Mid-Ulster unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton has addressed a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party’s ruling executive, less than two weeks before the by-election.
Mr Lutton arrived at the end of the UUP meeting in Portadown’s Seagoe Hotel on Friday to what was described as a “rapturous reception” and briefly spoke about the upcoming election.
One UUP source told the News Letter that it had been “a very good meeting with a lot of unity about” and said that Mr Nesbitt – who has been under immense political pressure in recent weeks – had made “a very inspiring speech”.
Earlier yesterday, the UUP’s 13 MLAs met for an ‘away day’ at the hotel to discuss strategy and policies, including a crucial decision about whether the party will support the upcoming Welfare Reform Bill at Stormont.
Last night, Mr Lutton was photographed at the same hotel with the DUP MEP Diane Dodds and the UUP MEP Jim Nicholson - a visual image of the rival unionist parties’ support for Mr Lutton.
However, with just 12 days to the election, little is yet known about Mr Lutton’s personal views or what he would do if, in what would be a massive electoral upset, he was elected MP.
In a statement, Mrs Dodds said she was delighted to endorse the Portadown undertaker.
She said: “The community wants to see unionists working together. I’m glad that Jim and I are able to unite in our support of Nigel.
“I look forward to canvassing in Mid Ulster with the rest of the team. The response so far has been very encouraging.”
Mr Nicholson said: “I’m delighted to identify with Nigel and wish him well in the campaign. He’s taken on a very challenging task.
“I certainly think it’s the right decision to have cooperation between the two parties at this time.
“This is what many unionists want us to see at this time, especially in this area, and I look forward to working with him and hope he’s successful.”
The DUP’s Arlene Foster, who will campaign with Mr Lutton in Mid Ulster on Saturday, said that “whatever the result” in Mid Ulster, the by-election gave voters the chance to support a single unionist candidate.
In a speech to the Omagh and Fairywater DUP annual general meeting, Mrs Foster said: “As someone from Fermanagh, I have seen the potential of what an agreed candidate can deliver.
“The people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone were denied representation in Parliament because of just four votes and some others who decided to spoil their ballot.
“Those four votes, and many others, were lost because some people believed that it wasn’t possible to win the seat. The message has been sent out loud and clear, however, that we should not become convinced of defeat before a single vote has been cast.”
See Saturday’s News Letter for full story