UUP establishment worried about Basil McCrea?

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!

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  • slug


  • cynic47

    Does he intend to do away with party officers or just the current office holders?

  • cynic47

    Expect a UUP mutiny in ND if Ian Parsley manages to sweet talk his way onto a UUP selection ticket. Surely he wouldn’t have the brass neck? would he??

  • cynic47

    Would a Basil victory open the door for the three Tory candidates who never were to make a comeback in a new fresh, moderate ( only joking) UUP?

  • Peter Fyfe

    No doubt Lar Corbett was celebrating the blow he struck for nationalism with his superb hat-trick on Sunday. Then he probably followed it up with a toast in Thurles to the exclusion of unionism.

  • alan56

    C47,,,, can’t imagine who you are thinking of!

  • Drumlin Rock

    To start of with the DUP has stolen the UUP clothes so to speak, and they dont really fit either.

  • Alias

    If I were a UUP supporter (g-d forbid!), I’d be looking at which of the two candidates would best consolidate and rebuild the party now that the drift of voters seems to have stopped. Working from the proven premise that the UUP are utterly useless at strategic base-building and policy promotion exercises, my instinct would be to go with the candidate that shared by conservative instincts and appealed directly to them. That has to be Tom Elliot.

    I’d also recognise, however, that the long-term progress of unionism must include policies and practices that appeal to all citizens of NI, and not just conservative, middle-class Protestants. That part leads me to favour Basil McCrea, so the best outcome would be Tom as leader and Basil as deputy, with each of them working together to work build a party that promotes the best of unionism (but sniping at each other like Blair and Brown, more likely).

    As Drumlin Rock pointed out, the immediate concern for the UUP must be to increase their share of the vote in May. That increase isn’t likely to come from marketing appeals based on the long-term progress of unionism but from appeals directed at those voters that have exercised their voting franchise in another shop. In other words, it’ll have to be a ‘Return to BT’ style exercise aimed at reclaiming old voters rather than a campaign aimed at attracting new ones.

    I’d vote for Tom for party consolidation. That consolidation is needed before the party can appeal to new voters. The new voters will evolve over a decade or so (not the short time Basil envisages) and will be based on the instincts of those who see that the party is the best one available to deliver for all of the people of Northern Ireland in the policy areas that actually concern them (health, employment, education, social harmony, etc). Of course, voters will have to see that, so that means that it must become apparent – hence a decade or so of solid work is needed.

    I wouldn’t be fully comfortable voting for either candidate but you have to go with the best of whatever is available at the time…

  • Drumlin Rock

    Slug, I think if the debate is kept civilised the party can be stronger coming out of this, so far things are more a case of differences rather than divisions.

  • Progressive Unionist

    “consolidation” means further ‘managed’ decline, and fall and ultimate merger into the DUPs (Tom would call this ‘cooperation’ but merger is what it will amount to)

    If the UUP cannot reach out to the middle ground and moderates, if the UUP follows it’s failed establishment and retreats back into 1950s style Brookeborough unionism then it’s done for, it’s over.

    There’s no point to the UUP if it’s just going to offer the same as the DUP offer, when the DUP offer it far more effectively (just look at how good an election the DUP had, excepting East Belfast, when they’d been through such a torrid time beforehand) – the UUP’s got to offer something different.

    The only way the UUP has a future is to put an end to talk about ‘unionist unity’ and reach out to moderate voters, the kind of people the DUP can’t reach.

  • Alias

    All fair points, but the bottom-line is that the party needs to sell product to known buyers – and fast. It won’t do that by long-term marketing strategies. The Party doesn’t have a future unless it performs well in May. It might be a tad hyperbolic to claim it is on its deathbed, but this is a more ruthless era when life-support systems are unplugged without sentiment…

  • Dewi

    a) No they didn’t – the OO broke the relationship.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The propensity of UUP supporters to whine about how the DUP shafted them isn’t endearing to the electorate. Time to move on.

  • Drumlin Rock

    PU, merger with the DUP is even less likely under Tom than it is under Basil, it will not happen.
    The DUP are far from effective, how they run the executive is a joke and they dropped over 5% in the Westminister election, losing votes in every seat they hold. The UUP needs to show that they will work harder smarter and fairer.
    Tom and Basil both make it clear there will be no unionist unity, and if they go back on that the party wont take it, but the voters made it very clear on the doorsteps that the handbag fights with the DUP put them off, they account for far more lost voters than “moderates”.
    I will repeat it again, whilst moderate voters are important, they wont win us any more seats, we need to win back the core unionist vote, the centre ground.

  • Drumlin Rock

    I know CS, but I think most have moved on, the odd whine slips out but its not the focus anymore, in reality when they look at the DUP most now think we could do better than that if we get our act together.

  • Skintown Lad

    His point should be (don’t know whether it was or not) that we have loads of very capable people who choose to become teachers because they don’t see any opportunities elsewhere. If there were credible opportunites in business for the same pay, teaching would not be so oversubscribed. But then again, that’s why our schools are so good.

  • davidonlineone

    Has an ulster unionist supporter I have to ask myself who would the UUP’s electoral opposition (DUP/Alliance) fear more as a leader? Surely the answer has to be Basil?

  • davidonlineone

    As an ulster unionist supporter I have to ask myself who would the UUP’s electoral opposition (DUP/Alliance) fear more as a leader? Surely the answer has to be Basil?

  • fin

    Wrong, there is a massive oversupply of teachers in the UK, including the South East, even beginning to happen in subjects like Science.

    Which is something you appear to fail to understand, teaching is a generic term, possibly good science and math teachers are/were been poached, however, there has never been a shortage of language, drama, geography, RS, history, woodwork etc etc teachers anywhere

  • Drumlin Rock

    Alliance might see some threat from Basil, but prob not enough to make any real difference. The DUP would love Basil as leader, and would use his liberal views to eat further into the centre ground Unionist vote.

  • Glencoppagagh

    It means we are paying teachers too much in NI and too little in the SE.
    The criteria for teachers’ remuneration should not include a notional benchmark for alternative employment theoretical or otherwise.

  • slug

    Thing is, I’ve not found Tom a good speaker on TV. He’s not got much PUNCH.

  • fin

    Sigh, Ruane again, funny thing is CS, noone else has given an alternative, the SDLP agree with SF on the need to change education they just want to leave it for another several years, the UUP and DUP agree with the SDLP only they want to leave it for ever!!

    Your party also agrees with SF and Ruane in abolishing the 11+
    Are you saying you’d prefer a ‘pro’ 11+ education minister or do you just side with the SDLP and want to tut tut about things for another decade.

  • DR,

    The “core vote” is not the centre ground. Nobody ever suggested the Labour party core vote represented the political centre ground, or that of the Tories. Political Unionism has deluded itself for generations that it is fighting over the “centre ground” by conveniently ignoring nearly half the population. Retreating into the sectarian bunker may be logical in order to shore up the vote, but don’t pretend that it bears any resemblance with normal politics.

  • Drumlin Rock

    He is much better in person, but yeah he needs to work on it a bit more, I’m sure Mike will give a bit of advice that way.
    It is surprising how quickly a politicians communication skills can improve, the classic case being Maggie Thatcher, even Gordon Brown came across well at a couple of conferences (although he still couldn’t hide the personality flaws underneath).
    Basil has been a “salesman” for years and is a smooth enough talker, although when he raise his voice it borders on hysterical dare i say. Tom’s soft Fermanagh accent could be a real asset, and I think he will be able to take on any of the other party leaders and come out tops.

  • Cushy Glenn

    when the Brush loses- which he will-will he huff a la Tank Commander and trundle off to a Sylvia type clique or continue to destabilise from within? Both of these men are clearly caretaker leaders at best, but the devastating truth is that there is no prince over the water waiting in the wings. If Basil had a political brain he’d have waited for Tom to produce a poor assembly election and in the crisis that will hit all Unionism when the DUP also declines significantly he could bring the liberal troops to the table with significantly more authority than he’s going to have now

  • Alias

    Are there really any ‘liberal troops’ in NI politics? My opinion is that so-called liberal unionism has the ulterior purpose of maintaining the union by ‘poaching’ the required number of voters from the other side of the so-called sectarian divide or, at least, making them less likely to vote to alter the constitutional status quo if such a poll is ever called. So I see it as cynically self-serving rather than altruistic.

    NI can only be politically ‘normalised’ when it becomes a de facto one-nation state. That means that the missing nation (the Northern Irish) that actually has the right to self-determination must materialise. So it’s really a process of engineering this new nation by merging the two existing nations into one. It will be a civic nation at first but over time it could become a de jure nation. I don’t think anyone would use that terminology but that’s what it comes down to.

  • qwerty12345

    Am I the only person deeply shocked that someone like Tom Elliott is possibly going to lead a political party here?

    Are the UUP or UCUNF or whatever they are these days actually set on suicide?

    Tom is a depressing, boring, predictable sectarian throwback. Sorry I just had to say it out loud. Is this really happening?

  • Alias

    Considering the history of the leaders of some of other parties, I’m shocked that someone as decent as Tom is even in the running to lead a party up there. 😉

  • Greenflag


    and so is this


    A 25 % cut in public sector expenditure is just what NI needs to propel.it forward to the 20th century or would that be back to the 19th ?

    As Mr Robinson points out -tough choices ahead including Hobson’s 🙁

    At least Messrs Robinson /McGuiness can blame London can’t they ? –

  • Greenflag


    Am I the only person deeply shocked that someone like Tom Elliott is possibly going to lead a political party here?

    Not at all . Most Irish nationalists hardly think it’ll make any difference whichever of the two is elected to lead the UUP into extinction .

    The late Horseman marked Mr Elliot’s card a while back when he drew attention to Mr Elliot’s concern that too many educated Catholics were remaining in the Province .

    Here is Horseman’s piece on Mr Elliot .

    On top of all of the other references to the (Protestant) ‘brain drain’ that are blogged below, the concerned unionist Tom Elliott MLA was reported in the Newsletter on 20 June 2007 as being “shocked to discover just how many more Roman Catholics are staying in the Province to study – suggesting a Protestant brain drain”.

    Poor Mr Elliott has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. It is not the ‘brain drain’ per se that unionists are concerned about, but only the protestant brain drain. As the media-unsavvy Mr Elliott went on to say, “This is an important issue as many of these students who travel to mainland universities do not return to work in the Province”. Of course, as previously pointed out, what really vexes him is that they do not return to vote in Northern Ireland.

    If Mr Elliott was commenting on a report by an employers’ organisation complaining of skills shortages in a booming economy, then his concern for the ‘non-returners’ might be reasonable. But he isn’t, he is making a petty, sectarian point that illustrates the level of worry that is starting to permeate the unionist establishment.

    It seems that their years of denying the inevitability of demographic change are starting to give way to anger; if they continue to follow the classic model of sequential stages of grief (for their dead Project Ulster), then we can look forward to bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Some may argue that the Good Friday Agreement, and the St Andrews diktat, were a form of bargaining, but there is little evidence that the DUP has really accepted the need to bargain. Maybe the next few years might see the beginnings of some real bargaining in the Assembly and Executive – however since the demographic changes cannot be ‘bargained’ away, the next stage – depression – is almost an inevitability for poor unionism. Acceptance will probably come sometime during the 2020’s, when unionism is a political minority with an age-profile that will ensure that it has no future.’

    Horseman as always sees the bigger picture 😉

    So the choice for the UUP is between being led by the safe pair of sectarian hands and it’s attendant sectarian mindset by the ‘establishment ‘ Mr Elliot or throwing caution to the wind by electing Basil McCrea who may throw out the ‘unionist ‘ baby with the bathwater when if he’s elected to clean house .

    The ‘paranoia’ factor should play to Mr Elliot’s advantage . He has all the requisite traits of a UUP leader in abundance 🙁

    At the end of the day it does’nt really matter who captains the Titanic once it’s struck a big enough iceberg . It’s not clear whether the benefits of a long drawn out drowning are preferable to instant death by hypothermia but life being what it is organisations and businesses and political parties and empires tend to cling on to the edge of whatever they have until they are actually dropped into the abyss of historical oblivion.

  • qwerty12345

    Greenflag – that is classic Tom Elliott. I’ve been watching him for years in the local Fermanagh press – practically everytime he opens his mouth its some embarrasing sectarian crap. And there are people who actually think this guy is the way forward! Intelligent people at that!

    Heres a good example of Tom.

    Over the summer some children in the 76% nationalist town of Lisnaskea took down some of the Union flags and Orange regalia which had been placed at the entrance to the town.

    Now, this 76% Nationalist town has these flags (illegally) on lamposts its length and breadth for a couple of weeks every summer. The orange order turn up, bedeck the place without a thought for the majority of people and here’s what Tom said to the Fermanagh herald after the kids took a few of the flags down – he said it was clear evidence that “Republicans” in the area were incapable of having respect for Unionist culture!

    So its ok to bedeck a 76% nationalist town in Union jacks with not a thought for fenian feelings but if some kids take some Union Jacks down ( they shouldnt be on lamp posts at all – for a number of reasons) its clear evidence of “Republicans” being bigots. And yes it was kids who took the flags down – I know them.

    Add to this his pronouncements at various times about the GAA, gay pride marches and on and on and you come to the conclusion that the guy is an idiot.

    The UUP / UCUNF or whatever seem utterly lost. If they go for Tom its a last ditch effort to “out prod” the DUP. Yeah Tom will be a steady hand alright leading the faithful right back into the past.

  • Greenflag

    Indeed . Horseman mentions his lack of media savvy which under other circumstances I might regard as an honest trait but given the NI sectarian swamp surely not a good thing and particularly not for somebody who at least in the UCUNF book of theory is supposed to reach out to the other side ?

    If UUP members want a leader who can’t and won’t relate to the other side i.e the collective Fenians then they elect Mr Elliot . He can lead them straight back to the good old days of Harry West ;(

    Brian Faulkner the one time leader was a Unionist politician who seemed to be able to hold on to his ‘unionism’ while still being able to deal with the other side . His capacity to win the respect and admiration of the ‘other ‘side is what of course destroyed him politically in the end . Perhaps times are different and perhaps Unionist party members have evolved to the point whereby the ability to deal with the other side is not considered ‘lundyism’ ?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Three parties in three years and successive elections might be seen as a bit opportunistic. The alliance Party is well rid of him. And the voters of North Down will hopefully agree.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alliance might see some threat from Basil

    Nope, none of us do. The UUP is doomed either way, but under Basil it will sink faster. There is no precedent for the UUP embracing liberal views, and no evidence that this has changed. Basil won’t be able to change the party.

    You should read the stuff UUP types were saying here 6-12 months ago. The Tories are the answer, Alliance will run for cover, the liberal U/garden centre prods will all come back. You guys are obsessed with magic wands that you think you can wave to fix everything.

    Alliance have a saying, and I am sure the DUP and SF have the same saying because they use a similar strategy. “where we work, we win”. Elections are won here through presence on the ground. Not pinning all hopes on some sort of grand masterplan.