(live blog) And the UUP leader is … Tom

Tom Elliott, UUP
A video of the short (6 min) press conference is now embedded on the follow-up post.

(11.30pm) At the press conference Tom Elliott says that UUP will fight the next election under the UUP logo, with no pacts. He dodges the question on whether he could come to an arrangement with the DUP if they needed to beat the SF vote.

Pressed on the Conservative linkup he said “The UCUNF project is at an end”, though he pointed to a continuing, informal relationship with the Conservative Party in the future.

No decisions on rotating ministerial positions yet.

(11.00pm) In his acceptance speech, the UUP’s new leader Tom Elliott said that “as leader I’ll certainly not make this a cold house for [Basil’s] colleagues”.

Before Tom spoke, Basil acknowledged the brave support of some of his supporters, and spoke emotionally saying that he hoped his father (who was in the hall) was proud of him.

Tom Elliott acceptance speech

(10.50pm) Tom 643 (68.6%), Basil 294 (31.4%), 938 votes cast, 1 spoilt vote

(10.42pm) Here we go … candidates on stage, they’ve been told the result. Now awaiting the announcement.

Inside the hall

(10.30pm) Someone’s in no rush to meet the 10.30pm news bulletins. Still all stuck outside. Party members say that Tom “performed better than expected” while “Basil didn’t connect with the audience”. A 70/30 split in favour of Tom is expected when they eventually announce the result. Up to ten minutes ago, Basil didn’t know the result. There’ll be some bleary eyes on the buses heading west tonight.

(10.05pm)Media and blogger still stuck outside the hall for no apparent reason. The site of 1000 Ulster Unionists sitting in the Waterfront Hall doesn’t seem to be a sight the party want to show the world. Announcement now due in 10 minutes, but the press conference won’t be until after 11pm. Doors now closed again – no idea why!

(10.05pm) Declaration soon. Candidates back into hall.

view into the hall

(9.50pm) They’re being encouraged to head back inside the hall.

(9.40pm) Result now expected close to 10pm. Big queue for the male loos.

(9.30pm) They’re voting. And those who cast their ballots early are escaping upstairs to Bar 2 to get a cup of tea. Word from the hall is that both candidates spoke well. Tom spoke better than usual and certainly did nothing to throw his win away. He got a big standing ovation, Basil a bit smaller. Basil was reassuring in his speech and was also thrown some tougher questions – one constituency asking about abortion and ethical questions.

(9.15pm) All is quiet. They should be getting ready to vote, though with around 1,000 delegates present, it could take a while to pass round the boxes and then get them counted. Most of the assembled media are assuming that Tom is a cert to win. While there is talk that “Foyle is strong for McCrea”, it’ll be a major upset if Basil’s speech on the night sways enough voters to beat Tom.

(8.50pm) They tossed a coin and Tom Elliott got to speak first, with Basil kept out of earshot in a room backstage. About 250 members from F&ST arrived by bus, with others coming by car.

(8.15pm) They’re just about to get underway. The candidates have now been given 15 minutes to speak, followed by 15 minutes of questions. So it’ll be at least 9.20pm before they pass around the voting boxes. Boxes were available inside the hall for people who wanted to leave early (or not stay at all). Word is that Fermanagh & South Tyrone members were voting on the way in – with no intention of being swayed by the speeches.

(7.55pm) They came in cars, buses and by rail. Taxis drew up as close to the Waterfront’s door as possible. Cars reversed around roundabouts in a bid to get into unfamiliar car parks. Some folk will have quite a shock when they discover the big smoke’s parking rates later on tonight.

Bus outside Waterfront Hall

The candidates arrived in through the back, so had to come back out to stage their arrival for the cameras.

The 7.30pm start time has been and gone. Delegates queued up in front of constituency tables to get ticked off the valid voter lists in order to get their wristband and ballot.

Queues outside the Waterfront Hall

Think male. Think old. Females delegates made up less than 10% of the throng. Under 30s, even under 40s made up less than 20%.

Queuing up to register at constituency desks

Talking to people in the queue, a lot of people seem to have arrived with their minds made up.

Members going into the Waterfront auditorium

(5pm) The UUP will be disappointed if the Waterfront seats remain this empty at 7.30pm this evening! (Photo by Davy Sims on Flickr, used under licence.)

In the meantime, feel free to join Dewi, Drumlins Rock and others in a game of Guess the split of the vote.

Empty Waterfront Hall, set up for UUP leadership vote - photo by Davy Sims

(4pm) Paula Bradshaw (who stood alongside Basil at his campaign launch) has been blogging about the leadership vote.

In short, the question the public will pose on Thursday morning is not whether the UUP Leader is suited to appeal existing UUP voters, but whether he will appeal to new ones. Therefore that is the question UUP members must pose to themselves when they cast their vote the previous evening.

Over on the other side of the breakfast table, Conservative Ian Parsley may have risked the silent treatment when he published his recent post:

There is an old line in the Christmas special of the BBC comedy Yes Minister: “If Eric gets it, the party splits in three months; if Duncan gets it, the party splits in three weeks”. In this case, however, there is no Jim Hacker as third candidate to save the day. Currently, both candidates are keeping their actual policy positions internal, but making their mutual loathing apparent externally.

(3pm) In this morning’s Newsletter, Sam McBride outlines the process that the UUP is subjecting itself to in order to elect a new leader tonight. He expects half of the 2000 or so UUP membership to turn up at the Waterfront Hall with their identification in order to be ticked off the list and given a ballot card.

The 7.30pm start time will be pushed back if queues build up at the registration desks. Each candidate will speak for ten minutes and answer questions for ten minutes, while the other candidate remains out of the hall and out of earshot. Then ballots will be collected and “counted by neutral UUP staff in the presence of two verifiers from each of the candidates’ camps”.

The article suggests that the declaration will come around 10.30pm … convenient for the BBC and UTV news bulletins. But unless it takes two hours to count a maximum of 2000 votes for two candidates, Harry Hamilton may have to change into Flash Harry might and get up on stage to provide some entertainment.

This post will be updated throughout the evening as the UUP membership meet in Belfast to (for the first time) directly elect their new leader.