Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Tom Elliott urges rethink on unionist unity after loss in Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Defeated UUP candidate in call for long-term strategy

Tom Elliott
Tom Elliott

By David Young

A losing candidate who came within a hair's breadth of unseating a Sinn Fein MP has questioned whether unionist unity is actually the best strategy for winning elections.

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Tom Elliott came within 57 votes of defeating the incumbent Sinn Fein MP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, thanks to a deal with the DUP that saw Arlene Foster's party stand aside to give him a free run against Michelle Gildernew.

"Obviously, it wasn't a good night for unionism," he said.

"There needs to be a review of how unionists do things. The main aspect is that they need to look at a strategy as opposed to just short-term actions."

The UUP's Mr Elliott took the seat from Ms Gildernew in 2015 with a majority of just 530.

She took it back two years later, with a majority of 875.

Ms Gildernew had beaten a unionist unity candidate by a mere four votes in 2010.

Despite this year's 'pan-unionist' pact, Mr Elliott failed again in his bid to return to Westminster. That has led him to rethink his view on the value of electoral pacts.

"Those arrangements can work in certain areas, but overall, I think unionism needs to be more strategic and work on a long-term strategy as opposed to just having short-term tactics," he said.

"Rather than just looking to the next election, Unionists need to look at where they plan to be in the next five to 10 years.

"I think that is very important at the moment."

But he rejected the idea that the UUP, DUP and TUV should combine to form one party.

"I'm not so sure a single unionist party would do anything at the moment," he said.

John Finucane at the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
John Finucane at the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Nigel Dodds during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
SDLP's Claire Hanna wins a seat in South Belfast at the General Election Count at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast during the Early hours of Friday morning. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Emma Pengelly and Arlene Foster during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood is elected MP (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion pictured at the count centre in Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party with party leader Naomi Long after he won the North Down constituency in the UK General Election at the Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex, Bangor, Northern Ireland. Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Alex Easton, DUP pictured at the count centre in Bangor. Photo by Brian Little / Press Eye
Gavin Robinson with his wife Lindsey and party leader Arlene Foster pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Naomi Long during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Michelle O'Neill and Paul Maskey pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast South, Belfast West, Belfast North, East Antrim & South Down. Sammy Wilson pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Steve Aiken pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell is returned s MP for East Londonderry. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew pictured with Michelle ONeill at the count centre in Omagh after winning the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
UUP Tom Elliott pictured at the count centre in Omagh. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has held his seat in Lagan Valley pictured at the count centre in Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Sinn Féin Francie Molloy is returned as MP for Mid Ulster. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady(centre) is returned as MP for Newry and Armagh. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
The DUP's Ian Paisley (left) is returned as MP for North Antrim. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 General Election 2019 - Election count at Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt for Newry & Armagh, South Antrim, North Antrim, Upper Bann, East Londonderry, Foyle, Lagan Valley and Mid Ulster. The DUPÕs Paul Girvan(left) is returned as MP for South Antrim. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Chris Hassard, centre, pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 - General Election 2019 - Election count at Aurora Leisure Complex, Bangor for Strangford and North Down. Jim Shannon, DUP with his mother Mona and wife Sandra after being elected in Strangford. Photo by Brian LittleÊ / Press Eye
The DUP's Carla Lockhart is returned as MP for Upper Bann and is pictured with her baby boy Charlie. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Orfhlaith Begley pictured after she won her seat back in West Tyrone Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.

"A lot of the votes are leaching to the Alliance Party - and if you have a single unionist party, where does that single unionist party set itself to challenge the Alliance?

"So I'm not so sure that is the answer - but it's obviously something that could be looked at in a wider review on a strategic approach.

"But at this start, I don't see a single unionist party as being the best option for unionism."

On the wider UK result, Mr Elliott said: "Obviously Boris will do what he wants now.

"He's got the mandate, he's got the numbers."

As to whether he felt Mr Johnson's thumping victory was a good outcome for Northern Ireland , the Fermanagh MLA said: "I'm not so sure that Northern Ireland is Boris's number one priority. He's generally more concerned about English nationalism than he is about unionism.

"Certainly, that is a threat.

"I don't know whether it is the biggest threat - but it is certainly one of the biggest threats to unionism."

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