Monday, 23 August 2010

Basil McCrea enters the race

It's official there are now two entrants for the UUP leadership race with Basil McCrea formally announcing his candidature.  The group think has been that it will be Tom Elliott but the media expectations around the UUP leadership have had their problems.  The media money was on Taylor when Trimble won it and while their pick of Empey did come through it was a close run thing with McFarland's campaign of a "grassroots rebellion" almost paying off.  However, does Basil genuinely offer anything different?

He says he does.  however, much of it is standard issue UUP leadership speak of the last 15 years:
" develop a new vision for Unionism." (That was kicking about in my YU days)

"...must be a modern, dynamic, political party"  (That was too)

Despite the repetitions of this down through the years the UUP itself has been unwilling to act in such a way.  Other chunks of it are simply filler that it is hard to disagree with but ultimately meaningless:

"...a party with a unifying vision, clarity of purpose, a party with values, principles and policies that all within the party can subscribe to...a party with fresh ideas, energy and policies that offer that offers honest debate."

The ability to sound good is Basil's key attraction.  In a party that has fought for profile the expectation is he can do the same for the party as he has done for himself.  However, it is could be Basil's core weakness. Is there any depth?  I get the strong sense of superficiality to McCrea.  As a MLA with a bit of get up and go that will be fine when developing a personal media profile.  However, doing the same for an organisation is different.  Also the increase in media focus that comes with leadership means the superficial get found out.  It also leads to a lack of strategy that would feed internal tensions.  Chekov highlighted this as an issue and there is little in the opening salvoes to show McCrea is providing the meat.

The advantage he has over Tom Elliott is that he appears to have the the hunger for it.  In one of the brief conversations I've had with the man he was keen to learn from how Trimble had pulled off his victory in 1995.  The same sense is not communicated from the Elliott camp with more a sense of apostolic succession to his campaign and being the cabal's (the small group who have effectively run the UUP for the last 15-20 years) candidate is as much a curse as it is a blessing.  Whatever his faults McCrea

His attack that the UUP has ignored the issue of non-voters isn't entirely true considering the Trimble attempts to pursue the Garden Centre Prod vote.  He is also promising action on the Assembly team:

" is clear that we could do better as an assembly grouping, that we certainly could be more representative both in gender and in age."

However, the wisdom of this is questionable.  The political logic is sound.  The existing Assembly group are almost entirely in Tom's camp.  Thus McCrea goes after those who are keen to replace them - the enemies of my enemies.  Yet he has potentially undermined the wild card factor - the meeting.  The decision to hold the meeting on a week-day evening in Belfast should have been of some benefit to Basil whose base should be more East Ulster.  The expectation of an Elliott win could have been caused some laziness in his camp but the threat to their Assembly nominations provides an clear incentive for them to ensure they deliver bums on seats (as they manage to do for their own selections).

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