been a member of UUP executive.

'Mixed messages'

In the letter, the five men say that the previous electoral pact involving the UUP and the Conservatives known as UCUNF failed in the general election of 2010.

The men say "we were disappointed that its campaign was blighted by organisational problems and mixed messages".

They also state that "the UUP's attempts to offer the electorate centre-right politics with a national dimension have long since stalled".

The Conservative plan is the latest attempt to revitalise the party in Northern Ireland.

Although there are no Conservative councillors in Northern Ireland, or MLAs, the party has appointed a full-time worker and has established an office in Bangor.

The plan by Lord Feldman to merge the UUP and the Northern Ireland Conservatives has been backed by party leader David Cameron and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Tories Irwin Armstrong.

It would result in the UUP and the Northern Ireland Tories being disbanded with a new party being established.

One name being suggested is the "Northern Ireland Conservative and Unionist Party".

If as expected the merger does not take place it is understood that the Conservatives will re-brand their local party and fight future elections on their own.

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