Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Elliott unveils "game changer" but can it change the game?

I took a trip over to the Mount Business Centre in East Belfast this morning, to hear Tom Elliott unveil his‘game changer’ for power sharing in Northern Ireland.  It’s being reported as a call for official opposition at Stormont, but that‘s just one component of the UUP‘s ‘big idea‘.

Elliott believes that an official opposition can be delivered over a four year time scale, alongside other measures to improve governance in Northern Ireland, such as cutting the number of MLAs and Executive departments.

In the meantime the UUP proposes a change to the phasing of d’Hondt after Assembly elections.  Rather than have the parties divide up ministries before discussing policy, the Ulster Unionists suggest that a programme for government be agreed, along with budget arrangements, before d’Hondt is run.

Anticipating criticism that the process will take too long, Elliott cites the speedy formation of a coalition government at Westminster, following the general election.  He clearly believes that the new timetable could be instigated, without altering existing legislation.

As well as laying out the UUP’s policy innovation, this morning’s business breakfast is intended to get the party’s Assembly campaign up and running.  It believes it is putting the ball firmly in the DUP and Sinn Féin’s court.

“They stand accused of running a two party carve-up rather than an all party coalition”, Elliott remarked, “if Sinn Féin / DUP want to change, if they want to put this country first, let them speak out today and back this proposal”.

And if the two larger parties won‘t play ball what are the likely consequences for the UUP?

The Ulster Unionists want to fight the election on the premise that they will enter the Executive only if it is possible to agree a programme for government.  Logically, any party which does not agree to a programme would become part of the voluntary opposition.

If the UUP’s rivals insist that d’Hondt must precede any discussions about policy and finance, then the Ulster Unionists will face a familiar dilemma.  Do they refuse to participate in the allocation of ministries and will they stay outside the Executive?

The UUP’s idea certainly has potential.  It’s the most imaginative initiative that we’ve seen since Elliott became leader.

It will only gain legs, though, if the party is prepared to push it hard – right through to its logical conclusion.  That means agreeing a programme for government up front, or walking away from the Executive.


Anonymous said...

The more obvious problem is that these ideas have already been put forward by Alliance and, for the most part, the DUP.

They were rejected by both Nationalist parties.

Why would the UUP succeed where the DUP and Alliance failed?

Anonymous said...

Sadly for the UUP its all too late.
As Ian says there is nothing new here. Even if it was it wouldnt win them any votes.
The UUP - esp after the breaking of the link with the Tories has no USP.
Its too late to leave the Executive and voting against the Budget will look petty.
The election will a headcount and the UUP seen as irrelevant

slug said...

I guess the answer to IJP's question is: things move on. "Voluntary opposition" might be a possibility the nationalist parties go for - i.e. you can be in govt if you want to but you can also be in opposition if you want to.

There may be electoral advantages of opposing for both SDLP and UUP - that is what will make it happen ultimately.

Anonymous said...


The problem is Nationalist parties do not see it that way.

Margaret Ritchie has already responded saying it's not the system but the "spirit of government" that's broken.

So, just as with First Minister designations, the UUP is making big play of a policy it cannot possibly implement.

That should not stop us exposing Nationalist intransigence on this issue for what it is.

Ian P.

Ed Simpson said...

As others have said, the UUP will have to stick to their guns on this issue or lose all credibility. For me, I think that the current UUP leadership do not have the will to do so. Which makes this little more than gesture politics.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest surprise in all of this is that Tom came up with these plans all by himself

Anonymous said...

The UUP need to get some priciples and say if they are not the biggest unionist party they will go into opposition.

Will they? Not a chance they need the money to survive.