UUP leadership interviews – restoring unity after a divisive campaign

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Both candidates agreed that the leadership campaign has been divisive. But what would they do to restore unity after the result?

[Elliott] At stages it has been divisive. Clearly we’re all big people. We’re in politics so we have to move on. In past times I have differed with other Ulster Unionist Party leaders. But I’m still in the party, clearly because I accepted the will of the majority.

[McCrea] It certainly turned into a more divisive and a more bitter campaign than I expected. Maybe that’s to be expected, I don’t know. What I think it signifies is that there is a resonance coming from what I have to say with the grass roots. If Tom with the backing of the majority of the MLAs, the majority of the party officers, the establishment and [they’re] actually feeling so threatened about things, it does mean there is a mood amongst the party to go and change. I think that in the end that change will be necessary. I’m absolutely convinced if we carry on the way we’re going we’re heading for a very difficult time electorally.

So when the hostilities are over how would the new leader go about uniting the different strands? As an outsider looking into the UUP, there are any number of ways to slice and dice the party. But some of the more obvious camps must be the older traditionalists vs the newer progressive members, those in loyal orders and those who aren’t; and even east and west of the Bann.

[McCrea] First and foremost, it’s about the party. There are many of my colleagues that are excellent politicians, good communicators, hard working and I’m quite sure that whenever the election result is sorted out all of us will be trying to work together to make sure the party succeeds.

There are certain issues perhaps, what looks like an east west split. We do have out of the eighteen seats that we won in 2007, fifteen of them I think were from east of the Bann. And whilst I’m very keen that we make sure that we win as many seats as possible in the west, the big battle ground for us is in the east.

And I do have to convince people in the west that that does not in any way mean I’m trying to patronise or denigrate what they will do, but simply the electoral mathematics are such that we really need to do well in east to make sure we can support them in the west. It is the Ulster Unionist party and not the Fermanagh Unionist Party or the North Down Unionist Party. It’s the Ulster Unionist Party and we should all be pulling together.

Regarding membership of loyal orders, Basil separates culture and religion from politics.

[McCrea] it is true that many of the members, and many of the voters for the UUP are also members of the Orange Order and that’s something to be recognised and celebrated. But the distinction I would make I guess is that the Orange Order is primarily a religious and cultural entity and it’s to be applauded for that and supported in all of those areas. The UUP is by definition a political party. And I think it is important that there’s a respect to the different roles in that. So it is more that whilst we respect people’s traditions and what they do in other places, we are a political party trying to make a good Northern Ireland for all of the people.

So should the Orange Order and Robert Saulters keep their nose out of unionist unity?

[McCrea] I think it’s unhelpful actually. I don’t think that the Orange Order en masse wants unionist unity. The one thing you can be sure about the unionist people is that it’s a fairly broad church with quite a range of views. And I do think there’s a danger in crossing those boundaries. Now obviously they’re entitled to speak for themselves but I personally would prefer it if we kept politics to the political parties and religious and cultural activities to those organisations that are set up to look after those.

Asked how as the new leader he would would go about uniting the different strands of the party, Tom acknowledged that the UUP is a broad church.

[Elliott] I think there’s a self-discipline we need in the party. What people need to do is actually realise that there are differences of opinion, that people have different views, that people belong to different organisations. But I think the one key to it is that they accept and respect the values and ethos of the Ulster Unionist Party. And if they all do that, then they can belong to whatever other organisation they wish to. Provided they adhere to the principles and ethos and values of the Ulster Unionist Party.

With the backing of the majority of MLAs and the party machine, would Tom call upon these supporters to back Basil if he won the leadership?

[Elliott] I have been an Ulster Unionist all my life. I don’t intend walking away from it. If I don’t win the leadership contest, I intend to remain within the Ulster Unionist Party and play whatever role is practical and reasonable.

Which made Tom’s personal position clear, but didn’t answer the question. Would he encourage the others to do the same?

[Elliott] I will encourage as many members [breaks into a smile] to remain in the Ulster Unionist Party and to join the Ulster Unionist Party.

When the video finishes uploading you’ll be able to see the body language and facial expressions.

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