Ulster Unionists defend talks blog

Fascinating political progress at the Northern Ireland talks being held just now at St Andrew’s… although not necessarily on the Northern Ireland situation. Basically, the party is ‘blogging’ the peace talks – and they’ve been told off for breaking the ‘spirit of confidentiality’ of the talks. Quoted by the BBC, party spokesman Alex Benjamin says, with some merit:

These summits cost taxpayers, and this one in particular up to about £500,000. We thought it was time that people should have a chance to see what is actually happening inside. In reality, there’s a lot of time spent sitting around, a lot of time spent having coffee or watching television, so it’s not quite the perception that people think it is.

Assuming they continue to apply some common-sense discretion (at least until the recriminations start), this is a remarkably forward-thinking move by a typically more conservative party. A look behind the scenes, no matter how mundane, will certainly help build voter engagement.
The UUP is a party in serious decline, with a need to refresh its image (and its membership). Its rival on the pro-London side, Ian Paisley’s DUP, has fresher faces in its front-bench team (apart from the Big Man of course), and has generally done a better job online, too.