Both O'Neill and Slugger report on the two main unionist parties' priorities for the forthcoming year. O'Neill's analysis of the DUP shoring up core constitutional support against Jim Allister and the TUV in Euro election year is spot on.
On the other hand, O'Neill begs the question of the UUP / Conservative link-up:
"Is there in reality a sizeable unionist (with small U), presently non-voting, potential electorate who will reward the risks being taken by both Cameron and Empey with this project?"
In my view, the potential of unionsit votes, lies in 1) the young and 2) working class protestant communities. The Conservative link-up does little to satisfy these two criteria.
It is for this reason that I feel the UUP especially has missed an opportunity. They appear as one of the parties most disengaged from youth. So a focus on engaging with young potential unionist voters should be more of a priority - and developing some of the younger talent(?) within the party could help with this. A young woman (or 'God forbid', some young women, plural) would be even better.
Those living in working-class protestant communities will tell you that neither the DUP or UUP offer much on face value, the PUP is limited by its support in only one constituency and the TUV has yet to bother, or is unable to, engage on a serious scale. So who do they vote for? Well the answer is they often don't, but if they do it is probably for the DUP and maybe a few for the likes of the UUP's Fred Cobain in N Belfast.
A UUP opportunity to engage with these potential voters is arguably put in jeopardy by the Tory-boy image of Cameron's conservatism. Self-styled 'Loyalists' who have maybe voted for the DUP in the past, are now starting to feel like they have passed them by. They are asking what is the DUP delivering for us? And when was the last time a DUP MLA went into Tiger's Bay, Taughmonagh or Tullycarnet apart from the week before an election?
Lasting engagement and delivery for these communities, coupled with a real effort to increase voter registration, could dring dividends. But the UUP have chosen a different path, one that may bring a small, insignificant bounce, but which leaves them firmly in their comfort zone.