UUP Manifesto Launch and a chat with Basil McCrea about Lagan Valley

It was the turn of the Ulster Unionist Party this morning to launch their manifesto. The Assembly candidates huddled in around party leader Tom Elliott as he spoke in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library.

Tom Elliott launching UUP 2011 Assembly election manifesto in Linen Hall Library

The glossy manifesto booklet was available, along with an us-versus-them pamphlet outlining

40 DUP Failures
40 Ulster Unionist Achievements

Notably, all the sentences describing DUP “failures” started with the words “Sinn Fein/DUP”. All part of Tom Elliott’s message about reforming and improving “the current devolved government [that] is dysfunctional”. Despite battering the DUP about their performance over the last four years (and more), he explained:

I do not want to dwell on the past this morning. We have all come a very long way and every party has been required to make difficult decisions. All of us have moved on to new territory.

February’s “game changer” was back – rapidly agreeing the Programme for Government before running d’Hondt.

Looking back at the 2007 UUP Manifesto, it is clear that many of the long lists of bullet points under the headings of health, education and economy have not been fully met. some have been implemented. But many ideas have withered and faded, while others have proved outside the UUP’s control or influence. Please correct me, but did any of these happen?

  • “Extending NHS Direct to Northern Ireland” hasn’t happened. In fact, NHS Direct is being phased out.
  • “Introducing one year’s guaranteed employment for new nurses whcn their training is completed”
  • “A Mental Health Directorate in OFMDFM” hasn’t be achieved, though additional funding has been provided.
  • “A guaranteed induction year for new teachers” doesn’t ring any bells.
  • “Reversing the funding cuts to Northern Ireland’s FE colleges.”
  • “Extending degree-awarding status to Northern Ireland’s FE colleges.”

Candidates clap Tom Elliott at launch of UUP 2011 Assembly election manifesto in Linen Hall Library
This year’s Assembly manifesto has similar headings, but looks to have new sets of bullet points of policy ideas. A few of the suggestions are outside the remit of the Assembly and not devolved matters: eg, Air Passenger Duty. There is some badly worded language that lacks the confidence of the UUP’s previously established convictions: “Should we decide to lower Corporation Tax” doesn’t sound as definite as their previous campaigning on the subject.

I notice an RPA-light suggestion, targeting a reduction of the number of local councils from 26 to 15 (rather than the original 11).

Afterwards I caught up with a very tired-looking Basil McCrea who is standing for the UUP in Lagan Valley along with newcomer Mark Hill.

Basil identified jobs and unemployment as well as imperfect planning legislation as issues on the doorstep. He was upbeat about Stormont:

If you look at the positive side of things, the real issue is that we’re still there, we’re still working, that there is stability, and without stability you cannot bring investment and jobs.

The UUP manifesto in 2007 had lots of bullet points of promises and pledges. The 2011 manifesto has lots more promises, often quite different. Asked whether there was value in having detailed manifestos, Basil reflected:

I do think we have a structural imbalance in the way that we do government. Everybody comes out with manifestos, everybody talks more or less the same thing. It’s whenever you get into power – into government – and you have to make tough decisions that you realise you can’t do everything that you want to do.

I do think there’s going to have to be a change in terms of building consensus. This is why the big issue that we’re putting forward is that we really ought to agree the programme for government before we appoint ministers. Because only if you can agree the programme for government can you actually work effectively as an executive.

And I do think people are fed up with petty bickering and we’ve got to sort that out.

Basil McCrea Tom Elliott Mark HillThe UUP posters for Assembly candidates in Lagan Valley refer to both candidates but don’t advise a voting preference.

We took that as a decision that we want to make sure we go out 50:50.

He highlighted the blend of different qualities in the two candidates that offered “horses for courses” and would attract different types of electorate.

We do have hopes and expectations of getting the two seats. What we actually have in terms of opposition is that we’ve got one MLA who’s a minister [Edwin Poots], you’ve got two other DUP MLAs that are double jobbing [Jonathan Craig and Paul Givan] and you’ve got a fourth candidate [Brenda Hale] who is not known. So if you take that against ourselves, we think we’ve got a chance.

We think we’ve got something to say. And the reception we’re getting on the doorstep is that it’s all to play for, that people are waiting to be convinced by an argument, that they will make up their mind a little bit closer to the time. We’re certainly well in the running to get the second seat and I sincerely hope that we do and I think Mark will make an excellent MLA … as long as myself as well of course!

I note that the Alliance’s Trevor Lunn didn’t feature in Basil’s list of “opposition”.

The reference to double jobbing deserves some unpacking. My understanding is:

  • While Basil McCrea was both MLA and Lisburn City councillor, he’s only standing for re-election to the Assembly.
  • Both the DUP’s Jonathan Craig and Paul Givan are standing for election to both the Assembly and Lisburn City Council. DUP policy will allow them to keep both positions if successful.
  • Basil’s running mate Mark Hill is also standing for election to both the Assembly and Lisburn City Council. However, UUP policy will make him withdraw from one position (and trigger the co-option of someone the electorate may not have heard of) if successful in both.

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  • HeinzGuderian

    Sin Finn?pira,having blown,bombed,murdered and terrorised us out of the Orange State let. I feel there is no other alternative but to embrace the economic basket case of Southern Ireland.
    Gentle reader,I have long been a voter of the UUP,to vote otherwise,would be a betrayal to me. But the time has surely come,( with 2016 celebrations at hand ),to open our arms,to the shinners.
    We are promised equality,dancing girls,and statues of the Holey Vegan !!
    Turn away from the party that wanted 1/3rd Catholic recruitment for the RUC. Turn away from the party that wanted the Nationalist Party to take up 1/3rd of the seats at the New Stormont.
    Lets go back to the future,join our Southern Basket Cases,and together,we can make a basket Case Oirland,the likes of which,the world has never pissed themselves laughing over,before.

    On the other (red) hand,we could sit back,and watch the shinners administer British Rule at Stormont……………………….Hmmm………………what to do,what to do ??

    😉

  • Mark McGregor

    There are 9k+ seats in play for the UUP and a possible two seats – though the nationalist transfers they could have picked up (as that seat goes) will have disappeared with the terrible reactionary ultra-prod rhetoric from the UUP over recent years.

    Potential gain dropped by not realising, as usual, catholics can swing votes,

  • granni trixie

    Take a look at the pictures: men,men,men.
    In this day and age its just not good enough.

  • granni trixie – three women candidates – one in each row!

  • Erm

    Yes, Granny Trixie, it wasn’t just the scarcity of the women, but the absence of any sense that they should at least make those they have visible. White, middle class (or suited at least) men.

    That’s what the photo says to me. Isn’t it someone’s job to think about such things as optics, particularly at a public launch of a manifesto, where they are supposed to be encouraging as many *people* as possible to vote for them?

    (Mark, do you have any suggestions how, if they wanted to, they would show visible diversity in the direction you suggest?)

    I fear the unchallenged assumption is that the “important” and “powerful” characters are the ones at the centre, nearest the leader… and that the women are all too junior to be in that category. Still, some of those women are quality candidates. Maybe a few boats will be rocked.

  • For men (and three women) with achievements, they look very miserable.They are showing a willingness to embrace Feminism by not standing up to give two of the women a seat.
    I find Lagan Valley the hardest constituency to analyse. Not least the destination of “Catholic” votes.

  • Surely the best story out of Lagan Valley has to be the ‘Let’s Have a Party’ party:

    “Aren’t Lisburn ratepayers just the most generous people? I’ve posted the following on the BBC’s The Devenport Diaries blog – Alternative Ulster thread:

    “Some things don’t change, Mark. Here’s a little yarn that might not (yet) have winged it’s way to the Nolan Show.

    Lisburn Borough Council would usually stage its Mayor’s Parade in the beginning of May – May 9 in 2009 and May 8 in 2010. Now such a day this year would come just after the election. Are you with me so far?

    Well, this year’s Mayor’s ‘bit of a do’ has been brought forward to April 9 – and its a Carnival and FREE Concert. No Stiff Little Fingers, just Jedward and Joe McElderry. If you’d like a free wristband before they all run out maybe the DUP Mayor, Paul Porter, could make sure you get one.”

    Three cheers for the DUP mayor 🙂 Now where did they suddenly find the £50,000 or so for that shindig?

  • fitzjameshorse1745 – they were all actually sitting – except Tom – though even in the room it looked like some were standing.

    Nevin – glad they got good weather, and glad the noise eventually stopped. Most of the money must have gone on a really loud PA system … or organising wind to carry the music our direction.

  • Alan, why didn’t Slugger expose this shameless piece of opportunism during my leave of absence? 🙂

  • alaninbelfast…..glad they all had a seat. not many will have a seat after 5th May.
    Ive looked at Lagan Valley four times and got four different results for the last seat.

  • Nordie Northsider

    Granni Trixie – On the visuals, I love Basil starting off with the need to make Stormont work while standing beside a Smash Stormont poster.

  • Langdale

    McCrea has absolutely no interest in the UUP winning a second seat in Lagan Valley, which may explain the complete lack of cooperation and coordination between him and Mark Hill. Basil’s agenda is simple:

    1) Top the poll in LV

    2) Get more votes overall than any other UUP candidate.

    3) Portray himself as the most popular Ulster Unionist in Northern Ireland

    4) Pray that the UUP falls below 16 seats and that Elliott falls on his sword.

    5) Offer himself once again as the saviour of the UUP.

    He is telling anyone that will listen that the party is in meltdown and happily blaming Elliott. The fact that he isn’t making any effort to help Hill is part of what he hopes is a self-fulfillng prophecy of electoral disaster.

    These tactics cost LV its’ second seat in 2007, when McCrea ran his own campaign and ignored his then running mate.

    As ever, with this man, its all about Basil, Basil, Basil.

    LP

  • Nordie Northsider – the Linen Hall Library’s excellent display of political posters made a fun backdrop. Hardly a poster any current politician would want to stand in front of.

  • Nordie Northsider

    Alan – it could be worse: you could put Peter Robinson next to a Smash Sinn Féin one.

  • granni trixie

    A wee in-joke in our house is “basil loves his food” , usually said with eyes rolling and laughs – the gardening advice of an American relative (sorry to be off post – just had to share the joke as you are writing about McCrea).

  • Master McGrath

    Granni Trixie has put her finger on the nub of the problem for the UUP in a changing world.
    It is a party picture for middle-aged white men who are turning to politics and for men who have been in politics for too long.
    The Shinners push the women, whether or not they have any ability or not, step forward the Minister for Education, but the tone of the UUP seems to be that they know where women in politics belong and that is making the tea for the men.
    There are UUP women I am sure but where are they in this election?
    Mind you the DUP is not exactly pushing the boat out for women in politics much either but is doing marginally better.

  • granni trixie

    FJH: To help you out let me tell you about Lagan Valley Alliance.Trevor Lunn,won Seamus Closes MLA seat at last Asembley election. A twenty something solicitor from the area is standing in Seamus Closes slot at local Council. Longstanding ex-mayor Betty Campbell is stepping down, hopefully will be replaced by a new candidate,Jennifer, a twentysomething history/politics teacher (canvassed with her in EB but forget second name,sorry).

    Even alowing for my obvious bias, APNI usually does well in LaganValley, not really dependant on personal votes. And its great to see new blood.

  • granni trixie

    oops, ought to have said the name of the person standing in Laganvalley in place of Seamus Close,it is Stephen Martin (who is also on Alliance Executive Committee and Policy Committee).

  • Master, I’ve no special insight into internal UUP workings but it’s possible that some UUP ladies follow traditional patterns – and keep their menfolk well away from the kitchen 🙂

  • Granni Trixie…….in Blue Peter style let me refer you to a spreadsheet I prepared earlier.
    Lagan Valley/Lisburn
    Trevor Lunn (12.7% in “North”) stands down in favour of Brian Dornan.
    Betty Campbell (13.2%) stands down in favour of Jennifer Coulter in Downshire. A problem here might be that Ms Coulter is from outside the DEA (Aghalee).
    Seamus Close (17.7 % in “South”) stands down in favour of Stephen Martin.
    In Killutagh (6.8%) the candidate is Owen Gawith.
    In Dunmurry Cross (largely now in West Belfast) the runner is Aaron McIntyre.
    No doubt this will all be expanded on at a later date.

  • Backbencher

    There has been a lot of talk about a UUP melt down in this election but I can’t see it happening.
    On looking at each area I think they are guaranteed 13 seats even if the wheels fall of their wagon (been close to that a few times). However the more likely scenario is that of the 18 seats they won last time they lose 1 in NDown, 1 in NBelfast and 1 in SDown but gain 1 each in Strangford and WTyrone leaving them with 17. It is quite possible they could hang on to both NBelfast and SDown leaving them with 19 (a gain of 1). For the really optimistic UUP’s out there they could even hang on to the second seat in NDown and take a second in Lagan Valley giving a total of 21. My quess is they will come home with 17.

  • 17 seats would only get them 1 Executive seat.
    The Alliance Party support the well financed campaign for fairer voting but might get 2 Departments from 9 seats which would surely be difficult for UUP to accept Opposition?
    to possibly leave AP in coalition with their moderate allies and benefactors in DUP & Sinn Féin.

  • Backbencher

    17 seats could still get them 2 Executive seats, it depends on the outcome for the other parties. If the DUP drop a seat and SF don’t get 34 they would still get 2 Executive seats. Thats based on the assumption they get more seats than the SDLP.

  • Backbencher

    I should have added to my last line
    ‘and the Alliance don’t get more than 8’ (which they won’t).

  • Exactly Backbencher. I was merely using the figures as an illustration.
    But the position of Alliance “entitlement” is a bigger question.

  • RyanAdams

    They wheels can well and truly fall off the wagon for the UUP in this election. I expect the SDLP to overtake them in seat count as well as votes.

    UUP will face likely losses in East Antrim, North Belfast, Upper Bann and South Down.

    As far as gains in Strangford and Lagan Valley are concerned, they shouldn’t hold their breath. In Lagan Valley I actually expect the DUP to break the glass ceiling and get over 50% this time around. In Strangford, Ive talked to a few long time UUP voters, and they doubt UUP will be getting their votes this time around.

  • Master McGrath 16 April 2011 at 6:50 pm

    You may have noticed that in the UUP PEB their two prominent female candidates (McCauley and Overend) were employed to promote their message.

    That suggests to me that their are some in the UUP hierachy that are acutely aware of the need to promote more women in politics but that the grass roots of the party are not facilitating it.

  • SM, I’d suggest, nicely, that you do some more background checks. Lesley Macaulay is a MAN – in a manner of speaking – a ‘facilitator’ – and her husband appears to be a ‘paperboy’.

    The Iron Lady has been described as the only man in her cabinet, possibly by herself. Who knows what Lesley’s made of? 🙂

  • Nevin makes an excellent point about gender in politics. Mrs Thatcher would not have got very far if she had taken more overtly a “woman”. All that Iron Lady and standing up in tank stuff was designed to make her a bigger man than the wimps around her.
    And we could have a fascinating discussion on “Mo Mowlam…..Woman of Our Times”.
    Its not just about being a man or a woman but actually about adopting a philosophy which is “masculine”, “feminine” or “gender neutral”.

  • Nunoftheabove

    McCrea had better hope that very few were listening to him on Nolan this morning; what a shellacking and such an effortless demolition at that. Not an ounce of conviction and a noticeable absence of any self-belief.

    One more sign that they’re down and approaching a permanent out – terrific 🙂

  • andnowwhat

    @NUnoftheabove

    Is there any chance that Basil was at something on Nolan? There is no way he is as thick as he appeared today.

  • andnowwhat

    Maybe I should add before I get charged with playing the man, I really like Basil.

  • Nunoftheabove

    andnowwhat

    I had somewhat the same thought at a couple of points in the interview. You could almost hear him thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ and/or ‘who am I kidding here?’; think the key was when he was cornered on his own views vis-a-vis those of the party and made no discernible attempt to pretend that they were in harmony. If he wasn’t ‘at it’ then he made an appalling job of sounding semi-rehearsed and/or even sufficiently versed on the manifesto – unforgiveable. He never recovered from his pathetic attempt to answer the McGuinness-for-FM question. His only clear answers were at the end in relation to his belief in and loyalty to the leader, the over-clipped ‘yes’ answers; by then he was punch drunk and I didn’t believe a word he was saying and doubt he did either. He sounded too genuinely floored to me throughout to have been really ‘at it’ in the sense of perhaps embarrassing Elliott but whether he wanted to or not he must have enraged and embarrassed him with the jaw-dropping mince he was coming out with.

    Again, I’m struck not so much by not how gifted an interviewer Nolan is in these situations (I have said before that he demolished several of them last time out, memorably vaporizing Vance) but how easy it sounds to get them on the ropes and administer head-shot them at will and how challenging even fairly experienced candidates find this when not being soft-soaped as they are by the vast majority of the lazy broadcast media.

  • Langdale

    Basil McCrea sums up the real dilemma facing the UUP. He is one of the best media performers they have, but on most occasions (as with this interview) he gets mauled.

    That’s great from the media point of view. They love him because they can usually rely on him to give them a line which can then be twisted into a completely different story centred on yet ‘more division’ in UUP.

    His problem is that he doesn’t bother with background detail. So time after time he is left floundering when confronted with statements from UUP documents. I came away with the impression that he hadn’t actually read the UUP Manifesto!

    He was just as bad on the Politics Show on Sunday—when he trotted out one piece of whaffle after another.

    Also, Mike Nesbitt (someone else who would be regarded as good at the media stuff) was steam-rollered over by the rest of the panel in last Thursday’s UTV election debate. Good at the opening soundbite and then dreadful in the follow-up discussions.

    Something similar happens to Mark Finlay. I was at the PFC event last Thursday and he, too (supposedly a professional communicator), was simply awful when it came to substance.

    My point? The UUP has a number of people who can sound good, yet a) don’t do enough their homework, b) either don’t know or agree with UUP policy on key issues or c) may even be in the UUP for the wrong reasons.

    Therefore, in encounter after encounter, they come off worst, even against people who wouldn’t be as good at communication as they are.

    The UUP has a mixed message on most issues. It’s key performers aren’t, in fact, very good at real politics.

    Could be a very interesting time if McNarry, McCrea, Nesbitt and Finlay all got elected!!!

    LP

  • Nunoftheabove

    Langdale

    If, as looks not unlikely – judging by his performances yeterday – McCrea’s asking us indirectly to not get hung up on political pledges or policies and instead in effect therefore to back personalities then he’s more wrong and his ideas even more ill-conceived than even he can possibly know.

  • Langdale

    Nunoftheabove:

    For McCrea, politics was a career choice rather than a conviction choice.

    LP

  • There is a kinda “laziness” about some politicians.
    Some can walk the walk.
    Others talk the talk.
    Few can actually do both.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Langdale

    His website appears at first glance very scarce on details of any professional/business life pre-politics; do we know what he has done post-university and pre-UUP ?

  • Langdale

    Nunoftheabove:

    He apparently worked for Mars (the confectioner, as opposed to an ambassadorial role for the planet) for a number of years.

    He then worked for two companies, at least one of which went bankrupt.

    In the period between his 2005 election bid and his 2007 election bid he was employed as an organiser/PR person for the NI Manufacturer’s Group—although some key figures concluded that he was keener to promote himself than them!

    My understanding is that he was in need of gainful employment and Lagan Valley’s UUP Association (who were bowled over during the initial stage of the relationship) provided a useful and timely vehicle.

    I understand that at least one journalist is doing some fairly deep research on him at the moment: Who Basil? Where did he come from etc etc.

    Can’t say that it sounds terribly exciting. The guy has talent, but it’s matched by an inability to see the wood for the trees. That and the fact that he’s in the wrong party!

    LP