UUP leadership candidate Tom Elliott has penned an exclusive blog post for Open Unionism outlining why he is the candidate best placed to unite the Party…
By Tom Elliott MLA
There are so many questions for Ulster Unionist members to get their heads around in this Leadership contest. Who has the best plan for economic revival? Which candidate values health services the more? Will Tom or Basil do more for my children’s education? And so it goes, key policy question after key policy question.
But as I travel the country for Party meetings, one question has emerged as the clear, critical concern of our membership. Which candidate can unite the Party after the vote on the 22nd of the month?
Whoever wins needs the audience to leave the Waterfront Hall smiling for the media, who will be hovering, on the hunt for the slightest whiff of discontent. Whomever wins must ask the UUP Assembly team to join him on the steps of Stormont the next morning for a photocall. Whoever wins has to keep the Party united as we move once again into Election mode. Which candidate can do all that? Me!
This Party needs to change, but we need that change managed by a Leader who has a vision for progressive, planned, pragmatic change. Pushing too far too fast is the story of our decline since 1998. Pushing the Party machine too far too fast could be terminal to the Party.
We need discipline. We need to stop washing our dirty linen in public. We need to stop and think things through before we press the send button on the computer. I hear Basil promise a new regime of discipline on one hand, but confirm we are a party of dissenters who like to have our own mind on the other. What I do not hear is how he is going to square that circle.
The only answer is to elect a Leader the members will respect. I believe I have served the Party long enough, with values of honesty, hard work and a bottom-up approach, to be that Leader.
I want an inclusive Party, just as I want an inclusive Northern Ireland, where everyone feels comfortable with their contribution. That does not mean everyone has to be all things to all men. But it does mean we must push ourselves for the greater good.
On the campaign trail, I am learning that the members want the next Leader to push himself beyond his personal comfort zone. I have never flinched from a challenge like that. If I can put on a soldier’s uniform and patrol the lightless fields of Fermanagh during the Troubles, you can rest assured I will not be found wanting if I am elected Leader.