Irish Republican News · September 2, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
UUP seeks new leader as party dumps Empey, Tories

Two candidates are to contest the Ulster Unionist Party leadership election next month.

The party has confirmed that Lisburn-based Assembly member Basil McCrea and his Fermanagh colleague Tom Elliott will compete to replace Reg Empey as party leader at a special meeting to be held in Belfast on September 22nd.

Empey was forced to vacate the leadership after he failed to win a seat in the Westminster election earlier this year.

Nominations closed at 5pm and there was no surprise nomination from a third candidate despite rumours to the contrary when Empey announced earlier this month he was quitting.

Unionist unity, involving closer co-operation with Peter Robinson’s DUP, is likely to emerge as a key election issue.

Mr Elliott, who helped engineer an agreed single unionist candidate in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency in May’s Westminster election, is widely believed to be in favour of closer links with the more hardline DUP.

Mr McCrea believes that such so-called “traditional unionism” has failed his party and claimed up to 100,000 unionist supporters had opted not to vote in recent elections as a result.

Handing in his nomination papers yesterday, Mr McCrea said the party needed radical change. “I am the agent of change. I am 100 per cent against republican unity, which is exactly what unionist unity would achieve.

“I want there to be clear blue water between ourselves and the DUP.

“I also have the ability to reach out to non-traditional unionists who have not been voting and I know I will give them a reason to get out and vote.”

Mr Elliott called for greater cooperation with the larger unionist party but said he is opposed to a single unionist party.

“All that would do is polarise the nationalist/republican vote and put unionist voters off. What I want to see is better co-operation if that’s possible.”

Both Mr Elliott and Mr MeCrea have ruled out standing in future elections with the Conservatives, a disastrous policy that has seen candidates running under the UCUNF banner (“Unionists and Conservatives United New Force”) routinely routed.

Every one of the party’s 2,000-plus members will have an equal vote at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall later this month, with no extra weight given to an elected member or a party officer.

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