Can the new UUP leader put an end to the party’s inexorable drift?

Liam Clarke in the BelTel, frames the leadership contest within the UUP:

In its heyday the UUP was the party of the Union. Later it became, with the SDLP, a party of the peace process.

Since then it has struggled to define a new role for itself and support has drifted away.

It has flirted with the Tories, the DUP, and the SDLP and before that the PUP as it sought allies to halt its decline. At each stage it has lost members.

The three likely candidates for the leadership present three distinct visions for its future.

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  • alex gray

    Well it can’t stay as it is and Nesbitt stands for it being as it is with better presentation. I was always told that parties who blamed their failure on presentation were missing the point. Their failure is a political failure, not a prersentational one. The UUP cannot stay as it is. That is the road to slow death. When the 80 member Assembly comes along that will be the end of them. McCallister is arguing for opposition but once again, who is his partner ? He will not be permitted to have an alternative government which is not cross-community. The SDLP do not want to play ball so he has no partner. So it’s a flawed vision. Kennedy wants to develop closter ties across unionism and has already been working closely with DUP Ministers in the Exeutive. At least his vision makes political sense. With a close pact between the UUP and DUP especially on voter transfers between the parties that could maximise the number of unionist MLAs which is important in terms of the overall unionist v nationalist balance in the Assembly. So I think Kennedy has the surer political instincts. And he has experience. He has been an MLA for 14 years and is a Minister. Kennedy has a big first preference vote in his constituency. The others do not. This will matter when quotas rise in an 80 seat Assembly. McCallister has been in the Assembly for just 5 years. Nesbitt has been in the Assembly for less than a year. Nesbitt is 55. Kennedy is 52 and McCallister 40.

  • Eglise en bois

    “wants to develop closer ties across unionism ” – So NI is damned to policyless vacuous political carve up – is this really what is best for Unionism and NI?

    While the policy of cuddling the DUP seems to make a certain sense, it’s only sensible if you support the current status quo. Change is needed and new thinking, the DUP/SF refusal to move to a more democratic system to include an opposition is purely self serving and the UUP should lead – once again and once again put country before party!

  • South Down Stoop

    I have to say, on a personal level, McCallister is very likable and “normal”. Yes he’s the youngest and relatively inexperienced, but look where the “safe hands” school of thought has led the UUP since Trimble. McCallister held on to a UUP seat in South Down against a fairly momentous DUP wave; since then he’s consolidated himself in spite of minor boundary changes. If the UUP were to go into opposition, he’d be the most personable face to put on it. If Nesbitt were to go into opposition, I get the feeling he’d seem too “plastic” for the traditional wing of the UUP.

    McCallister seems to straddle that gap absurdly well – LGBT rights supporter, fairly left wing (he was never under any real pressure of winning a UCUNF Westminster seat), and yet, a rural farmer who will shake a hand. Then again, he probably won’t win.

  • Drumlins Rock

    firstly, the electorate rises with the quota, and it dosn’t make much difference to Strangford or South Down, the chances of agreeing 80 seats before next time are slim, so even John’s seat is prob safe for now. Go back and read the election threads and you will see a big first preference vote is generally a sign of bad vote managment, if you have over 1.2 of a quota you should run a second candidate I believe, so to me that big vote is a minus factor. I agree with encouraging vote transfer to other unionists, it is vital, but to go much further is counter productive in STV if you want to maximumise Unionist representation, a broad sweep of candidates sweeps up more votes. As for working closely with the DUP in the executive, I think the A5 sums that up.

    I agree Mike’s inexperience is the biggest drawback, but there is so much baggage with this party a fresh face will be welcomed by many, as will a committment to keeping its identity strong.

  • No.
    They have lost their way. They cannot explain what they stand for because they themselves don’t know. It could be argued that this was always the case. They just wanted to benefit themselves and keep les autres down. Time to go away somewhere else.

  • alan56

    Selling themselves as ‘DUP lite’ will never work for them. In a sense their target ground might be Alliance voters. Of course they have not yet cut all possible ties with conservatives. Any new leader has to decide who they are and what they want to achieve. Otherwise their 80,000 odd votes could disappear. Interesting times.

  • Granni Trixie

    None of the candidates seem to be analysing that they need to reform and moderbise the Party culture – make room for Unionist Catholics and women.

  • Reader

    Granni Trixie: None of the candidates seem to be analysing that they need to reform and moderbise the Party culture – make room for Unionist Catholics and women.
    There are loads of people here who realise on an intellectual level what they need to do, but cannot summon up the determination to leave their comfort zone and actually do it.
    For instance, I ought to lose weight, but I probably won’t. And I suspect these three are bright enough to know they need to broaden the appeal of the UUP, but they probably won’t. And even if they have daring plans, they probably won’t do any more than hint at them until the leadership election is over.