Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: UUP has chance to refresh politics

The contest for the leadership of the UUP tomorrow is vital for the future of the party which is in danger of sliding into political oblivion.

The choice lies between Mike Nesbitt and John McCallister but their campaigns have been very low-key. Even on the eve of the election a whopping 38% of unionist supporters are still undecided.

The UUP needs a public battle of ideas in the same way that a drowning man needs a lifebelt. But instead of a campaign of passion and eloquence which might have ignited public interest, we are left merely wondering about the possible outcome of a largely lacklustre contest.

Indeed it has been left to Peter Robinson to steal the clothes of the UUP by clinging to the mantle of Lord Carson, one of the icons of unionism. This is enough to have former leaders like Brookeborough and O'Neill, from very different wings of the old party, turning in their graves.

This newspaper is not backing either candidate in tomorrow's election, but we hope, like many other people that the winner will be able to unite the party. This is not for the good of the unionist party alone, but for the good of politics in Northern Ireland which needs a fresh stimulus.

The best way ahead for the UUP is a call for more liberal unionist values to attract a new generation of voters comfortable in their political skins who are not obsessive about the border, and all the old moral straitjackets and shibboleths of the past.

The UUP also has much to gain by forming an official opposition which is prepared to attack the policies of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

This would provide the way forward for the development of a true parliamentary democracy, where a successful opposition party can tease out inconsistencies, provoke fresh thought and also move away from the current stifling conformity.

This should be the real mandate for the UUP. The alternative is stagnation and political irrelevancy leading to inevitable extinction.

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