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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