The Ulster Unionist Party sustained another damaging resignation yesterday on the eve of its annual conference.
Freddie Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton is the third ‘up-and-coming’ figure to quit the party since Tom Elliott replaced Sir Reg Empey as leader just over 10 weeks ago.
Mr Hamilton had been the Conservative and Unionist Upper Bann candidate in the May General Election, but failed to make significant ground against the DUP’s David Simpson.
He then failed to make selection for the Assembly election next May. The UUP picked Craigavon by-election newcomer Jo-Anne Dobson, Colin McCusker and Samuel Gardiner.
Mr Hamilton, who heads the successful Queen tribute act Flash Harry, had hoped to keep his intention to leave quiet until after today’s gathering in Belfast, a key platform for Mr Elliott to build his profile and restore the party’s battered confidence.
His departure comes after resignations by other rising stars, including former rugby international Trevor Ringland and Paula Bradshaw, who failed to make the party selection list in South Belfast.
Ms Bradshaw has since joined the Alliance Party and Mr Hamilton yesterday signalled he may do likewise — possibly in time for its party conference in January.
Yesterday, however, a UUP statement said: “We are disappointed that Harry Hamilton has decided to leave the Ulster Unionist Party.
“Harry worked hard during the General Election and although he received more than 10,600 votes, he did not win the Westminster seat. It is the nature of politics that you do not always win elections or selections.”
There has also been recent disquiet in the party over the apparent deselections of MLAs George Savage in Upper Bann and David McClarty, a deputy speaker of the Assembly, in East Londonderry.
But asked to comment earlier this week by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Elliott would only say: “Politics is a deeply unstable profession and when you put yourself forward for selection or election you may not always be successful — I haven’t been in the past myself.”
Mr Hamilton was more than 3,000 votes behind Mr Simpson in the May election and only marginally improved on former UUP leader Lord Trimble’s performance in 2005 when he lost the seat to the DUP. Mr Hamilton was just a few hundred votes ahead of Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd.
Meanwhile, ahead of today’s conference, another relative UUP newcomer, Kenny Donaldson, a candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, launched an attack on the DUP and Sinn Fein’s blueprint to tackle sectarianism, which is to be debated at the gathering.