What do you think Tom Elliott should say in his UUP conference speech on Saturday?
I began last year’s UUP conference preview post with a fantastical vision of a Barcamp-style UUP ‘un-conference’, complete with delegate-suggested sessions. I also imagined the delegates writing Tom Elliott’s speech by scribbling suggested sentences on post-it notes and then knitting the fragments together in a “sensible and compelling order” to produce his address.
This year I tried to go further and asked attendees and panellists at Tuesday evening’s Young Unionist event to each suggest a sentence for Tom Elliott’s speech. Spliced together for your enjoyment, here’s what they suggested!
No doubt shorter than the real thing, I doubt I’ll hear a “profuse” apology for the ‘scum’ comment nor a commitment to enter voluntary opposition in the real leader’s speech on Saturday!
Back to the real conference …
There’s a strong correlation between political party website refreshes and imminent party conferences! This weekend the UUP Conference is being run in Armagh. private business will be conducted on Friday afternoon/evening, with a shorter public session on Saturday. There are only four items on the bare bones agenda for Saturday.
- The UUP’s only minister, Danny Kennedy, will briefly outline his plans for the Department for Regional Development followed by Q&A with the conference delegates.
- There’s an economic debate hosted by the UUP Assembly Group.
- SDLP vice chair (and former UTV reporter) Fearghal McKinney will be chairing a Question Time panel of Baroness May Blood, Patricia McKeown (Unison), Jim Nicholson MEP and Mike Smyth (Head of UU School of Economics).
- Finally Tom Elliott’s leader’s speech.
With no pressure of an election just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if the party leader can avoid analysing the past and instead articulate a clear direction and focus for his dwindling party. Alex Kane opined in Monday’s Newsletter, that the UUP needs a purpose. It needs a role in the Assembly that the public can clearly understand. A role that can deliver some benefit that will later turn into votes.
So, if the UUP needs a role, relevance, purpose and direction then it should look at what the DUP isn’t providing and what the DUP can never provide: something which the Alliance Party has also failed to provide.
It needs to build and promote a ‘good governance’ agenda. It needs to paint the picture of what Northern Ireland could become if the assembly broke free from the straitjackets of mutual veto, debilitating stalemate, blinkered self-interest and a crippling inability to look at the horizon rather than their own feet.
While discussion around a potential role for the UUP in opposition won’t be up for public debate in the main hall, discussions are expected to take place around the fringes of the conference.
I wonder how many of the unsuccessful UUP Assembly candidates will be present at conference. At least one is away to England to watch their team lose a football match. But will characters like East Londonderry’s Lesley Macaulay and David Harding, Lagan Valley’s Mark Hill, and South Belfast’s Mark Finlay turn up in Armagh?
While I was greeted at the door of the Ramada Hotel last Autumn with “You and your bloody post-its!”, this year, the UUP are providing the innovation all by themselves. Throughout the conference, individual MLAs will be responding to questions on Twitter using the #askuup hashtag. Using a prominent SDLP candidate to chair the panel – rather than using the party’s own Mike Nesbitt – is a sensible, yet harmless, move.
Finally, it seems unlikely that Martin McGuinness could break from his presidential campaigning to – but maybe Dana could squeeze in an appearance after Tom’s speech to sing the National Anthem and close the conference? Sorry, my imagination kicking in again …
BBC Two will be live from the UUP conference on Saturday from noon until 1pm.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.