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From the Ramada to the Waterfront

Mark Devenport | 16:29 UK time, Saturday, 4 December 2010

I indulged in a spot of "double jobbing" today. I started the day contributing to our live coverage of the UUP conference at the Ramada hotel in South Belfast. Then I rushed off to the Waterfront hall in the city centre. No, it wasn't for a re-run of the UUP election contest held at the Waterfront in September. Nor was I purchasing tickets for Flash Harry, who is playing the hall later this month. Instead I got into the Christmas mood with the Ulster Orchestra's annual performance of "The Snowman", an extremely enjoyable annual treat.

Flash Harry might be concentrating on the Waterfront, but he did feature in the proceedings at the Ramada, with the UUP chair David Campbell labelling him "Flash in the Pan Harry" because of his lack of durability. The leader, Tom Elliott, didn't mention any of the Westminster candidates who have quit by name. But in an ad libbed section of his speech he appeared to share Mr Campbell's sentiments, paying tribute to life long members in the hall "who haven't given up, and don't run off just because they don't get what they want on one day".

Not all UUP members were comfortable, though, with the criticism directed at their former colleagues. When I asked the moderate East Londonderry candidate Lesley Macauley about them she made it clear that "they are still friends of mine".

Although Tom Elliott is no Barack Obama, I thought his delivery and presentation had improved. That said he still has to wrestle not just with the recent resignations but also with the legacy of decline visa-vi the DUP.

As suggested in my last entry the UUP's future relationship with the Tories remains a live issue. The UUP Deputy Leader John McAllister told us on "The Conference" that the Secretary of State Owen Paterson had assured him that the Conservatives would not run candidates against the UUP in next May's Assembly elections. But that's not the message which came from local Tories on the fringes of today's conference. They are obviously champing at the bit to announce their candidates.

Conservative HQ will have to sort this one out - watch out for a fudge which might see some local Tory candidates running, albeit with pledges of non-hostility and mutual voting transfers.


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