Friday, 10 December 2010

UUP must commit to a strategy and stick to it

In today's Belfast Telegraph I comment on Tom Elliott's conference speech and the UUP's latest batch of defections:
Any party is obliged to be optimistic about its prospects at conference, but the defensive note this year was unmistakable. Alongside the debacle of May's Westminster election and a fractious leadership battle, the UUP has haemorrhaged talent at an alarming rate over the past year.
In its defence the party points out that there are now over 2,500 Ulster Unionist members - more than at the same point in 2009. The outflow, however, includes the UUP's last remaining MP, an MLA, its director of communications, former candidates and senior activists.
The party's decision to fight May's election on a joint ticket with the Conservative Party cost it Sylvia Hermon, who later retained her North Down Westminster seat as an independent. Alan McFarland followed his mentor out of the UUP, losing it an Assembly seat.
Two prominent representatives was a high price to pay for UCUNF, but it might have been worth it, had the experiment not collapsed after one disappointing election.
The UUP's Conservative connection enabled it to assemble some promising candidates, whose tolerant social attitudes complemented strong unionist convictions. Although the Westminster poll went badly, the party could at least look to develop this seam of liberal talent, which distinguished it from its rivals at the DUP.
Instead the Ulster Unionists binned UCUNF, appointed a leader described as a "traditional unionist" and ignored some of its brightest stars for the forthcoming Assembly election. Trevor Ringland, Paula Bradshaw and Harry Hamilton, all of whom stood for Westminster under the Conservatives and Unionists banner, left. A number of activists, including the chairman of the UUP's Lisburn Branch, also jumped ship, in protest at the suspension of veteran UUP member, John Lund, who is being punished for voicing public disapproval of the party leadership.
Ulster Unionists insist that there are always comings and goings within political parties. Hamilton, who polled well in Upper Bann, is the most significant of the recent batch of defections. The rest, considered individually, are manageable setbacks.
Taken together, though, the year long series of departures suggests a rudderless party, which sheds more personnel with each fresh lurch.
The UUP toyed with 'unionist unity' and lost Alex Kane, its director of communications. When it affirmed its pact with the Conservatives, Hermon and McFarland were thrown from deck. It then veered away from its commitment to normalised, national politics, scattering former candidates in its wake.
More than anything else the Ulster Unionists need to commit to a strategy and stick to it. If the ship can be steadied, there is still potential for a golden sky at the end of the seemingly endless storm.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The UUP have sold their souls to prevent the NI Tories from running in the Assembly elections. They feared the Tories might succeed and make them lose even more seats.

They will now be linked to the Tory's cuts and that will cost them seats, the DUP must be laughing all the way to the ballot box.

Their selections will have to be vetted by the Tories, can't have dubious people being linked to the Tories can we? Watch South Antrim and Befast City Council.

All in all UUP have shot themselves in the foot with a machine gun and have linked themselves up with a party not to be trusted and which has no interest in NI, really smart move.

The UUP are only in business to survive for their elected members, not to lead NI anywhere.