Tom Elliott has announced his intention to stand for the leadership of the UUP. He is the first to declare since Reg Empey said he would stand down. Elliott announced his candidacy in the Great hall in Stormont:
“While I am proud of the Ulster Unionist Party’s long history and recognise that it was our determination that has brought Northern Ireland to this stage, I am also crucially aware that unionism has changed dramatically over the last two decades – the UUP needs to reflect that change.
“It is important that we set out a vision, not only for the coming weeks and months but also for years ahead. As Unionists we must ensure that the Union of the United Kingdom is central to that future.”
“The reality is, unionists are not coming out to vote – through disillusionment, because of tribal politics or because they simply feel that politics is not relevant to them. I want to create an Ulster Unionist Party that can address these issues.”
Elliott would represent a formidable challenger for the leadership. He is from Fermanagh and as such may be better able than some to try to appeal outside the greater Belfast Pale into which the UUP has largely been driven. He is not seen as on the particularly pro Conservative link wing of the party, yet equally is not known for being especially opposed to the link. He is relatively young and is popular within the party. He would, however, like any other leader inherit many of the UUP’s current difficulties including its current weak base, having fewer big hitters than the DUP and also the significant internal divisions which have at times characterised the UUP. In spite of that a new leader for the UUP might galvanise them and point up the fact that the DUP have at least thus far stuck with Peter Robinson. Furthermore he might well also be prepared to consider joint candidates with the DUP seeing as he was supportive of the unity candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.