Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

What I'd say to the UUP

Tom Elliott addresses the UUP's annual conference as party leader for the first time tomorrow. We ask three leading political commentators to draft his keynote speech

Everyone here knows that the DUP now stands on ground staked out by the Ulster Unionists. They have occupied our territory and stolen our clothes.

But that fact raises both a question and a challenge for us.

The question is this: why does a majority of the unionist electorate entrust the DUP to implement what were once our policies?

The answer is brutally simple: we spent too much time complaining about their hypocrisy and too little time promoting ourselves. We spent too much time praising ourselves for the 'heavy lifting' we did in the past and too little time preparing a coherent strategy for the future. We spent so much time re-inventing and re-positioning ourselves that we confused our members and voters. So the challenge for the Ulster Unionists is this: stop feeling badly done by and start giving people reasons to vote for us.

Most people just want good government effectively delivered. They want genuine power-sharing and a barrier-breaking joint-response to the problems we face.

But the DUP and Sinn Fein aren't on the centre-ground at all. They are locked in a stalemated, us-and-them carve-up.

They don't consult each other on key issues - let alone us. In the middle of an economic crisis, they can't even agree a budget.

Unionism cannot progress by carve-up. The UUP can win new and lost support if we demonstrate that we are tuned-in to the expectations of voters feeling the impact of the economic crisis.

We have to be the champions of a democratic, accountable, collectively-responsible, properly power-sharing government.

That is the task we set ourselves to in 1998: and it's a task which only we can complete.

Let's get on with it.

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