Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

The Dissenter considers Basil’s defeat…

The Dissenter

Great analysis over at The Dissenter… the blog takes a look at the reasons why Basil McCrea lost the UUP leadership election and also considers the challenges ahead for Tom Elliott. Although focused on the UUP, there are many points relevant to all unionist Parties.


Filed under: UUP, UUP leadership election, , ,

Can new head articulate message – if one is found?

My analysis of Tom Elliott’s leadership victory, which was published in Friday’s Irish News.

By Owen Polley

As expected, Ulster Unionist members elected Tom Elliott their party’s new leader at a meeting on Wednesday evening. A thumping majority of delegates voted for the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA, who favours a traditional brand of unionism, rather than Basil McCrea, whose politics are coloured by a more liberal hue.

Many grassroots Ulster Unionists will welcome Elliott‘s success. They argue that his opponent’s campaign relied on style rather than substance and they travelled in numbers from their rural strongholds, in order to back the favourite at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

The Fermanagh man certainly represents the innate conservatism of much of the Ulster Unionist membership better than his Lagan Valley counterpart. But his everyman image could also prove a handicap, if the party seriously aspires to win back over one hundred thousand votes which it lost over the course of the past decade. Basil McCrea is widely acknowledged to possess communication skills and media savvy which Elliott lacks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: UUP, UUP leadership election, ,

It’s Elliott’s party… and his right to impose internal discipline

Part of a letter, purportedly written by Tom Elliott to UUP members, twittered by Stephen Nolan:

“…what should have been a positive party media day on Thursday was spoiled by members contributing to Nolan in an unsavoury manner about issues that should be dealt with through the private mechanisms of the party…..there is no need for this type of public argument and I will not tolerate it.”

I think the potential of a “positive party media day”, post his leadership election, was perhaps exaggerating the reality, but apart from that, nothing really you could argue with there. Part of the success of Sinn Fein and (more importantly for the UUP) the DUP is built on the fact they very rarely wash their dirty laundry in public.

In contrast, UUP politicians and their apparatchiks have been going on solo-runs (either publicly or via whispers to the media) since the days of Trimble and whilst they may have achieved short-term internal victories by those means, it has created externally the perception of a party constantly at war with itself. Why vote for a party which has such publicly expressed conflicting visions of what it stands for?

Which brings us to the main cause of Tom Elliott’s ire, Trevor Ringland’s own solo-run Thursday morning. I’m no fan of Elliott or, to be more exact, his (let’s put it euphemistically) “traditional” attitudes towards such things as “joint” candidates, the GAA and Gay Pride.

The UUP has elected an Orangeman, with all that fact implies to the much wider non-Orange society in Northern Ireland. I suspect his lack of media-savvy will be exploited mercilessly by the UUP’s opponents. To me, he’s a leader who would have fitted in more comfortably to the Unionist Party and the Northern Ireland of the 1960s than to the modern political and media world of 2010.

But move back to two sentences there and you’ll see the whole point that Ringland has missed; ie “The UUP have elected…”.

Elliott has the mandate to lead the party, given to him by the large majority of the party which actually voted. It’s his views on the GAA and Gay Pride which a large majority of the party obviously feel comfortable with, not Ringland’s.

Despite all the reservations about Elliott I mentioned, he has displayed at least one leadership quality in the leaked letter which will be needed if he is to have any success whatsoever guiding the UUP back into any kind of relevance. It’s up now to Ringland to appreciate what Wednesday’s night result is telling him and other liberals and civic Unionists within the party and… basically, shape up — or ship out.


As is so often the case with Nolan, not so much as not telling the truth as bending it in the most sensationalist way possible; this is the full text of the letter sent:

Dear Members

This is just a short note to thank you for the support that I and the Ulster Unionist Party received on Wednesday night at the Waterfront Hall. It was very encouraging to have such a significant number of Party members attend.

Unfortunately what should have been a positive Party media day on Thursday was spoiled by members contributing to the Nolan Show in an unsavoury manner about issues that should be dealt with through the private mechanisms of the Party.

I have no wish to stop members from forming and putting forward their opinion. However I wish to re-iterate that I will make myself available to discuss matters of concern with Party members, therefore there is no need for this type of public argument and I will not tolerate it.

Yours sincerely

Tom Elliott MLA

Filed under: UUP, UUP leadership election, , ,

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, , ,

UUP hopefuls prepare for online debate

PUT your questions to the two men hoping to become Ulster Unionist leader, courtesy of the News Letter website.

Leadership hopefuls Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea are to participate in separate web chats this week, answering questions from an inquisitive audience.

As well as enabling the MLAs to voice their policy objectives and state their leadership qualities, the initiative will also allow a potential world wide audience to engage in the race to succeed Sir Reg Empey.

Both men are currently participating in internal party meetings across the province as they pitch their respective case to rank-and-file members.

Looking forward to the interactive web chat, Mr Elliott said: “The message I will be looking to get across is a positive view of the Union. I think it is important that we sell the benefits of the Union and people recognise that.”

Mr McCrea said: “I hope to demonstrate that I am open and transparent and am happy to debate all issues. In terms of the leadership, I will be arguing that the party needs to change and stand on its own two feet.”

To put your questions to either or both MLAs e-mail or log on to the News Letter website –

Web chat schedule:

Wednesday 15 September – Tom Elliott (1.00 – 2.00pm)

Thursday 16 September – Basil McCrea (1.00 – 2.00pm)

via UUP hopefuls prepare for online debate – Belfast Today.

Filed under: UUP leadership election, ,

Some shameless self-promotion…

I see Tom Elliott’s post for Open Unionism received some coverage in today’s News Letter…

Filed under: UUP leadership election, ,

UUP leadership contender outlines his vision for uniting the party…

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.

Filed under: guest blogger, UUP leadership election,

Basil McCrea’s launch speech in full

Here’s the full text of Basil McCrea’s speech. I’ve also uploaded a word doc version onto the widget in the sidebar as well…

Speech to the Media at campaign launch Basil McCrea MLA

Good morning everybody and thank you for taking the time to come to what is the start of a new era in the political dynamic of Northern Ireland.

Some of you will wonder why I have chosen the Merchant Hotel to launch my manifesto.

My opponent suspects it is because I want to be hi brow, perhaps even middle class.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Today you will hear from people from the business community, trade unions and my colleagues.

What makes this place special is that offers excellent training.  It is at the very pinnacle of its profession.

Bill Wosley as the proprietor is committed to sending his managers to the very best hotels in the world. His staff is recruited from some of the most socially disadvantaged areas of our province. He trains them to the highest standards of service.  So good is his training that world class hotels now send their staff to him. The hotel represents a huge financial investment with no support from government at time when the economic conditions are terrible.

From the roof top you can see the investment that is going into Belfast and shows us what can be done.

The business of government is to make it easy for business to do business. We have too few people in our Assembly that really understand what is required to bring jobs and investment to Northern Ireland.

Too few people understand the strains and the risks and the importance of time lines.

The dependency culture that has sadly been ingrained into far too many facets of local life over the last four decades has left us with an unwanted legacy.

It makes no distinction between those without work, those that feel there is no relevance in work and those unable to grasp the complexities of being responsible for creating employment.

I can speak, unlike the majority of others in the present Assembly, on the inter-twined world of business and job creation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: UUP leadership election, ,

McCrea campaign press conference at Merchant Hotel

Basil McCrea's leadership launch at the Merchant Hotel (h/t to the News Letter for pic)

Basil McCrea launched his leadership campaign this morning. I wasn’t unable to get along to it, but I called in with a few people to get their sense of how it went. Overall, the Elliott campaign should be worried – Basil was described as putting in an immense performance.

So as not to place individual superlatives under any duress, I’ll simply mention that the metaphor used by one observer involved Bruce Springsteen. In other words, Basil put in a star turn at the Merchant Hotel.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: UUP leadership election, ,

Basil McCrea press conference on Monday

I hear that Basil McCrea will be be holding his Leadership Launch event on Monday at 10am. Venue for the event is  The Merchant Hotel, Belfast. Organisers says Basil will be outlining his manifesto, platform and vision for the Ulster Unionist Party.

I’ll hope to make my way along to the event and will post up once I get back.

Filed under: UUP leadership election,

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