Bid to avoid UUP vote

LAST minute talks between Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea have taken place to explore whether tonight's Ulster Unionist leadership vote can be avoided.

Several senior UUP sources in both men's camps have told the News Letter that a meeting took place on Monday night and another was held yesterday.

It is understood that discussions took place as to whether either candidate would be content to be deputy leader.

However, asked about the chances of tonight's Waterfront Hall meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council being called off, both men last night said that they were "unaware" of any attempt to remove the need for a vote.

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It is understood that some in Mr McCrea's camp fear that the party could "exile" him should Mr Elliott win convincingly, while some of Mr Elliott's backers are understood to fear that in that scenario Mr McCrea and his supporters would leave the party.

But if Mr McCrea wins, some party members are worried that he will lose most of the party's MLAs, effectively splitting the party.

However, last night both men attempted to put the divisive leadership campaign behind them.

Mr McCrea said that he would offer his rival the deputy leader's position, should he win, and Mr Elliott spoke of the need to unite the party, irrespective of who wins.

Mr Elliott is the clear favourite if tonight's vote goes ahead but Mr McCrea is understood to have studied how David Trimble won the leadership when an outsider by making a strong speech on the night.