Basil McCrea launched his campaign with a very interesting speech (copied below) yesterday at the Merchant Hotel in Waring Street, outlining)67 his five pledges for the kinds of changes he wants to make to his party’s approach. It’s fresh, interesting and in places thought provoking.
Whether it adds up to a viable platform for change, is a matter for the party’s internal electorate.
A good and plausible public speaker, McCrea is not popular with his Assembly colleagues. But his own camp report his pitch is going down better with the party’s grass roots support (yes, they do still have some)…
Make no mistake, Mr McCrea is the underdog in this fight, with Tom Elliot being backed by the establishment of the party. But, he has the advantage of having a clear ‘change’ message. Mr Elliot on the other hand is ‘the steady as she goes candidate’.
But to many of the party’s activists who worked themselves stupid in May for little reward that may translate more intelligibly as the ‘managed decline’ candidate. Indeed, there may already be alarm bells ringing at party headquarters.
We understand the Officers of the party are holding an emergency meeting tomorrow night. Despite some digging we’ve not been able to find out why. But there is speculation following a stormy meeting in Bangor last week that there are concerns that the centre may not hold for Elliot.
McCrea’s trick will be to do to Elliot what Naomi Long did to Peter Robinson (and the party’s liberal unionist candidate, Trevor Ringland) in East Belfast, and convince enough people he can win. This time there is only two candidates in the field, with no question of a circular firing squad giving either man cover.
Basil McCrea’s speech at his campaign’s media launch
Good morning everybody and thank you for taking the time to come to what is the start of a new era in the political dynamic of Northern Ireland.
Some of you will wonder why I have chosen the Merchant Hotel to launch my manifesto.
My opponent suspects it is because I want to be exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today you will hear from people from the business community, trade unions and my colleagues.
What makes this place special is that offers excellent training. It is at the very pinnacle of its profession.
(Joe Bloggs) as the proprietor is committed to sending his managers to the very best hotels in the world. His staff is recruited from among some of the most socially disadvantaged areas of our province. He trains them to the highest standards of service. The hotel represents a huge financial investment with no support from government at time when the economic conditions are terrible.
From the roof top you can see the investment that is going into Belfast and shows us what can be done.
The business of government is to make it easy for business to do business. We have too few people in our Assembly that really understand what is required to bring jobs and investment to Northern Ireland.
Too few people understand the strains and the risks and the importance of time lines.
The dependency culture that has sadly been ingrained into far too many facets of local life over the last four decades has left us with an unwanted legacy.
It makes no distinction between those without work, those that feel there is no relevance in work and those unable to grasp the complexities of being responsible for creating employment.
I can speak, unlike the majority of others in the present Assembly, on the inter twined world of business and job creation.
In 1998 I returned to Northern Ireland having travelled the world. I knew about the Internet and broadband. I set up a company in Ballyclare funded by my colleague John Coburn.
We employed over forty people for three years on a research and development basis.
One fateful day, the government announced a competition to bring broadband to the whole of Northern Ireland. The sum of money was £18.9 million pounds. I put together a local consortium to tender. We didn’t get through the first stage. I put together another consortium, built an infrastructure switched it on and showed them I could do it.
We didn’t get through the second stage. I formed another consortium, organised around 30 million dollars of finance, cut the price to the government to £13 million pounds and became a preferred bidder along with BT and NTR. The contract was eventually awarded to BT who had reduced their bid to £8.9 million pounds.
The reality is that as I stand before you see a man that saved the tax payer £10million pounds.
It was at the cost of my own business initiative. But it highlights that under the current circumstances it is still impossible to compete with the biggest taxpayer funded company in the country.
It underlines that there is a very real problem with procurement in this province, one that stifles initiative.
Later of course, I was to form the Northern Ireland Manufacturing group to campaign on the issue of industrial de-rating. It was a massive campaign which in the end saved industry in the region of £25 million pounds.
On a human scale the benefits were enormous in terms of the jobs that were protected and saved.
One of the reasons I want to be in politics is to remove the dead hand of the civil service. We need to encourage business, risk taking and entrepreneurial activity.
There is a huge opportunity in Northern Ireland but we must empower our entrepreneurs, we must remove red tape.
We must drive down regulatory costs. We must make it a good place to do business.
The biggest challenge for Northern Ireland is that for every graduate job there are over 70 applicants. We train wonderful teachers and the ship them off to England and Scotland and Wales.
The UUP that I will lead will be unashamedly pro business but it will be more than that. It will create the conditions that bring investment. It will be positive, proactive and professional.
It will be determined to make Northern Ireland work for all of the people. It will be committed to the Assembly, with all its faults, determined to make it work whatever the tribulations.
Politics will be seen under the new brand of Ulster Unionism to deliver for all of the people of Northern Ireland.
Of course there are other things that I want to do but that is for another day. I turn now to what my leadership will mean for the UUP.
All potential leaders will offer their vision but is it deliverable, and how will it be achieved?
As many of you are aware, I did not enter this race as favourite. My opponent is unquestionably the establishment choice, supported by the majority of my MLA colleagues and senior party officers.
But I have made it my business to speak to our grass roots at meetings up and down the country. I have listened to what they have to say. I have been impressed by the way in which they have approached these meetings.
They have been open minded, fair and considered. We have tackled some really tough questions but we are all the better for it.
Some of you will wonder what goes on at these meetings. I believe in being open and transparent.
There is nothing that I will say at these meetings that I will not say in public.
Today, I will use this opportunity to set out what I will do. What will set me apart from my opponent, what will set my party apart from the opposition.
I make five pledges to the Ulster Unionist Party.
Pledge 1 – No ministry until party success assured
I intend to lead the party on the basis that the leader of the UUP will be the First Minister. Until this goal is achieved I will not accept any other ministry. I will review this decision at the next Westminster election. The focus for any new leader must be the party. It requires considerable care and attention.
Pledge 2 – The UUP will take Education
The foundation of any value added economy is education and training. Education is the only enduring competitive edge and it is the route out of poverty. It is the basis of social mobility. There is educational underachievement but this is more to do about social disadvantage than poor schools. I believe in the quality of our schools and our teachers.
The party will fight the next Assembly elections on the basis of Vote for the UUP is a vote for Education. We will remove the possibility of Caitriona Ruane doing yet more damage to education system. No other issue, no other Minister arouses more anger in our electorate. This person must go.
Pledge 3 – No electoral pacts with the DUP or anybody else
The biggest threat to unionism is the number of people who no longer vote. We must convince those that no longer vote that there is something to vote for.
We cannot sustain a political diet of more of the same. We must reach out to those from non traditional backgrounds and convince them that our policies offer something for everybody.
We will offer an independent, non sectarian party Unionist party. We will fight the next election on our own policies, with our candidates and with our own identity.
Pledge – 4 All MLAs will face a vote of confidence at the end of each year.
All elected members will be given an opportunity to express satisfaction of all UUP MLAs by secret ballot. The results will be made public. Our Assembly members are the public face of the party, they must turn up for work, they must do what is expected of them and party members must be given the tools to hold them to account.
Pledge – 5 Discipline robustly enforced.
There are too many organs of the party. The party officer team will go. The executive will be revamped to include all MLAs. Attendance at executive meetings for elected representatives will be compulsory. Streamlined communications and direct contact will enable the executive to hold the Assembly team to account.
These are radical proposals. They are built around my determination to instil confidence, transparency and accountability at the very heart of Ulster Unionism.
They are designed to make the party return to its position at the centre of politics in Northern Ireland.
The people of this province deserve much, much better than a party of selfish self interests rather than one willing, and capable of working for all in our society.
Our message to the public has been blocked by too many voices and too many self promotional messages.
It has blanked out the message when it comes to the screen of public opinion.
Our core values have, as a result, been distorted and devalued. The voters have become disillusioned with our inability to live up to our traditional values of decency and integrity.
Effective discipline has become irrelevant. The personal agenda of mixed message being sent out by individuals has been allowed to take precedence over the wellbeing of the party.
Under my leadership, however hard it may be for some to digest pledge is that the era of generating conflict for personal gain will come to an abrupt end.
The cabal of cronies that believe they have some sort of Divine Right to treat the Executive of our party as an irrelevant side show will no longer be tolerated.
There will be firm direction. There will be fair and open leadership accountability.
It will be a radically new party where talent and commitment will count.
It will be one where the real voice of the membership will be heard.
Above everything it will be a party that will listen and respond to those voices.
Nothing less will be acceptable to me.
We face a long and difficult journey to rediscover the soul of Ulster Unionism.
With God’s help and your support we can complete that journey!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty