I have been watching “liberal unionism” for over forty years. And playing poker almost as long……….and I know a busted flush when I see one. When the cards are dealt, there is some Hope. But it all ends in Failure.
Take the Spring of 1969. Newly elected Stormont MP for Larkfield, Basil McIvor visited our school and talked to the A Level students. Those of us studying Politics (or Economics and Political Studies as it was then) felt a kinda buzz. He was……if I recall “our” MP……the school was probably inside his constituency. It was a day like today…..crisp in early Spring…..who knows it might even have been 14th March 1969. McIvor was a “liberal” unionist, elected a month previously at the Crossroads Election.to support to Terence O’Neill.
Although we did not know it in March 1969, McIvor’s career had already peaked. Within six weeks, O’Neill had resigned as Prime Minister of Norn Iron and been replaced by James Chichester-Clark. And in August 1969, before we returned to school for that final “A” level year………..the Troubles had broken out and everything was too late anyway. McIvor worked on in the Unionist Party and within two years was Minister for Community Relations in Brian Faulkner’s Cabinet. …during Internment. Without a hint of Irony, he was a big supporter of Amnesty International. Liberal?
More honourably, McIvor was Minister for Education during the 1974 Sunningdale Power Sharing Executive. And when that collapsed McIvor dropped out of Politics and was a prominent Judge. In fairness, he will be better remembered as an advocate of Integrated Edcucation. Thats the fate of “liberal” unionists. Political Failure.
Look at other “liberal” unionists from 1969……Robert Porter (left Unionist Party and politics became a Judge), Robin Baillie (actually quite right wing but left the Unionists joined the Alliance Party…….went to the Law), Richard Ferguson (left Unionist Party and became high profile barrister……in England) and Tom Caldwell left Unionist Party, joined Alliance who dropped him, developed his Fine Arts Gallery).
In 1969, McIvor, Porter, Baillie, Ferguson and Caldwell looked like a “good hand” but ultimately became a busted flush.
Other Unionists notably Peter McLachlan in the 1970s have been lauded as “liberal” but disappeared from mainstream politics.
The 2010 Westminster Election produced a group of UUP candidates heralded as “liberal”.
Bill Mainwaring (West Belfast) is now a Conservative. Trevor Ringland (East Belfast) has left politics to be a leading figure in Platform for Change. Paula Bradshaw (South Belfast is now Mrs Parsley) left the UUP a few months later and joined the Alliance Party……she is already on the Party Executive but unlikely to progress. Husband Ian Parsley (North Down) left UUP to be a Tory but canvassed for Alliance in 2011 (he left the Party in 2009) and although likely to join the Alliance Party (again!) he has little hope of advancement. Harry Hamilton (Upper Bann) joined the Alliance Party in 2011 and was fast tracked to stand and fail in the 2011 Assembly Election.
Mainwaring, Ringland, Bradshaw, Parsley and Hamilton also looked like a decent hand. Another busted flush.
Staying within the UUP was Basil McCrea who ws perhaps heralded as the Great White Hope of the “liberal” Unionists. He was defeated for the Leadership of the UUP by Tom Elliott in 2010 and his decision to not let his name go forward (now that Elliott has resigned) and to back John McCallister signafies that McCrea has given up on his own ambitions.
“Liberal” Unionism has been the most over-rated failure in Norn Iron Politics……for which nationalists are extremely grateful.