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John McCallister: Man who aims to be leader of the opposition

By Liam Clarke

On Tuesday John McCallister was quietly pleased when Caral Ní Chuilin, the culture minister, addressed him at Stormont as “the leader of the opposition”.

“If I win the leadership I think that title could quickly catch on. It has a ring to it,” the South Down MLA said.

Just turned 40, Mr McCallister is the youngest person to stand for the leadership of the UUP and has undoubtedly the most radical agenda.

An advocate of gay rights who has upheld the unionist position at a Sinn Fein conference on Irish unity, he proposes taking the party out of government.

It is a bold move because there is no provision for a formal opposition at Stormont — there would be no money for special advisors and perhaps less access to civil service resources.

Mr McCallister thinks such arguments miss the point.

“We need to create a clear identity or else you may as well put up a sign saying ‘vote for the DUP’.”

He also dismisses the argument that it is better to take whatever ministries you can.

“It is not that we are frightened to take on the reins of office,” he argues.

“It is just that we can’t prosper as a party by staying in government as such a junior partner.

“We are getting the blame for all of the bad things and the credit for none of the good ones.

“I think it is a natural evolution of democratic politics that you should have an opposition party at Stormont at this stage. That is my bottom line.”

He believes “that is a very simple message to give to people — we are going to provide opposition and scrutiny for the government until you give us enough votes to form one ourselves”.

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