Speech by Tom Elliott (UUP) to the Ulster Unionist Party Annual Genearl Meeting, (4 June 2011)
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Speech by Tom Elliott, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to the Ulster Unionist Party Annual General Meeting, (4 June 2011)
Saturday 4th JUNE 2011
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for yet again entrusting me with the leadership of this party. It is a great honour and I shoulder it with equally great pride.
I also want to thank all of our candidates and canvassers who played such an enormous part in the recent elections. It takes a degree of courage to be a candidate at any election - particularly when the media pundits were insisting that our prospects weren’t very high!
I am genuinely sorry that we lost some good people along the way, but I’m also very pleased that we have managed to bring in new talent at Assembly and Council levels. There weren’t as many victories as I would have liked, but we have a strong, talented, dedicated team of representatives across Northern Ireland and I know that they will do us proud.
The Ulster Unionist Party has a long and proud legacy. Northern Ireland would not exist if it wasn’t for the efforts of this party. There wouldn’t be political stability today if it wasn’t for the efforts of this party.
So yes, we should boast about our success and what we have delivered for the pro-Union majority for over a century.
But ladies and gentlemen, you don’t survive in politics simply by reminding people of what you did in the past.
It’s no longer enough to tell the electorate about the years of heavy lifting done by the Ulster Unionist Party.
What we did in 1998 was vitally important: for we provided the blueprint and laid the foundations for a new era in Northern Ireland.
But elections in 2014 will not be won on the basis of what we did in 1998. There is a new generation of voters and we have to prove that we have a role and relevance in their lives; just as we had a role and relevance in the lives of their parents and grandparents.
If we want people to vote for us then we must let them know what we stand for today and what difference we can make to their lives tomorrow.
History has its place: but elections are won tomorrow on the basis of what we do today.
And we shouldn’t assume that our external critics are always wrong. Sometimes you need to listen to what people are saying about you. You need to be able to take criticism on the chin.
That doesn’t mean turning the Ulster Unionist Party into something that we are not: but it does mean the ability to learn lessons and do things better than we have been doing them.
Let’s be honest, if the media are saying that our message is mixed then maybe we should heed their opinion. Maybe we should be doing everything we can to ensure that we speak with one voice. Maybe we should be doing everything we can to ensure that different members of this party aren’t saying different things when they get before a microphone or camera.
I have no difficulty with a broad church. I value the fact that every single member of the UUP can express a personal opinion at every level of this party. People who join political parties tend to have opinions and they like the rest of us to hear them!!
Fair enough. But once we have taken a decision - and let’s not forget that we reach decisions by a vote of the majority - then every single member of the party has a duty to stand behind that decision.
How can we criticise the lack of collective responsibility in the Northern Ireland Executive if we don’t even have a culture of collective responsibility within our own ranks?
So let me make something quite clear. I will hold to account any member of this party, be it an elected representative or an ordinary grassroots member, who thinks that they have the right to pursue their own agenda and damage the party.
By all means, promote the Ulster Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist policy. If you have a difficulty with policy then come to me privately and directly. If you genuinely cannot live with a particular policy then consider your position.
But I will not tolerate a situation in which someone uses the media to undermine me, undermine party policy or undermine the party itself. Ladies and gentlemen, those days are gone.
A party cannot survive without discipline: and the best form of discipline is self-discipline and a respect for the decisions taken by a majority of your colleagues.
If the Ulster Unionist Party is to rebuild and reconnect then we have a tough job ahead of us. And that job will only be completed if we tackle it together and see it through together.
We must be seen on the ground in every constituency: involved in community groups, residents’ associations and pressure groups. We need to be on the doorsteps’ street by street, with our MLAs, councillors and branch members. Not just at election times, but weekend after weekend after weekend: and keep on doing it until it gets to the stage that when an Ulster Unionist knocks on your door you know them by sight and welcome them.
If we want people to vote for us then we have to let them see that we share their concerns and values. They have to know that we have been fighting their corner at council and Assembly level.
Voters have to know that when you go to the Ulster Unionist Party you will get things done!
This party has taken its knocks - too many of them self-inflicted, but we still have strong teams and new blood in Stormont and the local councils. We have members on every council. We have MLAs in 14 out of 18 constituencies. We have branches in every constituency. We have almost 100,000 votes behind us.
There are people who want to write-off the UUP, because it would suit their selfish interests and narrow agendas if we were simply to fade away.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Ulster Unionist Party is not going to fade away!
The UUP is not going to yield the floor to anyone. Ot the DUP, and certainly not the Alliance Party.
The Alliance Party is neutral on the Union. It doesn’t promote the Union or promote the ongoing benefits of the United Kingdom. It is not a pro-Union party, so it can never be a home for unionists of any variety.
The bottom line is this: if you are a unionist, if you are pro-Union, if you believe that the United Kingdom is better than any of the other constitutional alternatives, if you believe any of that, then the Alliance Party is not the party for you.
The Alliance Party would be just as happy in a United Ireland as in the United Kingdom. It will blow where the wind takes it and then claim to have been there right from the start!
And nor will I yield the floor to the DUP. Peter Robinson may be content with stalemate, mutual veto, carve-up and us-and-them government: but I will never be content with that.
The UUP didn’t set about the business of trying to create a new, post-conflict Northern Ireland, just to sit back and watch the DUP and Sinn Fein ring-fence polarisation and act only in their own electoral interests.
Let’s be quite clear on one thing: the DUP, by itself, does not represent a majority in the Assembly. So the DUP needs to stop behaving as if it was the sole voice of Unionism and start listening to those of us who have other concerns and opinions.
Indeed, Peter Robinson pays much more attention to Sinn Fein than he does to the UUP!
I will not let this party be marginalised or trampled over by a DUP which pretends that it and it alone can promote and protect the interests of Unionism, particularly when Peter Robinson doesn’t even have the power to remove Mary McArdle from her post as a special adviser!!
Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t run away from the fact that the Ulster Unionist Party has had a difficult few years.
But nor will I allow myself to be blinded and defeated by statistics. In 1979 the Labour Party was written off. In 1997 the Conservative Party was written off. In 1997 the DUP had one of its worst results, polling fewer than 100,000 votes and winning less than 100 council seats, not dissimilar to how we did four weeks ago.
The lesson they all learned is that no party has a divine right to govern. Every vote has to be hard earned. Every vote has to be based on trust from the voter and an expectation that you will deliver for them.
And it also requires parties to be tightly organised, disciplined and geared towards the needs of the electorate.
It also requires a process of change and renewal.
Our new Assembly contains six new Assembly Members in Michael Copeland, Jo-Anne Dobson, Ross Hussey, Mike Nesbitt, Sandra Overend and Robin Swann.
They will add greatly to the existing Assembly team and bring new perspectives and experiences to bear, assisting the Ulster Unionist Party to punch above its weight in debates and in highlighting and resolving issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland.
I will always be grateful to this Party for giving me the opportunity to get involved in politics and stand for election, first to Council then the Assembly.
This process of change and renewal is vital to any organisation. Individuals – even dare I say it Party Leaders! - come and go, but institutions endure. The Ulster Unionist Party is an Institution with a proud history.
The responsibility of all of us here today is to ensure that the decisions we make in the present are designed to ensure that this Party has a future.
But it also takes internal Party change. Many may criticize the Leader or Leadership for not doing things, however we can only do things if we have the power to do them.
I intend to bring forward proposals to change mechanisms within this Party – We need to ensure a broader spread of decision makers in this Party – Those at the coal face of politics must be closer to that decision making.
The candidate selection process has moved in the last years from a totally local based system to a combined Constituency/Party centre system. We must again look at this process to ensure that rules will allow us to deliver the best winnable candidates.
So I make one simple promise to you, today.
The next time that the Ulster Unionist Party goes into an election we will go in strong, united, disciplined and prepared.
We will go in with a team of candidates who are already known to the electorate.
We will go in with a bank of policies which have been tailored to the socio-economic needs of Northern Ireland.
We will go in with a clear message and a clearly sign-posted destination.
We will go in with targeted seats, orchestrated vote management and a level of campaigning professionalism which we haven’t had for years.
But more important than that, next time we fight an election we must fight it as one party with one goal.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to put the years of in-fighting and mixed messages behind us.
It’s time to agree that future success requires us to look like, sound like and act like a relevant party deserving of votes and trust.
It’s time for this party to step from the shadow of past victories and push onwards with our programme for making Northern Ireland the place that we really want it to be.
Let’s do it ladies and gentlemen: and let’s do it together as a determined and united Ulster Unionist Party!
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