Sir Reg Empey is to stay, for the time being, and stand down during the autumn. In the mean time the party promises a ‘forensic examination’ of what went wrong in its latest campaign and early decisions on a slate of candidates for next year’s Assembly elections.
So Ulster Unionists intend, first to ink in candidates to stand for Stormont and then decide on a change of direction. In that order.
Now, clearly the UUP has taken the Westminster selection debacle to heart, but might the party’s future direction and new leader not determine who it wants to put up for election? After all, there are at least three fairly different routes the Ulster Unionists might take.
Reportedly Sir Reg could have claimed the backing of a substantial number of delegates yesterday had he chosen to remain at the helm. He draws continued support particularly from those who are concerned that a new leadership will jettison the UUP’s link with the Tories.
Basil McCrea, heavily touted as a possible new leader, has cast his lot in with the Ulster Unionists who think it’s all the Conservatives fault. And in this revealing interview with Alan in Belfast, he shows his pan-UK credentials by declaring Westminster elections irrelevant, beyond their impact on subsequent Assembly polls.
With other leadership candidates likely to emphasise fabled ‘unionist unity’, I wonder whether there is a candidate to take up the cause of UCUNF?
The one clear strategy which seems to have emerged from yesterday’s meeting is a concerted campaign to put pressure on Peter Robinson. Whether there is a genuine will to ‘start over’, in terms of relationships with the DUP, or whether this is an attempt to get excuses in early, I don’t know.
Whichever is the case, nothing is a convincing substitute for setting out your stall honestly and articulating its merits. The UUP tried to fudge ‘unity’ before the election, if it tries to fudge now, it will convince nobody again.
The high priest of civic unionism, Arthur Aughey, provides a tour de force over at Open Unionism, arguing lucidly that ’unionist unity’ is a dead end. I wonder whether the UUP has the guts to be as unambiguous?