Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

My take on the UUP leadership contest…

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The UUP leadership contest concludes this evening. From the get-go, I opened up this blog to both candidates to place material and (in my own small way) to help get information out into the public domain. I intentionally set out to be a facilitator and haven’t taken any sides. But with a decision now only hours away,  I have to say that I’m backing Basil McCrea… with some considerable trepidation it has to be said.

My overriding conclusion is that this has been the worst leadership campaign which any party has had to endure of late. It was said on numerous occasions that the campaign could be used as a sales tool to promote the wider UUP brand. Instead, the opposite occurred. In my opinion, neither campaign has enhanced the brand it purports to lead.

Too often the candidates spun against one another. From the extremely pointed headlines in blogs and in the press, to the outright confrontation between the personalities behind closed doors – this has been a very poor period for the party.

I’ve long been saying to people that the UUP is currently selecting a raft of Assembly candidates who are much more inspiring that the leadership candidates. The middle tier within the UUP is surprisingly strong and well-furnished with talent. The emergence of a crop of talented younger people makes plain the massive talent and credibility gap that exists within the UUP’s senior team.

As Chekov has so rightly pointed out, Tom is the face of the ‘Stumbling and Mumbling Party’. As a stumbler and mumbler myself, I know the limits of my talents (or at least where my talents lie). Sadly, leadership is not Tom. He is campaigning for a job which he cannot hope to perform effectively.

Tom has consistently failed to understand what leadership means. Whether his comments on GAA or gay pride (or failing to back the Ulster side in the All-Ireland) are technically permissable, they are nonetheless inadvertently catastrophic. By stubbornly, implacably standing over his comments, Tom has shown a critical lack of leadership. He fails to understand what impact his personal views have on the corporate brand. Where he ought to have been measured, Tom showed himself to be very flat-footed and lacking in political nous.

But has Basil done any better? Yes, but only slightly. In my opinion, he has somehow contrived to put in five years of superlative work to build up his reputation only to spend the best part of a month diminishing it. Basil had pegged out his position in the middle ground, all he had to do was hold his ground and avoid controversy. Instead we’ve had a deeply unsettling, rulebook-shredding revolution by a man who has shown little capacity for taking advice from people around him.

Basil too has misunderstood the nature of the job he’s applying for. He has confused ‘self-indulgence’ for ‘strength of character’. Being wilful is not the same as being strong willed. Where Basil needed a leadership campaign he instead brought us a campaign of incredible petulance.

I am deeply concerned by the UUP candidates, and by the quality of the people surrounding them. Both campaigns have been guileless, tending towards the kamikaze. But I’ll back Basil because he understands that the UUP has to change its ways and modernise. He knows how to perform in front of the media. He has a good grasp of policy and can think on his feet. He understands the threat posed by Alliance (and of drifting towards the right). And he knows how to use words to inspire hope in people (albeit rather patchily deployed these past four weeks).

Whereas a straighter, more decent, upstanding and honest man you’ll never meet, but Tom Elliott hasn’t convinced me that he has a strong enough grasp of any of those things.

Nevertheless, there are many people still undecided and uninspired. The outcome of this contest may yet come down to the speeches this evening. Basil effectively threw his campaign away over the past two weeks, he’s now got 15 minutes to win it back again. In order for him to do that, he’s got to try to undo, rather than reinforce, many of the messages which so spooked party members at his launch.

That tells you everything about this campaign, and everything about the one problem the UUP has consistently failed to address. The party can produce leaders, but it still can’t produce a coherent strategy.


Filed under: UUP leadership election, , ,

6 Responses

  1. oneill says:

    Neither candidate has really answered the central question about the UUP, ie what’s its point?

    For the life of me I can’t see any differences between what Tom Elliott believes in and what the majority of the non-barmy wing of the DUP also believes in. If the UUP disappeared tomorrow, Tom could fit quite seamlessly into the DUP.

    McCrea seems a bit too personality-strong and bit too ‘policy” lite- what on policy and outlook would his UUP be able to deliver that the Alliance Party and the NI Conservatives presently don’t?

  2. Andy says:

    If anyone uses the expression “quite clearly” even once tonight, they will not get my vote. I am quite clear about that.

  3. slug says:

    I hope they both involve each other after the contest, rather than banish the loser or huff McFarland style.

  4. W B Maginess Esq says:

    Great piece Bob. Different conclusion to me, but sound analysis.

    A plague on all their houses.

  5. […] Unionist, such as Alex Kane on Hearts and Minds last week and Unionist bloggers such as Chekov and Bobballs found the campaign very uninspiring and were particularly critical.  Nonetheless, those last two […]

  6. […] at Open Unionism, I once again showed my nose for backing a winner. Having had the foresight to back Alan McFarland […]

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