Friday, June 24, 2005

A new political leader

Tonight the Ulster Unionist Council is meeting to decide the future leadership of the party. Once this would have been a major news item. Now it appears as a little sideshow, reflecting the way the UUP have been marginalised.

The party isn't at the point of extinction yet. It has one MP, one MEP, twenty-four members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and over a hundred councilors. But after the feuds and electoral setbacks of the last few years it seems as though the party is unsure where to go. All three candidates for the leadership have been supporters of the Good Friday Agreement (is a small number of candidates necessarily a good thing?) - indeed at one point the anti-Agreement right of the party was trying to get UK Unionist Party leader Robert McCartney to return and lead the UUP. All candidates have talked about the need to rebuild the party's organisation, put an end to the feuds that have decimated it in recent years, stand up to Ian Paisley's "Democratic" Unionists and so forth. None has the open backing of David Trimble - sadly that would be a kiss of death. About the only issue that seems like a big discussion point is whether or not the UUP should merge with another party - either the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland or the Conservatives. But it's unclear where the three stand on the latter, though the former looks doubtful.

Even if the Ulster Unionists were still the province's largest party this contest could bore for the province. In a few hours we'll know who's won.

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