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UUP Conference: While Elliott ticked the boxes, chairman hit the nails on head

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott faces a number of crunch decisions following his weekend annual party conference.

In his first few months in office he has become bogged down in party issues and focused on re-energising the membership — and all of it has taken longer than he expected.

Elliott is not a greatly gifted orator, or a public performance politician. His speech read better than it sounded.

Constantly looking down at his text, he came across more like a lecturer than a leader.

Yet the speech ticked many of the boxes it needed to — spelling an end to the joint electoral experiment with the Conservatives, signalling clear ‘red white and blue' water with the DUP and stressing the need for internal discipline.

Senior UU figures privately admit Mr Elliott needs to make more of an impact and start delivering a strong, and distinct, message.

They also say he needs to make a decision on the precise nature of his party's relationship with the DUP.

There is also a feeling that the DUP has reached saturation point and is vulnerable in a number of areas including the still-to-be-finalised Budget and the now much-maligned Cohesion, Shar

ing and Integration (CSI) strategy to tackle sectarianism.

One senior figure is also arguing behind the scenes that the party should honestly deal with the issue of water charges, which could raise revenue to pay for a number of pet projects including social housing in key areas.

Party chairman David Campbell hit several nails on the head, however. He had held a private session on Friday with Mr Elliott and the party's already-selected candidates for next May which discussed election strategy and media presentation.

And he said the party must emerge from the next Assembly election in a stronger position with more seats. That is indeed the bottom line.

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