March 26th, 2010

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North Down latest

I wrote a few months back about the possible configurations of the coming election in the Northern Ireland constituency of North Down, which until this week was represented by the only remaining MP from the Ulster Unionist Party, the former party of government under the old Stormont regime.

Well, Lady Sylvia Hermon announced her resignation from the UUP yesterday, which means that for the first time since the party was founded it does not have a single member in the House of Commons (there are handful of cross-benchers in the House of Lords who remain affiliated with the party).

I predicted in my previous post that if Lady Hermon, even running as an independent against the UUP/Conservative candidate, must be considered front-runner to retain the seat, especially if she gets the support, whether formal or informal, of parties like Alliance and the Greens. The Alliance candidate, my good friend Stephen Farry, says he is fighting on.

What I had not anticipated is the sudden swirl of rumours that the DUP, who I saw as the strongest competition to Lady Hermon, may actually decline to contest the seat against her. The DUP, now dominant in Unionism, have been running strong on 'Unionist unity' in the most recent period, challenging the UUP to agree joint candidates in the nationalist-held seats of Fermanagh-South Tyrone and South Belfast, and even hinting that they might stand aside unilaterally in the absence of a formal deal. The DUP also have recent form on not contesting elections when it doesn't suit them.

I suspect Lady Hermon must feel somewhat ambivalent at the prospect of DUP support. Her branding, after all, is as the sensible end of the Unionist spectrum, with the ability to gain votes from the entire population. I'm sure she would prefer to win by defeating the DUP candidate than with DUP support. But the choice is not hers to make.
usa

March Books 20) Dreams from my Father, by Barack Obama

This is a fascinating autobiography. The book, first published in 1995, begins with the death of Barack Obama senior, announced down a bad phone line to his son over a decade earlier; and then divides more or less into two halves: first, of the young Obama's life without his father, brought up by his mother and her parents and finding a career for himself in the deprived communities of Chicago; and then of his getting to grips with his African family heritage, in particular his father's troubled personal life and career, culminating in a long narrative of a visit to Kenya. It is an eloquent and emotional account of self-discovery, the first half being particularly acute on the problems of race in the USA, where Obama almost reluctantly becomes an insider. Obviously my main interest in the book was the author's remarkable subsequent career, but it is very much worth reading in its own right.