UUP Conference (updated) #uupconf

after lunch Sandra Overend (Women’s Development Officer) introduced a video about the Parker Programme.

The bulk of the afternoon was taken up with the Shared Future Panel, which included Duncan Morrow (chief executive of CRC) as well as candidates Lesley Macaulay, Bill Manwaring and Kenny Donaldson.

MEP Jim Nicholson was the last speaker in what he described as “the graveyard slot”. He spoke about co-chairing a trip to Haiti earlier this year as well as mentioning his new appointment as “rapporteur for the future of the dairy sector which is a co-legislative situation”.

He then moved back to the issue of the leavers.

I have no time for those people who join our party and because they don’t get what they want, when they want it and walk away. No time at all. (applause) And I think we should stop worrying about those who walk away and those that are here work together to develop the greater challenge for the future.

I think we have got to be very honest and say last year was not the best year as a political party. It would have only taken a few more votes and we would have had first class success and everyone saying we did well. But that’s where we are, and we are where we are.

But don’t forget the year before that was a great year. That ladies and gentlemen is politics. The challenge is not hat happened in the past but what happens in the future and let’s look forward. Let me say, the Ulster Unionist Party has a proud record in history and we can look back with proud to that history. I can think of two other Northern Ireland parties who would wish to airbrush their past, who do not want to remember their past and try to reinvent what their past has been.

National Anthem at end of UUP conference

When they closed conference by standing to sing the National Anthem, there were a lot less than a hundred delegates remaining in the hall.

UUP Assembly candidates

12.50pm John McCallister got the best laughs of the conference so far – he’s really the UUP’s Sammy Wilson – as he got up on stage as deputy leader to introduce the Assembly candidates for May 2011. Self deprecating humour went down well – the suggestion that as farmers, Tom and he were hard working and hard done by – “there is a creamery can down at the back and we don’t want to hear any coins going in!

Originally the candidates – sitting on labelled chairs in the first two rows – just stood up and turned to wave at the delegates. But after a while there was a rush for the stage and they (nearly) all ended up at the front.

UUP wordle of Tom Elliott's speech

12.25pm A standing ovation as Tom Elliott enters the conference hall to the strains of A little less conversation a little more action. Though perhaps one of the later verses inadvertently sums up the direction of travel by some of the UUP’s previous candidates and members!

Come on baby I’m tired of talking
Grab your coat and let’s start walking
Come on, come on, Come on, come on, Come on, come on
Don’t procrastinate, don’t articulate
Girl it’s getting late, gettin’ upset waitin’ around

Standing comfortably at the podium, Tom Elliott has a good sense of timing as he reads through his speech. He thanks Sir Reg Empey and also leadership candidate Basil McCrea: “on occasions it was a lively campaign – to put it mildly – and we are now working together and I thank Basil for his commitment and hard work“. (applause)

Before the end of the first page of his speech, he introduces the “Who is Tom Elliott?” section.

I am a Unionist: an unembarrassed, unapologetic Unionist. I’m not just a Rural Unionist: or a West-of-the-Bann Unionist: or an Orange Unionist: or a This or a That Unionist. I’m purely a Unionist.

My Unionism is not determined by religion, race or background. My Unionism is open to anyone and everyone who lives in Northern Ireland and supports that process. (applause) My Unionism is founded on pluralism and an equality of citizenship and opportunity. My Unionism is one which sets out the value and benefits of the United Kingdom.

So let no-one try and say that Tom Elliott is some sort of political dinosaur: for I am not.

Some of the press present at conference reckon that the reference to “dinosaur” is not helpful. Better to focus on what you are rather than denying other people’s accusations and saying what you are not.

At one stage in my life I wore a uniform – a legitimate uniform, not a red beret. (applause) In fact my uniform was the same as the one that our brave men and women are wearing today in Afghanistan.  As we head towards Christmas I am sure you will join me in extending our sincerest thanks to all those men and women who are serving overseas in our name. (applause) And we will all be aware that a number of our young soldiers who have not come back and I pay special tribute to Ranger Aaron McCormick of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment whose funeral is today and we remember is family.

There is something else you need to know about me. I will not do something, or say something, or turn up somewhere, just for the sake of a photo-opportunity or a pat on the back from an interest group or a section of the media.

I know that there are people in Northern Ireland who will never be won over to Unionism. And I accept that. Their passion for a United Ireland is every bit as valid as my passion for the United Kingdom. But I have absolutely no difficulty with their determination to promote their beliefs – as long as that promotion is done by democratic means.

He’s critical of the Sinn Fein/DUP carve up.

You cannot talk about a shared society and common responsibility when you have a government which is built on carve-up and veto. You cannot expect to break down barriers across Northern Ireland when the Sinn Fein/DUP failure has proven they are utterly incapable of reaching their own compromises on a range of key issues.

Right now people need and deserve politicians who put the public’s interests before their own narrow party political interests. They deserve politicians who are honest with them – not a party that claims to want an end to double jobbing and then cynically does a u-turn. (applause)

Both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have become very fond of telling us how good their working relationship is.

It’s Hardly surprising as the whole thing is based on the equivalent of a ‘dirty weekend’ in Scotland ‘shotgun marriage’ in St Andrews [changed between draft and delivery] and changed the arrangements and mechanisms to suit themselves.

Much of the speech feels like a reaction to last week’s leader’s speech up the road at the DUP Conference. In many ways the two should be read side by side.

Countering Peter Robinson’s list of Executive triumphs, Elliott refers to failures: no agreement on RPA, no agreement on Transfer Test, no agreement on a budget, lost the potential for a national stadium and the “much awaited Parades Bill has been hidden away with deserved embarrassment”.

We need change at the heart of the process: Greater accountability of ministers – both individually and collectively.
But Mr. Robinson reeled off a list of Executive achievements last Saturday he forgot to mention the fact that many of those achievements were the work of Ulster Unionist Ministers.

So he highlights some UUP achievements:

It is no coincidence that the Ministry for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is the only Government Department to implement its Review of Public Administration.

It is no coincidence that the Department of Employment and Learning has overseen record levels of participation in higher education from people from socially deprived backgrounds. We also continue to ensure that our Universities retain their world class status.

It is because they have been led by Ulster Unionists who are dedicated to delivery and I would at this stage like to thank Michael McGimpsey, Sir Reg Empey and more recently Danny Kennedy for that record of achievement. Imagine what the Assembly would be like if we were not around, working tirelessly to make meaningful change.

With a review of the devolved institutions coming in the next Assembly term, Elliott set out his party’s opening position in the negotiations.

Yet, The Assembly needs a proper voluntary coalition with a cross community basis, which requires an appropriate Opposition. The foundation stone of democracy is that a government be held to account inside and outside. The electorate need a choice between an outgoing government and a possible alternative. It boils down to this: you cannot build a consensual, genuine power-sharing Northern Ireland upon the specific interests of Sinn Fein and the DUP. It isn’t working and it wont work.

Unionist cooperation at the forthcoming elections is within the realms of Elliott’s possibilities.

There is a responsibility for Pro-Union parties working to maximise votes and seats: and cooperating when required to preserve, protect and promote our common interests. I don’t want to see seats lost because Unionism is too set in its ways to co-operate and recommend vote transfer. But let me tell you folks, I will not be pressurised by any other party into creating a sham, short-lived, self-serving unity.

So yes, I am happy to talk with other unionist parties about ways in which we don’t damage the chances of winning seats and votes. But let me be clear. Under my leadership the UUP will be a free-standing party. We will field our own candidates under our own colours and policies: and those candidates and representatives will be accountable to their own Associations and to the Ulster Unionist Executive.

UCUNF isn’t going to be killed at this conference. It is dismissed with three brief sentences.

This is neither the time nor the platform for a discussion about our relationship with the Conservative Party.

That said, I will continue to work to ensure that the Ulster Unionist Party retains a linkage that is beneficial to the Northern Ireland community with the Conservative Party. (applause) We have many interests in common – not least our shared belief in pan-UK Unionism.

Looking forward Elliott set out the UUP’s stall – partly by looking back.

We need to stop trying to re-invent and re-position ourselves and concentrate, instead, on reminding people of what we have done and can do.

We are the party of delivery. When the DUP walked away, we stayed. It was the Ulster Unionist Party that put Articles 2 and 3 on the negotiating table, ensuring that their final removal spelled the end of the territorial claim.

There’s another dig at the DUP and last week’s statement that “our [DUP] values and core beliefs remain”. A draft copy of the speech …

I have one word for Peter Robinson’s about his core values – “Clontibret”

… was much stronger than the final delivered line:

Are those the same core values displayed at Clontibret?

He associated the UUP with the continuing themes of PMS and Corporation Tax.

As the Prime Minister has acknowledged it was the Ulster Unionist Party and my colleague Sir Reg Empey who led the fight to rescue savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society a deal that now appears to be in some jeopardy due to the paralysis over the budget. We will continue to force this issue to a fair and just solution.

We have led the debate to vary Corporation Tax. Northern Ireland has great businesses; we have an excellent education system; brilliant entrepreneurs and some world class infrastructure. However, without the right business environment we will not take the next step to being the dynamic and expanding region I know we can be.

Looking forward to the election …

We are now just 152 days away from Assembly and Council elections. But the battle begins when we leave this hall today folks. So let me say this to all members, representatives and candidates.

Get out there and meet your electorate – engage with your local communities – listen to their concerns and hopes and discuss with them our vision for the future of Northern Ireland.

We will prioritize further and higher education – we are a Party that will fight for academic excellence and a resolution to the mess that Sinn Fein and their Minister Caitríona Ruane has left our education system in.

We want better government and will push for reform – from reducing the number of unelected Quangos by a third to cutting the cost of the North South Bodies.

From seeking an opposition in the Assembly to changing the way the Speaker of the Assembly is selected.

Improving efficiencies, effectiveness and accountability – these are the Ulster Unionist Party priorities.

I want a Northern Ireland in which a genuine power-sharing, consensual government, delivers polices and strategies which we all have collective ownership of.

I want the reality of progress in Northern Ireland and not just the promise of it.

And as your Leader, I want the Ulster Unionist Party – a strong, united, disciplined and determined party – to finish the job that we started in 1998.

12.15pm Change of plan. After Michael McGimpsey finishes his speech, Tom Elliott’s speech as party leader is being brought forward and will be followed by his deputy John McCallister introducing the new candidates. Sandra Overend’s “women’s slot” is being pushed into the afternoon.

Here’s the audio from the Health Minister’s speech.

11.55am They’ve been debating the economy for the last 45 minutes. You can listen to the full audio from the debate.

Basically, they’d like local devolved control of corporation tax. Danny Kennedy is wrapping up with his speech, beginning with a tribute to his predecessor Reg Empey.

The need to offer hope and opportunity to those who have lost their jobs, who have seen their businesses go to the wall. It is not a time for the usual knock-about jokes at the expense of other parties. It is a time for serious politics.

The actions of one party in the Executive have undermined confidence in Northern Ireland’s economy. One party has dangerously delayed the Executive’s budget. Sinn Fein has been playing economic poker with the future of Northern Ireland – with the livelihood of our families, communities, voluntary sector, public services and businesses.

In an echo from last week at the DUP he refers to overseas’ perceptions of NI strengths.

The skills of the Northern Ireland workforce are prized by overseas investors. They value our work ethic, our education system, our Further Education Colleges and our universities.

As he comes towards the end of his speech he pays tribute to those in the military.

Recently the Coalition Government announced that in Great Britain college and university scholarships would be given to the children of military personnel killed on active service since 1990. I was determined that Northern Ireland would not be left out of this scheme. Families here in Northern Ireland, from across our entire community, have fathers and mothers serving in the armed forces. They should not be treated as second class citizens. And they won’t be. So today I can announce that I have agreed with the Ministry of Defence that the scheme will be extended to service families in Northern Ireland.

10.50am Basil McCrea welcomes Matt Baggott to conference.

Basil’s speaking from the podium talking about what he saw the Ardoyne riots over the summer, pressures on policing, and analysing what dissidents are doing with regard to tactics to draw police in to use plastic bullets to create some kind of propaganda victory.

When I took this on three and a half years ago, I wasn’t sure. But the more I’ve got into it, the more I believe [human rights] is what this party actually stands for.

matt baggottMatt Baggott pays tribute to the bravery of PSNI officers who risk their lives to evacuate areas and protect the public.

He says the new generation of recruits are as good as the force has ever had. In the current recruitment round, 50 applicants for every one accepted.

Wearing the green uniform is the biggest privilege of my life. (Matt Baggott)

He has “never underestimated the threat”. He suggests that there was “an over-optimistic view of the future” and the PSNI was “wound down too quickly”. He doesn’t blame anyone for that.

Baggott is very confident and comfortable speaking to the conference, getting a good laugh when he suggests any party would like the 7% rise in public confidence the PSNI has achieved this year.

Every NI household will get a set of promises from the PSNI in the new year stating what they can expect if they contact the police, report a crime etc. Baggott explains that he doesn’t seek to command and control the PSNI from the centre, but believes in delegating budgetary authority to divisional commanders to align with their local priorities.

Similar to the DUP last week, the Q&A session after McCrea and Baggott’s speeches is not random and the questioners seem to be coming off a pre-prepared list.

UUP hall filling up10.40am Party Chairman David Campbell referred in his opening remarks to Westminster candidates who swiftly left the party. He laid in heavily.

I also want to make one thing clear. This party over recent elections has gone out of its way to facilitate the entry and candidature of what we thought was new talent, committed to the principles of Ulster Unionism and to the recovery of this party. I have been in this party for nearly 30 years. I like many of you have stood for nominations, and like many of you have had successes and have had knock backs. But like each of you my overriding loyalty has been and is to this party. (applause)

It is an absolute outrage and scandal to see Paula Bradshaw, Harry Hamilton and to an extent Trevor Ringland take the nominations and plaudits of this party just a few months ago, and then at one disappointment to pack up their bags and leave in an ill-tempered sulk carrying their single transferable principles with them. (applause)

This party owes a living or a position to no one. We all enter as volunteers and the day we forget we are volunteers is the day we all need to reassess our motivation for membership. (applause) I feel deeply sorry and disappointed for those members who loyally worked and supported Harry Hamilton and Paula Bradshaw in the last election. It’s clear to me that Harry needs to change his name from Flash Harry to Flash in the pan Harry. (little laughter)

Lets us today, however, reject those who have so bitterly let us down and focus now on rebuilding under our new leader.

You can listen to his full remarks below.

UUP conference panorama10.15am The UUP are in the Ramada hotel this year. They’re using the full ball room – the SDLP filled (bursting) one half of the room – so it’ll be interesting to see if the UUP can fill the bigger space. If they do, they’ll have a similar number of delegates to those who attended the DUP conference last week.

They’re starting about twenty minutes late. The first major part is the policing discussion, to be chaired by Basil McCrea and featuring the Chief Constable Matt Baggott who is due to be arriving downstairs any minute.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.