Having so far looked at matters internal to the UUP, I thought it would be interesting to get the candidates’ perspectives on how their leadership would impact and benefit wider society, outside the party.
Basil McCrea wants the UUP to better support the kind of politics he believes the public desire.
[McCrea] I think the people have moved on a lot faster perhaps than our political class. There is a thirst out there for more progressive, more modern type of politics – politics that are concentrating on bread and butter issues. And I know it’s trotted out at all elections but unless the public are really convinced that you’re serious then they will revert to type. They will sit and say “we hear all the words but actually the big battle is about unionist unity” or whatever.
So what practical things would they notice? What would be different in their lives or in how they view politics if Basil was in charge.
[McCrea] First thing is that we’d be campaigning under my leadership with education as the [stressed] first choice. We would be going out to everybody in Northern Ireland and saying a vote for the UUP is a vote for education. I think there’s many, many people who are very unhappy and disillusioned about the mess that Catríona Ruane has made of the education system – she’d gone unchecked basically. There are other issues.
I think people are now ready to open out to other people. It’s not that they want to surrender their own background or culture or whatever, but we all live in this part of the world together and we do have to have some recognition that there are other people that want to do things in a different way so you would see a more progressive reaching out to people from me than we’ve done before. It would certainly be much more positive. We would put away the negativity, the party political bickering. The challenges facing Northern Ireland are severe on the financial side of things and the real issue I want to do is to say to people that have stopped voting or vote reluctantly for other parties is that people that try to make a change are worth supporting and that together we will make a difference.
But wait. Unless the UUP top the poll it’s more than likely that under d’Hondt, either the DUP or Sinn Féin will already have taken Education. So how could voting for the UUP be a vote for education?
[McCrea] While I believe we should be topping the poll. I know people go “isn’t that a little bit ambitious?” but we are going to be in an election where all of the DUP big guns as it where are going to be in Westminster. They’re going to be fielding a whole lot of new people. If we come forward with a raft of very good, very competent candidates that people would actually want to vote for, policies that people want to vote for, leadership that people identify with. I think that there is a seismic change coming. There’s certainly a realignment coming in the politics of Northern Ireland and if the UUP – or any other party for that matter – but if the UUP are at the forefront of that I actually think they’ll get super electoral results and it would turn what looks like a fairly negative landscape into a very, very positive one.
Whether or not the electoral mechanics stack up – surely the DUP are likely to field more candidates (to defend more seats) than the UUP in May 2011’s Assembly elections? – there is a positive ambition to Basil’s stance.
Asked the same question, Tom started by referring to internal party reorganisation before focussing on government decision making and getting the public sector to support the private sector.
[Elliott] Well clearly I think Sir Reg Empey brought the party so far in its internal party membership and rules. And there does need to be some more development in that. I also believe that we need at the heart of government more decision making, much quicker decision making and I will certainly be focussing on making the public sector actually provide for the private sector.
So any specific examples of how that might work out?
[Elliott] Well I think there are a number of particular issues within government. What I want to see is a can do attitude from civil servants and departments and I actually want to see them ensure that the people get the fairest and best opportunity to progress private industry here otherwise Northern Ireland will not survive. That’s one of my key messages, is to make sure that the government departments provide that service for the people on the ground. And if they get that done, that will mean the people on the ground will actually see delivery from government, and that is the one area that will make them much more content to be living in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
Now I’m sure the hustings speeches will have gone into more detail about policy changes and the emphasises that the candidates would wish to promote. Basil’s talk of “bread and butter issues” is quite vague, and while his education pledge is quite bold and eye-catching it takes quite a stretch of my imagination to see its success. However, Tom’s response about “government delivery” entirely lacked specific examples: no mention of planning, red tape, corporation tax, or any of the normal tick list of ideas.
So far this series of posts has intentionally (largely) given you the candidates’ words and left you to make your mind up. I’ll get down from the fence and give my reflections on the two candidates in the next post. I’ll also embed the videos of the raw interviews so you can see the candidates in action.