I couldn't resist having a peek to see how self-styled 'liberal unionist' Northern Ireland blogger Chekov is reacting to the news that the Tories have comprehensively reneged on their promise not to enter into any sectarian deals with the DUP, by caving in to their UUP partners' wishes to step aside in favour of a joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Perhaps predictably, Chekov merely goes through the motions of expressing his disappointment, before emphasising at considerable length the supposed up-sides of the Tory sell-out. Rodney Connor, we are assured, is a "promising candidate" with "impressive cross-community credentials" (which, if they exist, are surely about to be somewhat tarnished by standing on such a blatantly sectarian ticket), and a victory for him will ensure the constituency is "represented by a Conservative and Unionist MP".
The latter point is particularly disingenuous. There can be no dispute that Connor is not standing as a Tory, and although he has pledged to accept the Conservative whip if elected, there is a subtle distinction between doing that and being a full member of the Conservative parliamentary party (which is what any of the proper 'Conservative and Unionist' candidates will be if successful). In some circumstances that distinction might be a technicality, but not when the prospective MP is pledging to regard the whip as non-binding on "matters concerning Northern Ireland". A part-time affiliation to a party is as meaningless a concept as a part-time pregnancy - so, unless Connor is cynically misleading the electorate about his intentions, he simply isn't going to be a Tory MP.
The main point here is that this decision makes a mockery of Conservative claims that their entry (or vastly stepped-up involvement in) Northern Ireland elections was intended to promote a new non-sectarian politics. As ever, actions speak louder than rhetoric, and when it really came down to it, the opportunity to replace a Sinn Féin MP with a unionist - any unionist - was more important to them than offering the electorate of Fermanagh and South Tyrone a non-sectarian alternative. It also means, incidentally, that the Tories have abandoned their pledge to stand in every single constituency in the United Kingdom. They were already in technical breach of that due to John Bercow nominally not standing as a Tory in Buckingham. However, that was unavoidable due to convention, this one certainly isn't - and thus the Tories have turned their back on the chance to crow about being the only 'national' party. It also means that if the broadcasters follow Liam Byrne's strictures that participation in the Prime Ministerial (sic) Debates is only appropriate for those parties standing in "every single seat", it won't just be Alex Salmond, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown watching them from the sidelines. It'll be David Cameron as well. But never fear - ninety minutes of silence would probably be considerably more elucidating than what's currently planned.
In other campaign news, it appears that David Cameron's "modern, compassionate Conservative party" wants to get back to the good old Victorian values of encouraging us to marry for monetary gain rather than love. But as Vince Cable has pointed out, it'll probably take more than £3 a week to pull off that particular trick. What say they chuck in some free carpets? Or some air-miles. And I've always fancied a wok...
Interesting to read that Gary McKinnon's mother is planning to stand as an independent against Jack Straw. It's a timely reminder to me that, while I think on balance a Labour government would be the lesser of two evils, there are some specific points on which that wouldn't be the case. McKinnon's future probably hangs, at the very least, on Labour not emerging from this election as the sole party of government. But then again, would the Tories once in office simply revert to their slavishly pro-American instincts, and pretend there's nothing they can do? I wouldn't exactly faint with amazement if they did.