Thoughts on the UUP leadership

One of the less kind texters to Good Morning Ulster on the day after Tom Elliott’s election described him as a non entity leader. It calls to mind that Churchill is reported to have said of Clement Attlee (though he denied it vehemently): “An empty taxi drew up outside 10 Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out of it.” Tom Elliott seems a modest man, again a denied Churchill quote about Attlee: “A modest man, but then he has so much to be modest about.”

Elliott was the front runner from the outset of the leadership race. There was a time about two weeks ago when his position seemed to be weakening severely. Basil McCrea seemed to capture the agenda in the contest. It was a severe simplification to describe Elliott as the traditional choice and McCrea as the civic unionist but it was both a simplification with an element of truth and one which looked plausible on the media. Elliott the sober, slow and softly spoken Fermanagh farmer and orangeman as opposed to Basil McCrea the voluble Lisburn based businessman complete with radical ideas and a Boris Johnston haircut to match. It was really not that Elliott represented the old school and McCrea the new civic unionism: after all several left leaning and liberal unionists supported Elliott. However, so successfully did McCrea seize the modernising and liberal civic unionism mantle that it forced Elliott to appear that way. Furthermore the media latched onto this and hence, the largely fallacious suggestion that Tom was the dinosaur to McCrea’s new civic unionist. As it turned out the we discovered that dinosaurs actually do rule (ask any 7 year old boy).

In reality a victory for Basil McCrea would probably have been an absolute disaster for the UUP. So successful had McCrea been at promoting the modernising idea that many harder line unionists might have begun to consider their position. Furthermore McCrea’s suggestions of getting rid of the officer team and possibly sacking multiple MLAs were almost calculated to sow division at a senior level within the party. McCrea also had problems with delivery. Despite proclaiming his intention to “Stop Ruane” he had failed to build an effective cross party alternative education plan despite being on the education committee. His speech to the leadership selection meeting was apparently marked by aspirations without any real policy meat.

A further though related problem problem with Basil was the fact that he seems to have an ability to fail to get on with most of the people with whom he has worked closely. This was only mentioned tangentially during the election campaign but many both within and without the party were aware of the problem: indeed it was rumoured that prior to standing for the leadership there had been moves in Lagan Valley to deselect him as the candidate at next year’s assembly election.

In contrast to McCrea’s headline grabbing campaign which was mostly style with the appearance of a lack of substance beyond antagonising senior colleagues, Elliott’s campaign was possibly pedestrian but with more policy. After the initial success of his endorsement by practically all the party hierarchy and the seemingly (and also in reality) unstoppable advantage he gained from it, the Elliott campaign faltered. The issues over attending GAA matches were not that relevant despite what Basil McCrea tried to suggest: the sorts of Catholics the UUP are trying to attract are unlikely to be obsessional attenders at GAA matches (unicorns do not tend to play GAA; their horns burst the ball) and even as a symbol the issue was always more likely to be relevant to Basil supporters and a few media luvvies than to any ordinary voters more concerned as they are about health, the economy and education. The gay pride issue was also not that big an issue: many homosexuals would be no more likely to take part in gay pride than Elliott himself. However, Tom handled the issue badly on the radio and the story began to look as if it could derail his campaign: it certainly played to the dinosaur narrative.

What won the day for Elliott was a series of things some which actually bode moderately well for the UUP. Firstly as mentioned above there was the Basil character issue: affable Basil may be but there are a trail of people who have known Basil better and seem, on closer acquaintance, less enamoured of the charm. Elliott again could not be more different: a man of overwhelming decency and honesty. I watched him in Kesh in August at the Black Parades and the time which this senior member of the RBP was prepared to give to anyone who wanted his ear was interesting: there were no cameras on him; these people were unlikely to have a vote in the leadership election but Tom spoke to anyone and everyone who wanted to speak to him. Additionally it is pretty obvious that this sort of behaviour from Elliott is not a one off: that is the sort of man and the sort of politician he is. A family friend recounts seeing Elliott bringing dozens of forms in for farmers to help get them the payments to which they are entitled but forms which are so fiendishly complex that not everyone can sort them out properly. Elliott had so many forms he was clearly going to be in doing this all day, yet was utterly sanguine about the task ahead.

There are other character issues which again put Elliott above reproach in unionist circles. His membership of the UDR in County Fermanagh is a plus point. That speaks to bravery and a willingness to take risks: it has been a long time since a unionist party was lead by an individual who not merely backed the security forces to the hilt but was willing to stand in the line against the terrorists. Some talked the talk: Tom has walked the walk. At one stage people touted Col Tim Collins as a UUP leader who would be a military hero. In Elliott’s case the bravery was not one speech and the invasion of Iraq but the willingness to put himself in danger year in year out here in Ulster. Republicans may try to tar Elliott with the bigot brush for being in the UDR but this will have grave difficulty washing except amongst their own hard line supporters. Elliott just does not look or act like a bigot. Indeed such attacks on him might even increase his standing within more sensible nationalist circles.

Elliott’s response to the challenge of McCrea was also instructive and spoke of practical politics from himself and his team. The provision of buses to transport people up to the Waterfront Hall was a practical and sensible step: the fact that people were willing to get onto the buses spoke of Elliott’s popularity within Fermanagh but the fact that the decision was made to charter the buses speaks of a practical determination to get the necessary job done. If those buses had been arranged to go the opposite way in May it is possible that Rodney Connor would the the MP for FST. If a similar practicality suffuses the UUP from now on it may achieve more than its detractors think.

Elliott has also managed to be elected by the largest margin for a unionist leader in living memory: with his solid character, honesty and the backing of so many within the party one might suggest that the halcyon days might yet return for the UUP. Certainly Elliott is well prepared to repeat the Jim Molyneaux trick of being a man utterly in command of his party and yet attracting a broad church which could expand the tent of the UUP and envelop much of the DUP.

All that is possible: however, the task facing Elliott is herculean in its enormity. When Molyneaux quietly took much of the DUP support it was from the position of lead unionist party. Elliott has inhered a UUP which is far, far from the position of the one Molyneaux led. Tom may have political talent and may be an improving media performer but his party’s brightest stars are mainly outshone by their DUP rivals. Certainly Elliott’s victory may put a spring in their step and his utterly honest image is a counterpoint to Robinson’s slight tarnished image complete with its £5 property deals. However, with the possible exceptions of the likes of Danny Kennedy and Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leadership cadre is still likely to be outshone by their DUP equivalents. The DUP can wheel out Arlene Foster, Sammy Wilson, Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell: the list goes on and on. Against one of these Tom might hold his own as might Kennedy, Nesbitt and a few others but too few. Going down the seniority ranks the DUP has several more junior MLAs who are likely to be better performers than their UUP equivalents. In addition in the assembly elections there are more DUP members with incumbency on their side. The mountain Tom must climb looks not as trivial as Everest: more K2 in its lethal ferocity.

If the UUP are to prosper they must also decide how to fight. There is still a belief in some quarters, over represented in blogger land and on the media that at the last Westminster election the CUs failed by not being civic and liberal unionist enough. This goes to the heart of the issue for the UUP and one which the Elliott vs McCrea battle came to illustrate: whether the UUP should seek to regain the votes it lost to the DUP or whether it should seek the unicorns of the garden centre Prods and the Catholics who are itching to vote for a pro-union party. The liberal civic unionists maintain that last time the CUs were not civic enough and that is why the unicorns proved elusive. The alternative analysis is that pro-union Catholics are still at least half a generation away from voting for an overt unionist party; that the garden centre Prod is largely mythical and to the extent they do exist is actually more likely to be a hard liner. To change the fantasy creature metaphor the non voting garden centre unionist is actually not a mermaid but the less alluring sea cow. Furthermore as many have pointed out when the voting figures are actually analysed against the electoral register one finds than most non voting Prods are not middle but working class. Hence, again the civic unionist economically right of centre garden centre Prod appears to be a fantasy: the none voting Prods are not the garden centre unionists but the shell suit unionists.

The UUP need to decide which of these groups it is going to target. If it wants to go after the vote it lost to the DUP it needs to think more about candidate selection: running a slate of candidates the like of Lesley Macaulay in East Londonderry or Trevor Ringland in East Belfast is not the way to capture the votes lost to the DUP. However, whilst the UUP need less civic unionists to capture the grumpy garden centre and shell suit unionists they do need to make some effort to reach out to the any unicorns who might exist: there are no doubt a few and more than just the ones who inhibit cyberspace (their natural habitat). Hence, having the likes of Macaulay on the slate and a few other civic types helps: even better if they can be both civic and possess some talent such as Mike Nesbitt. Ringland himself might be worth another run unless his self importance and preachy petulance leads him to his own natural habitat of Alliance.

Elliott then would be wise to walk a tight rope of traditional unionism where that is sensible: west of the Bann and in the middle constituencies of Upper Bann, East Londonderry, South, North and East Antrim. Within the Pale (and maybe in some of the middle constituencies) a mixture of mainly traditional types along with one unicorn tamer per seat might be the best strategy. All that presupposes a high degree of central control of candidate selection; not something the UUP are known for.

Next it needs policies to attract people and to be realistic in the current climate. Policies to improve services and save money within the local NHS which is under UUP control would go a long way to convincing people of the UUP’s seriousness as a potential lead party in government. Such policies might have to be radical and be willing to rock the boat but would show a maturity which at times has been lacking in all the parties over emotive issues such as health. A real and effective proposed compromise over the Education debacle with a costed and realistic way out of the Ruane created morass would create significant credibility for the UUP amongst unionists and any nationalists who might be willing to contemplate crossing over in voting terms. Policies to improve further education and learning and yet save money would also be useful and, as with health, would be potentially actionable by the UUP. Success on these issues might help encourage DUP voters to switch back and would also make the issue of Elliott’s attendance or otherwise at GAA matches be seen as the storm in a tea cup which it is.

Finally and possibly most difficult the UUP need collectively to take the single most important leaf out of the Elliott book (little red book?) which is overwhelmingly hard constituency work. Many in the UUP have never been that good at this: once it was not necessary; unionists had no other choices. Now, however, hard constituency work is of absolutely vital importance: those UUP members who have done relatively well recently such as Danny Kennedy have like Tom Elliott gained a reputation for massive hard work. Furthermore it was in large part that reputation for hard work which allowed Naomi Long to annihilate Trevor Ringland and overhaul Peter Robinson. Not only must the other UUP representatives follow suit but the party workers and those people in the advice centres need to be equally committed to that level of work and for the long run rather than just the weeks and months before the next election.

As I said above the task Elliott faces is herculean. He may fail in this attempt to climb Everest (or K2), indeed it all looks a bit like George Mallory’s Everest attempt: the talent was probably there; the determination certainly was but the equipment and organisation were just not up to scratch. Elliott might not look like the man to create a political earthquake within unionism. Although Churchill won the 2002 BBC poll for the greatest Briton if the question is which British Prime Minister’s tenure most shaped post war Britain, Clement Attlee, the modest man with much to be modest about, would be the obvious choice. Elliott seems a modest man, whether or not Elliott can become a Clement Attlee figure only time will tell.

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  • Johnny Boy

    Get to the point

  • Pippakin

    On the surface Elliot appears typical hardline unionist but Ian Paisley, now Lord whatsit, proves that hardliners can mellow. Cruel to quote Churchill who could be scathing, it’s not like it’s deserved, yet.

  • slug


    “The issues over attending GAA matches were not that relevant despite what Basil McCrea tried to suggest: the sorts of Catholics the UUP are trying to attract are unlikely to be obsessional attenders at GAA matches”

    The bit after the colon is not a good argument.

    I would argue that the point about the attitude to GAA and gays is not about attracting Catholics or gays but about the values of the UUP as projected to all its potential voters.

    A closed or negative attitude seems old fashioned at best – narrow minded at worst – and that deters a lot more than those who are “obsessive GAA attenders”. You can be neither Catholic nor a GAA attenders/watchers and nonetheless feel uncomfortable with the values that would lie behind the attitude he took.

  • Seymour Major


    You might as well have the benefit of the summary of Liam Clarke’s piece which was written into my post yesterday.

    In his article for The Sunday Times entitled “Standing Still is not an option for Elliott,” Liam Clarke examines Elliott’s problems. He maintains that the “tweedy, soft-spoken country boy look that plays so well in Fermanagh” is part of his difficulty. He observes him as looking “bleary-eyed and rumpled” on TV and sounding as “dull as dishwater” when on radio. On the subject of the GAA, he says that Elliott has “been to too many meetings in Orange Halls to realise that it is acceptable to wish Down well in the All Ireland”

    As to Mr. Elliott’s presentation, he says this:

    “He badly needs media training and a makeover, however. He is only 46, but can come across as an old man. The hair and clothes wont do. It is foolish to brush off the possibility of attending GAA matches or gay events as “tokenism”. If you want to win votes, a public gesture can count for a lot. Elliott needs to dream up some gestures to broaden his appeal.”

    On his political posture, Clarke says that Elliott has two choices:

    “He can throw his lot in with the DUP or strike out on his own.”

    About the second choice, Clarke says:

    “He needs to find a new direction and quickly”

    And as to what that means in practice:

    “If he wants to preserve the party they entrusted with him, however, he has to surprise them by becoming more like McCrea. That is the way to motivate 20% of the Catholics who favour the union, and increasing numbers of Protestants who stay at home.”

    “If Elliott doesn’t live up to his act, he could go down in history as the last leader of the UUP. It would be better to throw in his lot with the DUP here and now than let his party bleed to death. The status quo is no longer an option.”

    The common ground between your piece and Liam Clarke’s is that Elliott has a sort of Mountain to Climb but you and Clarke are looking at different mountains.

    Whereas you suggest that he might take lost votes from the Duppies, Liam Clarke is suggesting he has to be more like McCrea and get these votes from Unionist absentees and 20% of Catholics who are unionists.

    I dont agree with Clarke about the Catholics. However, I think the prospect of retaking absent unionist voters, even if they are working class is a bit more open to debate.

  • Alias

    “If he wants to preserve the party they entrusted with him, however, he has to surprise them by becoming more like McCrea. That is the way to motivate 20% of the Catholics who favour the union, and increasing numbers of Protestants who stay at home.” – Liam Clarke

    If they already favour the union then it is redundant for a unionist party to appeal to them if the purpose is securing the constitutional status quo. If the purpose is to increase the size of the mandate of unionist parties then it is futile since they will vote for either of the two catholic parties as determined by which of those parties best serves their ethos, culture and socio-economic status.

    All that would happen if a party was foolish enough to design its policies to appeal to that market is that its policies would no longer appeal to its main market.

    Where is the evidence that “increasing numbers of Protestants who stay at home” do so because unionist parties are designed primarily to appeal to unionists? If they wanted to vote for a party that appealed to Catholics then they could vote for either of the two catholic parties, and if they wanted to vote for a party that appealed to both Protestants and Catholics then they could vote for Alliance.

  • Alias

    One other point: what does it matter if two unionist parties share the same policies? It only matters if that splits the unionist vote, resulting in PSF becoming the largest party.

    If the UUP are directed by the media to target unicorns rather than the real voters that could result in it becoming the largest party then NI will remain with the PSF-DUP axis of power-sharing that was engineered by the British government and promoted through a servile media.

    If they target real voters and thereby split the vote then PSF will end up as the largest party and get first choice of Executive departments (such as finance), and unionism will end up with the ‘deputy’ tag.

  • joeCanuck

    It would seem to be more of a case of Chamberlain than Attlee. I can certainly imagine him exiting an empty taxi, aeroplane even.

  • JOHN

    As Turgon ponts out garden centre protestants dont exist. A quick check of the 2010 election results show 42% voted nationalist, 51% voted unionist and 6% voted alliance(the majority being from unionist background). These results are a fair reflection of the population today. So the garden centres are not just full of liberal unionists they are full of people both catholic and protestant like everywhere else in the world who dont want to vote or cant be bothered to vote.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Certainly Elliott is well prepared to repeat the Jim Molyneaux trick of being a man utterly in command of his party and yet attracting a broad church which could expand the tent of the UUP and envelop much of the DUP.

    I’m noticing a lot of weird revisionism lately about Jim Molyneaux. I appreciate that this is probably because his leadership was during the glory days when UUP politicians consistently held seats, SF seemed like a rather distant electoral threat, and (for a short while at least) the party were friends with the DUP, but to me that all looks like an illusion. Molyneaux lost control of events, which culmated in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, something which was a complete disaster for unionism and something which it made itself utterly powerless to stop. During this period the British government began talking seriously to the IRA.

    It’s quite scary that unionism puts more store in leaders that lead the populace into battles that can never be won rather than leaders which deliver better government and a better life for people who live and work here. Under Molyneaux’s leadership, unionism stood still while the world outside moved on.

  • Seymour Major

    Some good points, Alias

    I think there is an element of mockery in LIam Clarke’s piece. I read it again this morning and I think Arlene Foster would have been delighted with it. It really reads like a piece of DUP propaganda, dressed up as impartial analysis.

    There is one market open in Unionism not yet cornered – it seems the UUP will not try to tap into it- which is the Unionist left. Sooner of later, the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, once decides to fight elections, will snap it up.

    The basic problem with the UUP and the DUP is that they are both unionist parties of the right. There aint room for two of them.

    The UUP have to try and find some way of appearing to be distinguished from the DUP, even if it is not a difference in the substance of bread and butter policy. There are unionists out there who are not so bothered so much about the policies but who resent being associated with a sectarian unionist party and genuinely want to see an end to sectarianism in Northern Ireland society. That is why I still think it is right for them to try and go in the McCrea direction.

  • Seymour Major

    It’s quite scary that unionism puts more store in leaders that lead the populace into battles that can never be won rather than leaders which deliver better government and a better life for people who live and work here

    Not just unionism, Comrade but there is a story there which is yet to unfold

  • Comrade Stalin

    Touche. You’re too right there.

  • Cynic

    “the fact that people were willing to get onto the buses spoke of Elliott’s popularity within Fermanagh”

    ….. it was a pensioners day out …..did you see them …average age, I would guess was early 70s. Some of them probably signed the solemn league and covenant (original version)

  • Cynic

    “being a man utterly in command of his party and yet attracting a broad church”

    provided its Protestant, in Fermanagh and the Lodge meet in the Parish Hall

    As a Unionist I regard his election as an abject disaster. He was pandering to the worst instincts in his community and I wont vote for a party led my him. Nor on the evidence will tens of thousands of other Protestant unionists never mind the Catholic ones.

  • slug

    I sympathise but will reserve judgement to see if he resolves some of the issues thrown up on GAA

  • Seymour Major

    I think most of us will reserve judgment BUT this is one hell of a snooker position. It would take a brilliant shot or a fluke to get out of it.

  • john greene

    ‘In Elliott’s case the bravery was not one speech and the invasion of Iraq but the willingness to put himself in danger year in year out here in Ulster.’
    The superficiality of your analysis is best exposed by your slanderous suggestion that Col Collins’ bravery amounts only to Iraq. What about his service in NI?
    It seems to me that because Collins is a Conservative who dislikes the UUP and hates the DUP you feel free to slander him

  • Seymour Major

    I agree

    Collins’ heroism has been grossly understated in this post.

    In addition to what John has said, he has also served and been in action in the Falklands. As a member of the special forces, he has also been in action in very dangerous circumstances in various parts of the world.

  • fin

    Weird to think that Magaret Ritchie is the only leader of a Northern Ireland Party to sit in the Commons even weirder that she’s representing the smaller section of nationalism as the main nationalist party won’t take their seats.

    MP meetings concerning NI must be surreal, one unionist party has no representation, the larger unionist party’s leader isn’t in the commons, and only the rump of Irish nationalism is represented.

    These comments may seem off-track, but I find it interesting that the UUP elected a leader who is unlikely to become an MP in his own backyard.

    Another thought is, is it a good idea for the Turgons of this world to bring up Elliotts ‘war record’ in Fermanagh, election results show the locals reject whatever it was he was upholding when running around with a gun,

  • Turgon

    Maybe I was too dismissive of Collins. However, Elliott was in danger not just when on duty but day in day out: that is the way it was for border farmers who joined the security forces. It may be a quiet and less showy bravery than Collins but it is bravery none the less.

  • Seymour Major

    “…the Turgons of this world….”

    I thought they were all associated with a fantasy story. Just a joke, Turgon.

    Some would probably say that it is weird that Ritchie is the only leader of the four main NI parties with an honours degree but also the least able of the four leaders to lead a political party.

    Sorry, I could not resist a bit of light – hearted trivia.

    There is a connection between the UUP leadership and the Nationalist / Republican political position but you wont see evidence of it until the unionist sectarian edifice starts to properly crumble. This recent leadership election and, particularly, the attempt by McCrea to move onto new ground was the start of it. I believe there is a lot more to come.

  • Peter Brown

    Cynci are you Progressive Unionist (sic) in disguise?

    I am expecting there to be a Channel five documentary any week now about the mythical garden centre prod and unionist catholic (I am assuming that because both are so rarely sighted they are all hiding out in the same cave somewhere on Cave Hill).

    The UUP has not lost the votes of such people – if anything sonce 1998 it has gained them (when using the plural I am assuming contrary to all the factual indications that there is at least one of each) whilst losing 100,000 of its core supporters to the DUP.

    Yet you, PU and the media still want the UUP to look for the new ground pot of golden votes at the end of the GAA watching Gay Pride attending rainbow just beyond the Alliance Party rather than try to win back the core support which it has lost to the DUP?

  • Turgon

    The comment re degrees is a worryingly correct fact. Hopefully not relevant but fascinating all the same

  • slug

    There is no doubt that Tom Elliott and the GAA will be in discussions quite soon about this whole matter – and both the GAA and Tom will want to work out something that is healing rather than confrontational. I think it will be relatively easy for Tom Elliott to turn this around and in a way that satisfies Ringland.

  • fin

    Seymour, speaking of degrees, during the banking crisis it was pointed out that Terry Wogan was better qualified to run a bank than a lot of those who were actually running banks as he had a relevant degree and they didn’t

  • slug

    Speaking of degrees we all know there are only two universities who accept extremely high ability candidates and that Mike Nesbitt went to one of these.

  • Driftwood

    But how many political leaders have PhD’s like Paisley snr, Willie McCrea etc.

  • Seymour Major


    There are far fewer educated people per head of the Northern Ireland population who are interested in a career in politics than the rest of the UK. That is a fact. It is also a fact that there is a prejudice against a career in politics amongst Northern Ireland educated classes.

    Perhaps whatever political stripe we are, we might all be on common ground for wanting more quality and talent in Northern Ireland politics.

  • Seymour Major

    I understood that Ian Paisley snr’s doctorate was an honorary one from the WMUU. Am I wrong?

  • slug

    Stand up Stephen Farry, MLA. I believe he is the only one with a serious PhD. Esmond Birnie also had one (in economics) but he didn’t get reelected by the good people;

  • Neville Bagnall

    I can’t see how either of the leadership options the UUP had provided a solution to the party’s troubles.

    McCrea was making the sort of noises that I’d find more attractive, but then I’d probably vote Alliance if I was a unionist and had a vote. What wasn’t clear is why a UUP/Liberal alignment would be any more successful than a UUP/Conservative one. If Alliance isn’t making that breakthrough why should the UUP? Why would a Catholic unionist choose the UUP before either Alliance, Conservative or Labour (in opinion polls and party membership, even if not in elections)?

    Elliott at least seems to be a traditional grassroots conservative unionist. But why should that be any more attractive than the DUP?
    As far as I can see, when the DUP gained broad-based support (including the floor-crossers) it firmly staked out that centre-right-unionist territory. The occasional whiff of corruption or Free-Presbyterianism will not be enough to send moderate voters scurrying back to the UUP. Without another paradigm shift the UUP will have to defeat the DUP seat by seat on quality of representation. K2 indeed.

    I suspect one reason that there is not a viable centre-left-unionist party is the influence of evangelical protestantism, particularly in its modern U.S. incarnation. I suspect modern progressive parties keep running into cultural and propaganda minefields.

    Sad to say (from my point of view) I think a socially conservative, economically anti-corporate liberal party might have the most success with that section of the electorate. That combination is an element of the US TEA party movement, along with the libertarians. The old core of the DUP probably still fills that niche best, but it is getting diluted as the party attracts more middle and upper class voters. But if the UUP went after that vote it would lose middle class voters as it gained working class ones.

  • Driftwood

    No idea where his ‘doctorate’ came from, or his thesis. Rev McCrea has ‘Dr’ in his published literature. I suspect it wasn’t in Science and it wasn’t from a UK university.

    Maybe its as real as ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith’s.

  • Driftwood

    Sadly the UUP has fallen a long way down from when it was led by Eton/Sandhurst educated CaptainTerence o Neill/Major James Chichester-Clark golden era.

    Now NI’s political parties are led by estate agents, bartenders and farmers. Pathetic petit-bourgeois lackeys.
    Thankfully Stormont now has no real power to speak of, and we have a properly brought up SoS running the show.

  • Neil

    Would make for a thread of it’s own, an examination of our politicians and their lack of qualification. The thing is that both the main parties traditionally operated in a very different environment to the one they now do business.

    People in yesteryear could vote Sinn Fein safe in the knowledge that they were the political wing of the IRA and would act accordingly, on the flip side people could vote for the DUP safe in the knowledge that they would perform the oppositionist, never-never-never role perfectly. Neither role qualifies or prepares one for actual government, policy making or even the ability to talk to a TV camera without coming over like a thicko, making basic grammatical errors etc.

    There are people who would argue that having lay folk in politics is to our benefit and credit, though many others would like to see just a tiny bit of style, panache or intelligence, possibly backed up with a degree from a half decent college. I should add that I’m aware that some of our politicians are qualified, but many of them aren’t, and many of them can’t speak for toffee.

    On Elliot, he’d be hard pressed to do worse than Reg. We shall see how he fares. He’d do well at the minute to concentrate on the Unionist voters that the UUP have shed and forget the Catholic Unionists for the mean time.

  • Rory Carr

    Many years ago at the beginnings of the sexual revolution there would regularly appear advertisements in perfectly respectable magazines urging potential buyers to purchase a device which was named ‘The Non-Doctor’. I found its name to be very puzzling indeed and wondered what its purpose might be and since there was an air of illicit sexuality somehow floating (if not steaming) about the ad, I read on to discover that this, ‘Non-Doctor’ device was actually a vibrating dildo.

    Whenever, in later years, I would hear someone disparage the academic achievments of Doctors Paisley and McCrea by referring to them as “non-doctors” my mind could not help but conjure up images of these learned gentlemen which was less than flattering. A tribute in its way to the power of advertising I suppose.

  • Damian O’Loan

    This analysis of the situation is from a minority hardline perspective, but not reflective of the wider situation. As well as the points raised by Liam Clarke, there are other objections.

    This is framed in

  • Damian O’Loan

    framed in a context of disbelief in the potential advantage of moving away from hardline positions to ‘liberal’ unionism, while remaining confident in the possibility of winning back voters lost to the DUP. Those are questionable premisses.

    The first is too reductive. There are other options, for example economic liberalism combined with social conservatism. This would place the party nicely in line with Christian Democrats across the world, but allow for space to move on issues like close relations with the South.

    Which would require a statesman- (statesperson?) like figure, and that is where the GAA comment becomes relevant. Any party that will put forward a FM needs to be able to go to things that aren’t of personal interest. I’m sure Brian Cowen wasn’t thrilled with the National Ploughing Championships.

    By adopting clear adherence to a pre-determined political tradition and placing that at the heart of its identity, the UUP could easily attract Catholics.

    Turgon’s analysis, touching on a point raised by Seymour Major and CS, reflects the short-term gain of stability v the long-term threat of stasis. That is inherent in his position and why time renders his perspective less and less common.

  • joeCanuck

    Good craic, DW. It’s the way you tell ’em.
    Those old time boys certainly loved displaying their relatively lowly military titles. Apart from those two , we had Captain Long, Minister of Education who addressed a Students Union meeting at Queens while extremely tired and emotional when I was there and Major Ronald Bunting, one of Paisley’s henchman and father of course to junior Ronnie who went to the other extreme. Disappointed that we didn’t have any Generals.

  • John K

    Tom Elliott is no George Mallory or for that matter Wilf Noyce. Both were Cerebral Carthusians with Oxbridge educations to boot. I am a founder member of the Mallory Group and climbed with Noyce and most of the successful Everest Team. Elliott does not hold a candle to any of them.
    Like Ed Milliband he used the Third Force to gain his victory. Reminds me of a certain German painter and we all know what happened to him.

  • Peter Brown

    I can just see Stephen Fry sitting in the QI studio with tapping the answer cards on the desk in front of him and smirking while behind John K Lund flashes the wrong answer “Nazis” – Godwin’s Law strikes again.

    By the way John I left the UUP 4 years ago so please stop emailing in breach of the Data Protection Act about its next crisis…..

  • Belfast Greyhound

    God how the wheel turns.
    SM is entirely correct in saying that both UUP and DUP cannot occupy the same ground.
    The curious aspect here is that the DUP with the reaction against ‘Big House Unionism’ had a working class dynamic propelling it forward, sadly with a very pronounced sectarian bias (remember the Protestant Unionist Party and the Protestant Telegraph) .
    The UUP had worried about the rise of the NILP (Northern Ireland Labour Party) as the then only real threat to its hegemony and did all it could to frustrate it in working class areas it help sway over.
    But the essential thing here is that the direction the UUP now must move is to take that ‘left’ ground before the DUP tries to make it their feifdom.
    Politics is about ideas and the Left here is the direction that the new ideas will come from.
    The Labour party in GB will not concern itself too much with the internal affairs of NI (to do otherwise would actually ask it to break with its own misrepresented ideas about the past and the future and wake up to a different notion that that Saint Tony left it with about his work being done and good in NI, and treat NI as a place where work is still in progress.
    The ideas of the left will need to be from the Unionist side in NI and based around claiming ownership of difficult to work notions of social and economic justice and not allowing the sectarian parties of the republican and nationalist bent to drive that agenda any more.

  • Big Bad Bob

    I don’t buy that Ringland’s natural territory is Alliance, and I think it a simplification to say Macauley couldn’t take votes off the DUP.

    For example, if you work it out, 2000 or so people must have voted for Allister and then Hermon in North Down – at opposite ends of the “Unionist” scale, most would think.

    Ultimately there is a sense out there of wanting to vote for competence, and another of wanting to vote for an alternative. Where on the scale that alternative exists may be a secondary consideration.

    I happen to think Macauley is an excellent candidate, as would Bradshaw be if selected, and both would attract votes from across the board. I’m less sure about Ringland, who does not present the determined, competent figure he did on the rugby field.

  • Big Bad Bob


    The other thing is, when the educated sensible ones put their names forward for election, they tend not to get elected.

    It’s not new politicians we need, it’s a new electorate.

  • slug

    Cases in point Esmond Birnie (not elected) and James Leslie (deselected).

  • Driftwood

    O Neill and Chichester Clarke were both mentioned in dispatches for their leadership in the field at, respectively, the Normandy and Anzio beacheads, with separate battalions of the Irish Guards. For some reason, Paisley Snr, of similar vintage, is not mentioned during WW2 at all-despite being of military service age- Maybe he was too busy getting his ‘doctorate’. Surely he volunteered for the war effort? At least Ratzinger did.

  • joeCanuck

    I don’t doubt the bravery of either. But leading armed men in battle doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader of people in peacetime. There are lots of present day examples!

  • Comrade Stalin

    DW, this is a totally daft line of argument. Military leaders often make the worst political leaders. Nowhere is that more true than in Northern Ireland, where they took an economic powerhouse and ceremonially fucked it up. You must be the sort of person who gets a boner at the sight of a man in a uniform with a few medals pinned on it.

    And on the subject of war, the Stormont administration was utterly incompetent when it came to defending the country and its contribution to the Allied war effort in 1941, and through it’s negligence the city was left completely undefended during the blitz. There’d have been a case for putting them all on trial for treason/sabotaging the war effort.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Usually because people who go to the bother of getting a degree with it’s own career path aren’t interested in politics, and why would they be ? Look at the abuse you have to take for the equivalent of a middle-grade civil service salary. The electorate can be put off you over the slightest of matters, especially if a story takes hold in the way that the expenses matter did. You need a special kind of talent to deal with that, and it’s a talent which occasionally but not necessarily goes hand in hand with a desire to help people and change things for the better.

  • joeCanuck

    a desire to help people and change things for the better

    I’m kind enough to believe that that is case with most politicians (and many civil servants) at the start. Unfortunately there are too many out there trying to corrupt them ( and in the case of expenses, for example, bad example set by the older hands) and so,eventually many start looking after themselves. Good case for term limits. De Toqueville even pointed out 160 odd years ago that a defect in the US system was allowing a President to stand for re-election; the 2nd half of the mandate was spent trying to get re-elected rather than concentrating on the business of State.

  • cynic47

    We have loads of armchair generals. Some even post on Slugger.

  • cynic47

    I think some of the people with degree’s go into politics for the soft option. They realise that its tough out in the real world and there are few jobs outside politics that enable you to employ your wife on a generous salary as a researcher.

  • Driftwood

    The MoD were (and are) responsible for defence of our country. There were 2 PM’s of NI during the war. But Churchill was extemely supportive of both, especially when the South was supporting the Nazi Regime.
    You should read a history of that time CS. Remember de Valera’s sympathy words on hearing of the death of the Fuhrer. -Never mind refuelling the U-Boats-.
    But better to forget that now, just like forgetting who ordered the murder of Joanne Mathers.
    Like FJH says, creative ambiguity.
    Main Point. None of our non terrorist political leaders (bar Tom Elliot) have served under armed conflict.
    i’m assuming you were not at Ballykinlar with us?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I don’t think it’s a soft option, look at what it has done to the Robinson family. Put yourself in the position of their son or daughter, and imagine yourself walking down the street. They deserved to lose, and lose heavily, for their entirely legal but nonetheless questionable use of the expenses system, but did they deserve to have their private lives destroyed ?

    The Guardian did a few articles catching up on the “Blair babes” of 1997, they found a trail of divorces and alcoholism. AFAIR, the article suggested that this was a consequence of promoting people too quickly who had little experience at dealing with the brickbats.

    You really do need to be made of fairly tough stuff. In NI we’ve escaped this requirement for a long time. I think that is beginning to change.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Term limits are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have some damn good public representatives, including here in NI, and I think it’s right that people should be allowed to re-elect them.

  • cynic47


    Quantify “some”. Take the rose tinted glasses off before you answer.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Well put piece. I think the harping about the unicorns is a little overly cynical but for the most part chasing the non voting soft unionist vote is a hiding to nothing. I think its broadly perceived competence that makes more difference so the UUP needs to get its self better organised and to have better quality MLA’s who will work at the constituency grind ( I will confess I didn’t particularly enjoy it but I did do it whatever my many detractors might think). Right now the DUP just look like a better organised party with a reasonable number of lower level performers than the UUP. Its when you get down to the Johhny Bell, William Humphreys level the UUP has what to offer? Although to be fair Fred Cobain is a decent grinder and performer. I dont want to get into naming names but the UUP could do with a trim of its MLA talent and few solid replacements. I hope Tom will take a bit from Basils prescription and apply it in his own style to give the best of both worlds.

  • joeCanuck

    I didn’t specify the length of a term but I believe that political life can be draining, especially for a leader, and all parties get tired and can’t come up with good ideas eventually.
    WRT the USA President, would he be more effective if he had a single 7 year term rather than having to spend so much time campaigning?

  • Joseph Addison

    Duncan Shipley Dalton,

    Leslie Cree .69.
    Rev Coulter. 81
    Sam Gardiner. 70.
    George Savage. 69.
    David McNary .62.
    Reg Empey 63.
    Michael McGimpsey .62.
    Ken Robinson .68.
    Billy Armstrong .67.
    David McClarty. 59.
    Fred Cobain.65
    Danny Kennedy. 51
    Tom Elliott .47.
    Roy Beggs 48.
    Basil McCrea .50.
    Danny Kinahan. 53
    John McAllister 38

    Of the above 17; 14 are thought to be Orange men. The last three.I believe are not. Is this group of people representative of NI society generally? The answer is NO and I very much doubt Tom Elliott has the will let alone the ability to change this at the next assembly elections. This I fear is no party for moderate free thinking supporters of the United Kingdom and the electorate have shown this. If this party continues in this vane the share of the Westminster vote might well shrink to 60000 voters without Conservative support.