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Good-bye Sir Reg, hello whooooooooooo?

Martina Purdy Martina Purdy | 10:53 UK time, Friday, 6 August 2010

With Reg Empey now set to formally resign as UUP leader, and a contest pencilled in for September 24th, the rumour mill is going into over-drive about who might stand. (Update at 1.45pm. Latest from UUP is that the 22nd of September is now more likely.)

And in the interests of killing off wild speculation, I've been on the phone to some of the names being bandied about.

First of all, the facts. So far only Tom Elliott, the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA, has declared. Basil McCrea, MLA for Lagan Valley, is expected to enter the race in the next few weeks. It's thought nominations close on September 3rd.

These two are quite a contrast for members. Mr Elliott hails from the Orange, traditional wing of the UUP while is Mr McCrea would be viewed as a liberal moderniser.

Mr Elliott is considered to be the favourite but no one is quite sure how Mr McCrea might do in a one-person one-vote contest. And even his detractors say he shouldn't be under-estimated.

There are thought to be around 2,000 members eligible to vote, but expect a row over voting. There are whispers that questions are being asked about membership forms. How many of these UUP members have actually filled in forms? Or is it that they have simply given a donation and been put down as members? Is a membership card that carries no picture enough to get you a ballot?

It's also been mentioned to me that there is much hand-wringing going on about what might happen if either Mr McCrea or Mr Elliott get the leadership. Will it split the party. Can either of these MLas truly unite the party? Can anybody? The DUP have issued a statement saying that Sir Reg's departure is an opportunity for unionist unity.

Now to the speculation about other candidates. Firstly, Jim Nicholson's name has been mentioned Has he been approached? "First I have heard of it," the UUP MEP told me this morning. He quickly added that he is on record as saying that he does not believe it is possible to lead the party from Europe.

Secondly, Alan McFarland, the North Down MLA who quit the UUP earlier this year over the link-up with the Conservatives. Could Mr McFarland come back and then seize the leadership? I spoke to him too. He has no interest in returning to the UUP never mind seeking to lead it.

Thirdly, Tim Lemon, the member who stood against David Campbell for chairmanship of the party. I haven't spoken him, but it is understood from one-source that he is not intending to stand.

So there you have it.

And if that's not enough for the UUP to worry about, MLAs are facing selection contests in the coming weeks.


  • 1. At 12:58pm on 06 Aug 2010, ManOfPie wrote:

    Well, it's obvious this is Elliot Vs McCrea.

    I think the UUP have some real thinking to do. They're desperate to modernise judging by the recent ill-fated Conservative link-up (ironic in itself).

    If I was a UUP member, I'd set aside my personal preference of the two potential leaders and try to estimate which one had the potential to earn the party some real voting power. They should do an informal poll of some kind around the grass-roots UUP strongholds, find out who the voters prefer. For example, if I was from the "orange" background, but I thought that Elliot was out of step from the UUP voters, I'd back McCrea simply because it is best for the party. Vice versa if I was from liberal mentality and Elliot was on the same wavelength as the majority voters.

    The fact is, there are a lot of disaffected people from unionist backgrounds who see right through the DUP - all that fiery rhetoric, only to sell-out at the chance of getting one of their own First Minister. Offering Elliot to such unionists would result in a poor turn out and ultimately Sinn Fein & thus nationalists getting the most votes. The sad state of affairs for unionists would be bitter in-fighting between hardline Elliot and hardline DUP. Essentially a fight over who is more orange and backward, because, such traits obviously translate to the love for the "union".

    Alternatively, if McCrea wins the leadership they at least have a chance of getting back Silvia Hermon, and thus representation in the commons.

    The TUV and hardline DUP demonstrated that their politics is costing unionists votes judging by Robinson's and Alliser's dismal performances at the last ellection. Hermon and Long demonstrated that modern, non-tribal politics actually wins elections. If the UUP can tap into those ideas, they have a genuine chance to wrench back power from the DUP and implement their own policies instead of being there to "make up the numbers", especially after shaking off the baggage of the conservative alliance.

    Love, PieMan

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  • 2. At 1:44pm on 06 Aug 2010, The_Oncoming_Storm wrote:

    Moshe Dayan once remarked "Nothing divides the Arabs more than the idea of Arab Unity!" So it is with Unionism, everyone is in favour of unity as you as it's on their terms and they get to be the top dog. The DUP were quite happy to play the role of splitters for almost 40 years and in the process hold Unionism back, then as soon as they became the top dog they did the thing that they had castigated O'Neill, Faulkner and Trimble for! And then they wonder why so many Unionists are disengaged with politics!

    The UUP should be eating the DUP alive ATM, the shambles at Stormont should be giving them plenty of ammunition but they seem incapable of capitalizing. There is a wider question about whether there is any need for 2 large Unionist parties, are there enough ideological differences between the UUP and the DUP to justify their separate existences? With SF and the SDLP there clearly is but on the Unionist side? At least the Tory alliance would have provided a clear distinction between the two parties, it's failure was largely due to Empey faffing about over candidate selection in the hope that he could win Hermon over and resulting in the party having just a matter of weeks to throw an election campaign together and also agreeing to the Hatfield House talks and the prospect of a DUP pact which turned off the very people they were trying to attract! The problem though is any attempt at an alliance is based primarily on shoring up the base and this means appealling to the lowest common denominator which again in turn alienates the moderates and the disengaged.

    If there is a Unionist pact next year just watch the Alliance vote soar!

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  • 3. At 6:30pm on 06 Aug 2010, redflyfisher wrote:

    The Ulster Unionists sealed their fate with a selfish and arrogant attitude towards the pact with their rich relatives,the Conservatives. As it turned out the Tories had to form a government with the Lib Dems. No one, apart from the New Labour wannabees, is pulling their hair out, indeed most rate the coalition highly and are prepared to give it a chance. Now the UU have no influential friends and are likely to be furher split with the Elliott/McCrea tug of war. How the mighty have fallen.

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  • 4. At 12:47pm on 07 Aug 2010, hoboroad wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 12:53pm on 07 Aug 2010, hoboroad wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 2:45pm on 07 Aug 2010, DisgustedinDERRY wrote:

    3. redflyfisher
    "How the mighty have fallen"

    How the once mighty have fallen. And if discrimination is mighty to you, you have a warped mind!!!

    I hope to see the entire pose of unionism tripping over themselves, to condemn the Brian Robinson Band, dedicated to a unionist terrorist who murdered Patrick McKenna on the Crumlin road in 1989, from trampling over the spot where he was murdered, all in the name of Protestant culture on the 12th of August!!!

    I won't hold my breath mind you!!!

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  • 7. At 11:49am on 08 Aug 2010, 7pillars wrote:

    An interesting time for the new leader as the MLA selection process takes place and the 'new' ex Westminster candidates put themselves up for selection - for example will Lesley Macaulay get the nod in East Londonderry, will Harry Hamilton and/or Joanne Dobson get the nod in Upper Bann, will Mike Nesbitt get the nod in Strangford etc. etc. The new leader will have to demonstrate early on whether he wants to stick to the old guard or move onto the next generation and impose candidates where selections aren't to his liking.

    Good luck to him, the Tory money is gone and one wrong step and the other parties are waiting to seize the iniative. No matter who it is the future is not looking very promising.

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  • 8. At 08:52am on 09 Aug 2010, notconned wrote:

    alex kane would make a sensible leader for the u.u.p
    he would bring them into line,maybe,if that would be possible in the u.u.p

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  • 9. At 11:32am on 09 Aug 2010, randomjoe wrote:

    Iv heard Alex Kanes name mentioned before , i like the guy but he wont win short of a miricle . It seems to me to be a 2 horse race , New ideas and new thinking with McCrea or Safe and steady with Elliott . I really hope the UUP take a chance on something better with McCrea . Both Men are good MLAs but Basil seems to have the more media friendly personality and Charisma to win back more moderate voters. Elliot would be viewed as DUP lite.

    The Unionist vote has fallen by more than 100,000 since 1998 , more so in the east. Basil has the capability to inspire new voters and win old voters back . I for 1 really hope the party takes a chance on Mcrea , weve played it safe for the past 6 years and thats got us nowhere.

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  • 10. At 1:37pm on 10 Aug 2010, DC wrote:

    Paula Bradshaw?

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  • 11. At 09:24am on 26 Aug 2010, William wrote:

    Basil will finally do what others have been trying to do for years!!...kill off the Ulster Unionist Party!! Personality?.. Charisma?.. Catch yourself on!! Unionist co-operation is a MUST if the party is serious about building itself up again. It is clear that the majority of unionists see co-operation as the only way of maximising the unionist vote to secure the union. Tom sees and understands this! Getting back to our grass routes is a must or the alternative offered by Basil will be to merge with the alliance party!!

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