UUP leader Mike Nesbitt reassures party faithful
The embattled Ulster Unionist Party is slowly rebuilding behind the scenes, even if those outside its "inner circles" cannot see it, leader Mike Nesbitt has said.
Six months after the former TV news anchor was elected as its new high-profile figurehead, critics claim the party has yet to enjoy any early political boost.
On Saturday, Mr Nesbitt will use his first party conference speech as Ulster Unionist leader to highlight the need to give new hope to recession-hit communities.
But his address at Belfast's Titanic building will also be aimed at reassuring his rank-and-file about their own future prospects, as they fear a continued political squeeze from both the DUP and Alliance Party.
Their leader has argued, however, that he is putting in place the groundwork necessary for future growth. He said: "I am content, but I also understand that people outside the party and the inner circles of the party would not necessarily be across what's been happening.
"I ran on a ticket which was largely based on organisational reform as the key urgent need, rather than producing a suite of policies. That reflected, first of all, my analysis of what the Ulster Unionist Party needs to put itself back into a position where it can be at the heart of government.
"And also the fact that the next election isn't scheduled until June 2014 (for the European parliament), so we're in, for Northern Ireland, an unusually fallow patch in terms of elections. So, there is no point peaking politically in the summer of 2012 when you want to peak in the summer of 2014."
He added: "I am pleased enough. It is always, no matter what organisation or sector you're in, slower than you want it to be. But we're going in the direction that I had in mind."
The new leader, who for years was one of Northern Ireland's best-known broadcasters, described his experience of political life as "a roller coaster" but said he is keen to learn from experience.
"In terms of anything, media performance, policy creation, leadership - I would never come out of a studio, or out of a meeting or out of a debate, and think 'I nailed that, I could never, ever possibly do that better'," he said. "Life-long learning is something that politicians glibly say we should be into - well, I am into it. Do I make mistakes? Yeah, I make mistakes. Do I learn from them? I think I do."