A Pint of Unionist Lite notes that Paddy Power’s odds on the UUP leadership race have been changing. Tom Elliott was once “as short as 1/5 to win, whereas McCrea was the rankest of outsiders in a two horse race at 3/1”. This morning, the gap between the two horses candidates had narrowed to
Tom Elliott: 4/11
Basil McCrea: 15/8
As part of their coverage of the second largest unionist party’s vacancy-filling process, the Newsletter set the two candidates some homework: to answer a series of questions about their leadership strategy.
(Has the Newsletter coverage of the UUP leadership campaign race remained impartial? Comments welcomed – backed of course by evidence to support your view.)
Asked to differentiate his potential leadership from that of previous UUP leaders, Tom Elliott came close to criticising the party machine that has been so supportive of his bid:
[Elliott] “I want to ensure that grassroots members of the Ulster Unionist Party are kept aware of party policy and informed how decision-making is proceeding. As leader I intend to keep in touch with the constituencies and ensure that there is a hands-on approach by the effective team I intend to establish.”
Basil McCrea praised past leaders and highlighted his perceived strengths:
[McCrea] “Each leader was (in the opinion of the membership) the best person for the job at the time, but times change. The membership of the UUP must decide which candidate will resonate with the electorate and who will best articulate our message to the media. Communication skills will be crucial.”
They talked about electoral pacts and arrangements with other parties, changing UUP policies, the UUP’s battleground and what they would do if they lost. There’s a considerable difference in the tone and precision of the answers.
Asked “Could you accept a Sinn Fein first minister?”, Tom Elliott responded by criticising the DUP’s negotiations at St Andrews and pointed to his work with UK government to revert the legislation back to the Good Friday original. In contrast, Basil McCrea stated that it was unlikely but said that given the joint nature of OFMdFM it wouldn’t be a reason for abandoning democracy and pulling out of Stormont.
[Elliott] “It was selfish and perverse negotiating by the DUP at St Andrews that gifted Sinn Fein with the opportunity to be first minister. The previous arrangements had a built-in safeguard that was removed. I am already negotiating with the UK government to change this legislation back to what was put to the people in the original agreement and was passed by referendum. It would not be appropriate to make any further comment prior to completion of negotiations with the government.”
[McCrea] “The prospect of Sinn Fein being first minister fills many people with horror. It is unlikely to happen but if it did I would stay at the assembly and fight for my electorate. The office of the first minister is a joint office where neither minister can do anything without the agreement of the other. The alternative would collapse the assembly, give the republicans a huge propaganda victory and lead to a constitutional crisis. Democracy offers the best prospect of peaceful coexistence.”
The full article is worth a read.