For me, the silver lining of this Tory cloud has been the complete rejection of the Conservative Party in the six counties, manifested in the dismal performance of the Ulster Unionists. However, this rejection has been entirely ignored by the new coalition government in Westminster since they have sent us Owen Paterson MP as Secretary of State. Not just a member of the Conservative Party, but a real traditional Tory, ultra right-wing. The hope of a Lib Dem Secretary of State was by no means unfeasible – Scotland’s new Secretary of State is Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander. The problem I have with a Conservative Sec. Of State is that from the outset their involvement in UCUNF discards any possibility for impartiality. Perhaps you may consider it unnecessary for the incumbent to be impartial, which may be true for other regions, but our situation is relatively unique. How successful would Mo Mowlam really have been had she been involved with a political party in which one of their main policies was Unionism? Her impartiality allowed her to bring together all aspects of our political scene to create the peace deal. However, now that this ultra-Tory has been dispatched to the North, along with his fellow Tory Minister of State Hugo Swire, let us find out just who this man is and what his political beliefs are.
For anyone not aware: Owen Paterson was Shadow Sec. Of State since July 2007 while the Conservatives were in opposition, so he is no stranger to Ireland or Irish politics. During this time, his support for unionism was quite clear. In fact, he was one of the main proponents of the Conservative/UUP link and divided time during the recent election between campaigning here for Ulster Unionist candidates and campaigning for himself in his own constituency in Britain. He was involved in the secret meeting over the, ultimately unsuccessful, sectarian pact to oust Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The bias in favour of UUP which we can expect to be exercised by Paterson can be best demonstrated by the example of his attitude towards Lady Sylvia Hermon during the devolution of Policing and Justice powers debates – she had asked him what efforts David Cameron was making to encourage the UUP to support the deal but Paterson’s response was that she ought ask her own party leader with who the Conservatives are linked. Her opposition to the link-up was already made clear and his attitude only reiterated the rebuke that she received from party leader Reg Empy and Ulster Unionist candidate Jim Nicholson during the 2009 European Parliament election campaign. Clearly, unionism will form a core aspect of this man’s politics.
One huge difference between Paterson and his Scottish counter-part is that while Alexander is a great proponent of the EU having previously been media chief for the now defunct pro-European pressure group Britain in Europe, Paterson is his polar opposite. A staunch Eurosceptic, he has always voted strongly against pro-European legislation except in those few cases where he was absent. I won’t list them here but the following link gives a breakdown of those votes.
Yep, our boy is a massive Thatcher advocate. He joined Thatcherite groups within the Conservative party including No Turning Back, and Conservative Way Forward. Conservative Way Forward’s tagline reads ‘keep the spirit of 1979 alive’. I wonder how well that would go down with some people here! Paterson supports right wing policies of low tax, low regulation – Enron would have loved him I think.
He is also involved with the Cornerstone Group, another group within the Conservative Party representing the most right wing aspect of the party. The most worrying aspect of this organisation is their support for a unitary state meaning that not only do they oppose the authority of the EU, but are also opposed to devolution. I advise everyone to go and look at their website because it is very worrying – their emphasis on Christian values within politics, the unitary British state and ‘family values’, they remind me a lot of the tea parties in the United States. In fact, with the motto Faith, Flag, and Family they might as well have been the brainchild of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin! They state that they stand for the Monarchy, and one can assume they therefore stand for the unelected House of Lords (Lords of course, because they’re better than you). Indeed, Paterson himself has voted very strongly against the removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords.
However, I wonder how this group feels now that Paterson has recently stated "I'm very keen that we publish a paper on how to devolve corporation tax to the devolved institutions". Moreover, if the statement in the following link is to be accepted then his “consistent support” for the devolution of Policing and Justice also contradicts the position of Cornerstone Group. I certainly hope this doesn’t provide for a politician putting career before principle.
Again, in another statement on the 13th of February 2010 Paterson again declared that “we [Conservatives] fully support the institutions established in Northern Ireland over the past decade”. I wonder how much “we” really refers to Conservatives and how much it refers to the Conservative leadership or to what the Conservatives needed to say to maintain their link with the UUP. He continues to explain that while he supports the current form of mandatory power-sharing, he envisages a time when the Assembly would have the “normal” form of government and opposition. So therefore, his vision encompasses devolution to last long-term, even permanently. Again, does this not contradict the policies of the Cornerstone Group?
However, Paterson does adhere to Cornerstone’s attitude towards Christian or ‘family’ values. Paterson voted against Civil Partnership in 2004 and has never voted for any legislation which promotes gay rights. He has voted in opposition to homosexual couples adopting, which in my opinion goes against family values since there are many children out there yearning for the family that a homosexual couple could provide. He also slots in well to the stereotypical Tory model voting against the hunting ban and smoking ban.
However, his voting record has not been entirely as predictable as one would expect of a member of the most right wing contingent of the Conservative Party as he has generally voted in favour of tackling climate change, in stark contrast to their American counter-parts like the global warming denier Glenn Beck. If you want to check Paterson’s voting record, or the voting record of any of your MPs, use this link:
Ultimately I’m not happy with the Tories once again wielding power in Ireland, and for Paterson to be such a Thatcherite/ultra-Tory, it’s rather unnerving. Then again, with the devolution of Policing and Justice, his responsibilities will be limited. If he gets the Saville Report published as soon as possible, and holds the unionists to the three agreements, then he’ll have little opportunity to justify my anxiety. Touch wood. Meh, rant over.