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Rot has set in to the once-great Ulster Unionists

Last week, Ulster Unionists were presented with a clear choice for party leader.

They could choose the liberal, progressive and media-savvy Basil McCrea or the conventional, traditionalist and unknown Tom Elliot. Unfortunately, they picked the latter.

This, however, should not be interpreted by voters in Northern Ireland as a rejection by the UUP of the principles for which Basil stands; rather the party |rejected Basil the individual. This election was a choice between the lesser of two evils — neither candidate offering all the pre-requisites of the ideal leader.

The options were a choice |between a safe pair of hands |that could hold the party together with his internal popularity, or a risky gamble with radical plans for the UUP and, while well-known across the country, not popular within his own party.

At a time when the party has been — and needs to be — attracting new votes, Basil as leader and Tom as deputy would have been the better selection.

In rejecting Basil for cautious, slow-and-steady Tom, who aims not to appeal to a new electorate, but to try and poach back from the DUP, the UUP has given the impression it is not prepared to widen the unionist support-base.

For the once-great Ulster Unionists, the rot has set in. Tom may paper over the cracks in the short-term, but only a leader that realises hard work on the ground and that a more all-encompassing unionism is necessary will stop it spreading further.

The UUP should not try to — and cannot hope to — ‘out Orange’ the DUP.

JAMES ANDREWS

Belfast

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