Tim Montgomerie’s ConservativeHome website reports that the Conservative & Unionist Party is setting up its own party in Northern Ireland, following the failure of its collaboration with the Ulster Unionist Party. At the last election, the Tories ran a joint ticket with the UUP under the name ‘Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force’ which fell rather flat.
In the years before the party system was as solidly formalised as it now is, Unionist MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster but today the SDLP is the only Northern Irish party which takes the whip of a British party (in its case, Labour). Gradually official Unionists found themselves increasingly challenged by upstarts, which evolved into the formal division between the Ulster Unionist Party (moderate liberal-conservative unionists) and Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (hardcore conservative unionists).
The decision to start a separate Conservative & Unionist party for Ulster is a curious one, as it can only further split the Unionist vote, already divided between the dominant DUP and the fading UUP. This is at least simpler than in the 1990s and 2000s, when the vote split between these two and smaller Unionist groupings like the UK Unionists, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party, and the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.
My favourite Unionist Party, however, was that which dominated the political scene in the Punjab from the First World War until Partition. It was primarily the instrument of the Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh gentry of the province, and counted three holders of knighthoods — Sardar Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, Sir Fazli Husain, and Rao Bahadur Sir Chhotu Ram — among its founders. Alas, with the increasing enmity between the Hindu and Muslim populations of India, its existence became unsustainable, and even the Punjab Province itself was split between Pakistan and India at independence. Sic transit gloria mundi!