Ronald Reagan famously summed up his change of political allegiance in the following terms - "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the party left me". Well, all I can say is thank heavens it did - it's hard to see how an American political system comprised of two far-right parties would be any healthier than the actual current position of one far-right party and a centre-right alternative. But his choice of words could hardly be more apt for the situation the UUP member of parliament for North Down, Lady Sylvia Hermon, now finds herself in. In her time at Westminster, she has become noted for her disdain for the Conservative party, a stance which has left her in an utterly impossible position now that UUP candidates will be required to stand on a joint ticket with the Tories, and accept the Tory whip if elected. In a nutshell, if she defended her seat for her current party, she would find herself instantly transformed into a Conservative MP.
Chekov, the NI blogger I referred to in my previous post who is as zealous in promoting the new Tory-UUP link-up as he is in his irrational feelings towards the SNP, has repeatedly been utterly scathing about Lady Hermon's apparent plans to stand as an independent against the Tories, which she appears to be moving towards a final decision over. His main complaint is that she hasn't given any other reason for her decision other than 'not being a Tory'. In truth, I'd have said that was an admirably succinct summary of feelings that any reasonable person ought to be able to understand and respect. Lady Hermon was elected an MP for a party that was ideologically mixed, containing self-identified social democrats who openly stated that they would opt for Labour over the Tories if they lived in mainland Britain. Of course there was a clear centre-right majority in the party, but the glue that bound the party together was unionism, not conservatism. Now, there may be many things to be said for the UUP essentially subsuming itself into another party and giving NI voters the opportunity to vote Conservative, but lambasting principled UUP politicians for simply realising that the party has left them stranded (and drawing the obvious conclusion) is rather unseemly to say the least. But then, Chekov is seemingly confused enough to feel that he as a self-described 'liberal' has found his natural home in the Tory party, so perhaps we should see his refusal to accept that 'not being a Conservative' is a good enough reason not to join the Conservative party in that (rather peculiar) context.
By all accounts, Hermon is a very popular constituency representative and would stand every chance of defeating her Tory opponent in May - which would be ironic, given that North Down is the one seat that the Tories have come even vaguely close to winning in Northern Ireland since their previous arrangement with the UUP broke down over Sunningdale in 1973.