For 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 …