Belfast Telegraph

Members consider UUP leadership bid

Four senior Ulster Unionists have signalled that they may enter the race for the leadership of the party following the surprise resignation of Tom Elliott after less than two years in the job.

The party's sole Stormont minister Danny Kennedy, its deputy leader John McCallister and previous leadership contender Basil McCrea all declined to rule themselves out of the race when pressed.

There has also been speculation around potential support for former journalist Mike Nesbitt, a relatively recent addition to Ulster Unionist ranks.

Mr Elliott's leadership was under mounting pressure but his decision to stand down had not been expected and he blamed internal opposition for his departure.

Mr McCrea, based in Lisburn city in the Lagan Valley constituency, was beaten by Co Fermanagh farmer and Orangeman Mr Elliott in the last leadership contest. In that election, the party faithful opted for the victor's traditional unionist pedigree against Mr McCrea's more liberal message.

But Mr McCrea said of a potential second leadership bid: "I am mulling it over."

Stormont's Regional Development Minister and Ulster Unionist veteran Danny Kennedy also failed to rule himself out of the contest.

"I haven't made a final decision on standing or not standing," he said. "I am consulting with friends and family and within the party."

Mr McCallister, a 40-year-old from the largely rural South Down area, declined to reveal his intentions, saying he would have to discuss any potential move with his family. Mr Nesbitt also failed to rule himself out of the race and said he was ready to serve his party in any capacity.

Mr Elliott, who was the party's 14th leader and succeeded Sir Reg Empey, will stay on as a Member of the Assembly.

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