Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: New UUP leader must stop the rot

Basil McCrea is playing an intelligent hand in his campaign to gain the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

He is casting himself not just as the underdog, but also as the candidate which the party's grandees don't want to get the job. This way, he can always say that he was a victim of internal politics if he doesn't succeed. But he is also trying to appeal to the party's rank and file. He is certainly in touch with their feelings when he says that the grassroots are disillusioned with a leadership which is not getting results.

Recent years have been disastrous for the party which once ruled Northern Ireland unchallenged. For the first time, it does not have a single MP, and whether Mr McCrea or the favourite, Tom Elliott, succeeds Sir Reg Empey as leader, they have an uphill task to make the UUP relevant. Indeed, the suggestion by Mr Elliott that he is in favour of unionist unity is a partial recognition that the UUP needs a merger with the DUP to make an impact.

This newspaper believes that plurality of political expression is the best way forward for Northern Ireland. Concentration of politics into two opposing power blocs would be the worst possible outcome, and it can be argued that many voters are staying away from the polls because of the increasing polarisation of opinion. The UUP can well make a mark for itself by moving to the middle ground and devising progressive policies which would find a resonance across the community, rather than just to one section of it.

The choice for the party is whether a man steeped in the traditions of the party or a man who is a brash newcomer will be the best choice, and the most likely to deliver the success that is needed. If whomever they select as party leader cannot halt the decline in the party's fortunes, then the future will be very bleak indeed for the UUP.

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