The BBC are reporting that Trevor Ringland is to resign from the UUP. He apparently told Talkback that he “had taken the decision reluctantly to resign from the party”. Ringland had apparently had discussions with the party leader and said (of Tom Elliott): “I think that we both want the same things for the people of Northern Ireland, it is just how to bring that about is the challenge.”
Previously Ringland had said that Elliott was “…taking the party in a direction I’m not comfortable with”. Danny Kennedy seemed to try to leave the door open by saying that Ringland had made “a tactical error” and that it would be “a small step back” to making a return.
This seems about as good a job as the UUP could have made over this issue. Ringland was not really that major a figure in the party: his importance was more related to his previous rugby career. It is worth noting that he squandered the best chance the party had of taking a Westminster seat apart maybe from South Antrim and was beaten much more heavily than Reg Empey. His liberal unionism singularly failed to attract the people who wanted to give Peter Robinson a bloody nose and instead they went for Naomi Long. Whilst Long had a reputation for hard constituency work which Ringland could not hope to emulate (not being an elected representative) a more hard line UUP candidate might have made a more attractive home for the anti Robinson protest vote. Whatever the reasons for the defeat Trevor Ringland was the figure head of the largest loss of share of vote the UUP suffered (apart from North Down with Lady Hermon taking her vote with her).
In light of Ringland’s abject failure to gain any traction with the voters of East Belfast (only outshone in failure by the TUV), his demands on Tom Elliott to do as he (Ringland) wanted on attending GAA matches seemed pretty arrogant. Elliott had, rightly or wrongly, said he was not taking part in what he said he regarded as tokenism but highlighted his work in support of the GAA in his own constituency. Whatever way one cuts it any immediate change of mind by Elliott would have looked like a U turn forced by Ringland: Elliott would have looked weak and it would have looked like the tail wagging the dog.
Following Elliott’s meeting with Ringland, of course Ringland did not shut up but continued to make demands that Elliott attend GAA matches: he may have modulated the language a bit but the reality was that Ringland was still demanding Elliott make a U turn.
This episode will no doubt blow over and it may be in the fullness of time that Tom Elliott will attend a GAA match. However, for him to commit so public a U turn would have set a bad precedent at the start of his leadership and would have further inflated what looks in Ringland like a strong trait of self importance and petulance. The UUP may be holding the door ajar for Ringland to return but they might be well advised to be convinced that Trevor Ringland can be as effective a political team player as he was a rugby team player before they allow him back into any senior role within the party. Ringland himself once said of playing rugby: “We were a team, we worked together…. Those that don’t, fail.” Unfortunately for Mr. Ringland, he seems to have forgotten that the team is more important than the individual and hence, it is his self importance which seems to have ended his political career. Alternatively Ringland may go to the likes of Alliance where he would no doubt be welcomed but if he continues with his current style he will very probably be quietly sidelined.