So Lady Sylvia Hermon has announced her departure from the UUP and will fight North Down as an Independent (with or without the backing of the local DUP, but that's another post). This has arguably been the worst kept political secret in Northern Ireland politics for quite a while now and has been inevitable for approximately a year. Lady Hermon's views on the UUP's link with the Conservatives are well known and do not require further rehearsal here. I for one regret her decision greatly. We obviously didn't see eye to eye on this issue (or indeed on a few others) but I always liked and admired Lady Hermon nonetheless. Her reputation as a diligent constituency MP was second to none, and there is little I can do or say other than to echo Sir Reg Empey in thanking Lady Hermon for her contribution to Ulster Unionism in difficult times and in often crippling personal circumstances. I may not wish her well politically, but personally, she has nothing but my good wishes for the future.
The UCUNF candidate in that constituency is, of course, Ian Parsley, former Alliance Party European candidate and Deputy Mayor of North Down. I was very pleased to see Ian's move from the Alliance Party to UCUNF last September; as a young and articulate politician still in his first term as a councillor, and with several years experience in public relations and provincewide campaigning behind him, he is exactly the sort of politician Unionism needs (I don't think it's any great secret to say that Unionism's media image and PR skills are not what they could be). I know from personal experience that the interests of North Down and its constituents have no rival in his political life, and while launching a fight against such a demonstrably popular incumbent as Sylvia Hermon won't be a walk in the park, I'm confident that if anyone can do it, and win it, it's Ian.