Elliott must unite UUP or see it fall
A s political honeymoons go, Tom Elliott, the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was afforded one of the shortest in history.
The morning after his easy victory in the leadership contest, he found himself observing a spat between high profile members of each wing of the party, Trevor Ringland representing the liberals and Lord Maginnis, fighting in the traditionalists' corner. Effectively the party was washing its dirty linen in public and that is never a pretty sight.
But it demonstrated in no uncertain terms to Mr Elliott the challenges that lie ahead. He appeals to the traditional party members and is cast in the mould of recent party leaders. But he must also realise that the party's power-base has diminished dramatically in the past decade whilst adhering to this traditional blueprint. There are at least 100,000 former unionist voters who have deserted all shades of unionism in that period. The UUP, for the first time in its history, has not a single MP.
Mr Elliott's immediate task is to unite the party and to appeal to disenchanted unionist voters out there. A stronger UUP would be good for Northern Ireland politics, but if it embarks on a period of self-recrimination then its decline is guaranteed.
It will be tempting for the new leader to heed only the advice of those traditionalists who elected him, but he would be unwise to ignore the feelings and views of liberal unionists like Trevor Ringland. It is young professionals like Mr Ringland that the party should try to attract. His vision of unionism is more embracing of the whole community than that hitherto espoused by the UUP.
Although the liberal wing of the party will see the election of Mr Elliott as a defeat, it should not retreat into a sulky silence, but should instead rally round the leader, convince him to drop any idea of creating some sort of monolithic unionist bloc by merging with the DUP and instead encourage him to have confidence in his own innate sense of decency and respect for others and expand those values to make the party more progressive.