This article engages with the perennial matter of the relationship between ideas and interests in British party politics, in particular that relationship within Conservative and Unionist politics. After a preliminary consideration of the contemporary understanding of ideology as complex and fluid rather than fixed and settled, the article examines a way of capturing paradoxical aspects of ideological thinking—that it is self-chosen or the result of a changing perspective and yet also apparently natural or in Conservative terms, ‘common sense’. It does so by exploring the intellectual lineage of ‘elective affinity’ and assesses its value for understanding how political identities not only endure but also how those identities change. An attempt is made to give some substance to that understanding by viewing through that lens of elective affinity the association between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists in its historical, ideological and institutional contexts.
- Elective affinity
- Northern Ireland