UUP leadership interviews – leadership pitches and the Tory link-up

UUP banner logo - slightly croppedFor the second post in this short series based on interviews with UUP leadership candidates Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea I take a look at their leadership pitches and their opinions on the UCUNF link-up.

Asked for his 60 second leadership pitch, Basil launched into an analysis of past failure and the need for change, describing the type of party be wanted to lead.

[McCrea] The party needs change, needs rapid change. We’ve had a number of pretty disappointing electoral results, we’ve also had a number of failed electoral pacts. We need to re-establish our identity, come back with a new vision and go out and win votes. I think the party maybe underestimates the amount of challenge that’s out there to do that. With the loss of our last MP it is going to be a big challenge for us.

So what I hope to offer is leadership that will actually win us votes, particularly the hundred thousand or so that have stopped voting in the last ten years. They’re obviously disillusioned with the type of politics we’re putting forward, and it’s my contention that if you go out with a more open, transparent, positive, pluralist and progressive party that you’ll actually win them back and in doing so you’ll actually do a lot of good for the country and the party.

Tom Elliott’s pitch was shorter and dominated by the union. (This was geographically appropriate given that he was speaking in Lurgan Town Hall on Union Street!)

[Elliott] I actually believe I have a vision for the union, for the people of Northern Ireland, and for the party. I actually want the same for the Ulster Unionist Party as I do for the people of Northern Ireland and that is that they should have a settled mindset to live within the United Kingdom, to be part of the union, and to live with some comfort and reasonable expectations within that union.

I followed up with Basil asking about his quote the on the 7 May about unionist unity and the UUP’s direction when he said “whatever it is we’re going to do as a party we need to agree it and do it by June, and that gives you a year to get out and sell the message to the folk, and even that’s tight … The party has to decide what way it wants to do … decide what your strategy is … and then pick someone who’s going to reflect that strategy”. Surely the UUP had no more notion today of what its strategy was than it had on the 7 May?

[McCrea] Well what we have know is certainly a battle between at least two different ways of going forward. I’ve already given you my view that it should be positive and progressive and modern and pluralist and all of those issues about reaching out to different folk.

There’s another camp that believes that what we need to do is circle the wagons and go back to the base and see what we can consolidate on. So at least the battle is now out in the open.

I do think that we should have had the battle before June, that if you’d sorted it out then you’d have had the whole summer and the rest of the period of time to rebuild the party and make sure everyone was on board and obviously it is important after the election of the leader to make sure the party does go forward in a united fashion.

So what do the two UUP leadership candidates think about the Tory linkup? Was it doomed from the beginning, or just a good idea that failed?

Basil McCrea quickly jumped from the Tory linkup to the reasons for a lack of electoral success in May 2010.

[McCrea] Interesting concept a couple of years ago when the party was looking for what role would it play in the politics of Northern Ireland. But it did rather detract from the difficulties that the DUP were in. Our electoral failure has got to be seen against a backdrop where Iris Robinson had her issues, Peter Robinson had his land deal for £5, there were all sorts of other changes that the DUP had to do and yet we failed to capitalise on them. So on that point of view I’m afraid we did not have a good election. And this election coming up the public will have put all of those things behind them and will be saying what exactly do you as a party stand for? And that’s a big challenge for us.

Tom Elliott didn’t rubbish the idea.

[Elliott] I think the principle and the idea behind it was quite good of the Conservative link. In particular, that we persuaded the Conservative party to be for the first time in many, many years actually pro the union. They used to be – as I believed it – neutral on the union for many years, but we have made them pro-union now, and if anything positive came out of it, that was certainly one thing that did.

Asked whether the link-up was now dead, the answer was both yes and no. A formal end, with a continuing relationship.

[Elliott] I think that the UCUNF project has come to an end. But clearly what I would like to see is still some relationship with the Conservatives whereby they are part of the government, the senior partner in the United Kingdom government, and I would like to see a development of that relationship at a lower level.

If I’d had more time, I’d love to have asked what the “relationship at a lower level” would amount to. Answers on a postcard …

, , , ,

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    So Tommo says No to the Tory Link up (nether regions excepted) and Bazza says… feck all about it when asked?

    … but surely the UCUNF project is the logical conclusion to Bazza’s views of moving the UUP to a ‘pluralist’ position given both are broadly right-wing parties and the Tories are claiming to be ‘Unionist’.

  • slug

    I think to answer your question, Tom Elliott would see the UUP and Conservatives entering a relationship in which the UUP took the Conservative whip at Westminster and perhaps stood on the Conservative manifesto for nondevolved matters, and obtained government ministerial posts, but that the Conservatives did not have a controlling role in the UUPs local autonomy.with regard to candidate selection or overall image branding and style as presented to the NI electorate.

  • slug

    Basil’s position is not so clear.

    He does not want interference in candidate selection and sees the Conservatives as having an image that could put off a lot of voters – why lumber yourself with that?

    He says – correctly – that the UUP missed the chance to take the battle to the DUP when they were weak and he argues that the problems of the cumbersome UCUNF relationship distrated attention away from the DUP.

    I think he is centre right , pro business, socially liberal, and therefore in the same social-economic positiion as Cameron’s conservatives. But he thinks the main issue is developing the UUP in these directions without the distraction of the Conservative link or the baggage of its brand. (Especially at a time when Conserative cuts are coming – can do with some distance).

    A fair position I think even though I (and it seems he) thought the UCUNF idea had (and still has ) a good bit of merit if done right. There are lessone there In retrospect, as I argued after the election, e.g. in terms of the branding the Tories is negative outside England and its not clear you want to use it, And in terms of candidate selection having two parties setting candidates on a joint platform creates difficulties.

  • Drumlin Rock

    “The party needs change, needs rapid change.” Alan you have raised a very valid point of timescales, even with the best of intentions and full co-operation of the membership the level of change Basil is proposing cannot possibly be in place by March next yr. when the election starts in earnest.
    BTW were you in Lurgan? didnt spot you lol

  • Dewi

    If it’s not to late to ask them Alan how about:
    “Why can’t party members vote by post rather than travel to Belfast?????”

  • Too late! But since the cameras have been kept out of the hustings, at least the vote might be dramatic viewing …

  • McCrea, not McCrae. Suggests he made such an impression that you can barely get the name right, you don’t care, or you are an Elliott supporter. Sure it is none of those and just a honest, if frequent, mistake.

  • My brain spells it “ea” but my fingers hit “ae” nearly every time. Fixed (across a number of posts) – and thanks for spotting.

  • drumlins rock

    Dewi, I beleive the party executive decided it would be too expensive and complicated to do a postal vote, I would strongly disagree! If a member pays up and is in good standing then they should be entitled to vote.

  • john greene

    Alot of the thinking here seems to take as read that the UUP would have done better without the Conservative link!
    There is no evidence for that.
    UUP voters are old and dying off. It is likely that the Conservative link – at an important General election – made the UUP more relevant not less.

    The logical conclusion of UCUNF is some form of amalgamation given the UUP have less than 1500 members – most of whom are old – the sooner they get on with it the better

  • Seymour Major

    Who knows how successful UCUNF would have been if it had not been undermined by
    (a) the equivocation by senior UUP politicians (including Elliott) over deals on seats
    (b) the meeting of senior UUP and DUP leaders at Schomberg House
    (c) the breaking of the terms of the written MOU when it was decided not to field a CU candidate in FST
    (d) the Hatfield House talks
    (e) the resignation from prospective candidacy by two Conservative Catholics
    (f) the very late selection of the candidates
    (g) the failure to act decisively and quickly of the position of Lady Sylvia Hermon
    (h) the UUP taking a position on Policing and Justice which was inconsistent with the Conservatives
    (i) Sir Reg publicly discussing potential election pacts with the TUV when the deal with the Conservatives had just about been concluded.

    I am not blaming all on UUP members because as you can see from the above list, there was some fault by some senior Conservatives. However, all of the above mistakes were very avoidable. Most of them would have been avoided if the commitment from the UUP, right across its party, was clearer and more wholehearted.

    Following the recent general election, had there been a very strong candidate in this leadership contest, carrying a similar message to McCrea but varied so that he publicly acknowledged these mistakes and resolved to build bridges with the Conservatives with the intention of forming another electoral pact with them, that Candidate would, by now, be getting strong supportive signals from leading conservatives and I suspect he would be the front runner in this contest.

  • drumlins rock

    first thing JG, think its prob more than 1,500, but on any basis thats a very high membership to voter ratio.
    The voters are quite broad, and remember the grey vote is one of the largest.
    I think the Tory link did marginally more damage than help, but apart from keeping Sylvia it would not have changed the result much.

  • drumlins rock

    a. should have been sorted from day one, everyone knew there had to be an agreed candidate here.
    b. that meeting happens every so often no matter what, and I hope such meetings continue.
    c. see a
    d. the conservatives arranged then! in an effort to keep the DUP on board in a hung parliment.
    e. they probably would not have been selected anyways as the canidates actually selected had a higher profile on the ground.
    f. agree there,
    g. was a damed if you do damed if you dont case
    h. the conservatives should have followed the local view on a devolved matter
    i. forgot about that, and I think most voters did too

    You have missed the first big mistake btw. the STUPID IDIOTIC NAME!

    as for the committment across the party, it was amazing it went so well considering the history between the parties, but it was too much too quick for many and whilst they went along with the pact they had not got comfortable with it.

    Finally can I say the one thing that did the most harm on the ground to accepting the deal, the local Northern Ireland Conservatives, in particular yourself and Jeff Peel, with your anti Orange Rants and dilusions that yous were “equal partners” without one member elected.
    It did enormous harm at grassroots level and took alot of effort to fix, so before you blame other look at your own contribution.

  • john greene

    Only the UUP would produce two potential leadership candidates who would attack the Conservatives in the run up to a Spending Review as important as this!

  • drumlins rock

    Tom hasnt attacked the Conservatives, and wants to work along with them, just not in the formal pact that existed for the election.

  • DR. That sums it up. Also, the resignation/withdrawal of Conservative candidates was politically immature. While the Lagan Valley one was probably not in with a chance with Daphne Trimble in the running, South Belfast was realistic as the UUP candidate was an unknown outside a small circle. On name recognition the Conservative would have probably have had it (and made the necessary points) and if a few votes lost here and there would probably have gained from (or prevented leakage to) Alliance.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    The UCUNF project was a disaster obvious to many and pointed out here hundreds of times by numerous posters before it finally fell of the edge in SA and FST.

    The UUP were not/are not fit for purpose by Britsh political standards regarding inclusivity and tolerance as is blindingly obvious by the postings of ‘moderates’ like slug and Drumlin’s Rock who defend it’s sectariansim and it’s Orange inclinations and who obviously expected the Tories to also simply turn a blind eye to attitudes (as Chris Patten points out in a seperate but related matter) are not of this or any century recently elapsed.

    It is measure of the lack of knowledge of the Tories (and British ignorance of Ireland in general) that they did not spot this even allowing for the mists rolling up and down the Irish sea.

  • john greene

    It has been made clear to the UUP leadership they need to step up to the challenge of abandoning sectarian politics – Tom certainly hasnt done this! Quite the opposite.
    Tom knows there will be no return to pre 1972 so by suggesting this and through his unfortuante but revealing remarks he has clearly signalled a break with the Conservatives and is irrencilable

  • john greene

    agree with your first two paragraphs.
    I think it is odd to blame the Tories for trying to change things?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    john greene,

    Re. Blame

    Whatever about the motives of the Tories (and as someone from the non Unionist side of the fence I have strong views about that) my point is simply that even allowing them the benefit of the doubt on that it was very obvious the UUP were not a suitable match. This I (and many others) pointed out to Seymour Major who at the time along with other nice chap callecd ‘New Blue’ assured everyone it would all be fine. The charge I am currently making against the Tories is one of political naivety – a charge I would be pretty sure will they will be owning up to themselves – perhaps heralded by the election of Tommo the Orangeman.

  • Seymour Major

    My last comment was not written for the purpose of drawing out emotional bile, simply posing the question of what might have happened if items (a)-(i) had not happened.

    However, the response was illuminating. It highlights, a complete foul up by senior Conservatives in their decision making. They may have failed to carry out proper due diligence on the UUP. Sammy suggests it was “turning a blind eye.” It was one or the other. I agree with Sammy that the UUP was not fit for purpose.

    I have been charged above with making “anti-Orange rants.” People reading what I have written would have noticed that I have defended the right of Orangement to march and criticised those who use them as a pawn to justify what I term as green bigotry.

    At the same, time, if you want a society which is pluralist in its outlook you have to have politicians who can reach out to all sections of the community. The UUP profess to want to be a non-sectarian unionist party. That has been on their website for some time but words are cheap. If they want to do that, they have to be able to walk the walk. So long as as such a high percentage of their politicians are members of the Orange Order, that objective is entirely fanciful. Who disagrees with that?

  • Seymour Major


    As a Conservative myself, I dont disagree with Conservative motives. As far as I am concerned, they remain noble. So also is their willingness to take political risks to be applauded.

    However, I can not condon political naivety. I have raised this question myself and it wont go away. If grassroots Party members are to buy into the next political adventure, they have to be confident that the right lessons have been learned.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    So it was mainly your fault accodring to Drumlin’s Rock “one thing that did the most harm on the ground to accepting the deal”.

    Fair play to you – it is ridiculous for Drumlin’s Rock to attack you for pointing out the main problem that needed to be resolved before UCUNF would work i.e. deeply ingrained sectarianism within the UUP whose intolerant attitudes would be ridiculed in Britian as per Chris Patten’s recent observations.

  • Drumlin Rock

    JG, you cant just change centuries of habits overnight, and if anyone thought that UCUNF was going to do that they were very naive, it is a step towards it, but by going too fast made little progress, Tom knows the move has to be made, but carrying as many with him as possible, that’s going to take a generation at least.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Seymour, saying that no Orangeman should be allowed to stand for the party they created and to which a very large proportion still belong was highly offensive and damaging to the pact.

  • john greene

    Sammy – the election of Elliott will signal the end of any link with the Conservatives I would imagine.
    Cameron could not risk associated with a party lead by someone does even fluently talk the politics of non sectarianism

  • Seymour Major


    If the truth offends then that says something else about the problems facing the UUP.

    This is not 1905. This is not a time for Shrinking Violets to run political parties. Face the trends and look for new political territory if you want your party to survive.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I wonder – Cameron will probably may decide that it is better to let it wither away quietly than to admit a mistake/error of judgement – and his party has already been ‘associated’ negatively with the UUP with the Obama adminstration having to tell him publically to knock Reginald-the-Diminutive into line over police and justice.

    And of course we had Hatfield which was organised by the Tories at some Tory-moat-adorned-pile-in-the-shires. .

    But I would certainly agree that there must be a big bunch of them who will want well shot of any association with a party still trying to win votes by dissing people/communities becasue of their religious views.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    In defence of sectarianism in the UUP it is hard to beat drumlins rock offering which seems to be in line with Chris Patten’s view on a related matter.

    “you cant just change centuries of habits overnight”

  • Dewi

    To be fair to Mr Elliot at least he told the Order to keep their noses out of politics…


  • john greene

    Surely if Elliott wins (or that matter McCrea) Cameron can say ‘ sorry you guys no longer want to go down the road of real politics’ i.e. blame them for breaking away?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Eliott is no worse or any better than Wee Reggie and PoshBoyDC seemed happy enough with him.

    The British public presumably apply the-Irish-are-all-nutters-anyway logic so perhaps any 17th-Centuryesque-Orange-Unionist-misbehaviour will be be dismissed by Tory supporters as Irish-business-as-usual even if PoshBoyDC is still cosying up to them.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “To be fair to Mr Elliot at least he told the Order to keep their noses out of politics”


    Wasnt he one of the UUP brigade who welcomed the OO into Stormont for discussions as part of the UUP effort to wreck the transfer of Police.

  • john greene

    Oh dear.Just listened to Tom’s interview on Talkback.
    He said ”we dont know what contribution we make to water from our rates? Via the regional rate the average household contribution is £160. This brings in £109m per year.
    Shouldnt a prospect leader know these sort of things?

    He also said that the main instruments for building the economy rested at Stormont! This is nonsense and if Tom doesnt know that he really wont cut it as a leader I’m afraid

  • drumlins rock

    ohh sammy has discovered how to do bold hilights! you dont have to over do it mate.

  • slug

    Its perhaps because so many of us don’t read his posts?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    dr, slug,


    *intended in the non-pejorative-cross-coummunity-boundaries-jolly-japes-fellow-IrishPersons-sense

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    john g

    “He also said that the main instruments for building the economy rested at Stormont!”

    That sounds very-SF. Do the UUP and Tommo in particular support the power to vary Corpo tax being transferred to Ulster?