UUP should not become Country and Western branch of Alliance

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Mike Nesbitt has called on Arlene Foster to represent and reflect the wishes of the majority of voters in Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the EU (report June 27).

In the Assembly he expressed a fear that soft nationalist voters who have been prepared to give conditional support to the union might in future support an end to partition.

Perhaps this is the time to consider Mr Nesbitt’s leadership. In declaring that his party would support remaining in the EU Mr Nesbitt chose to ignore evidence of support for leaving among unionist voter. at least one commentator has suggested that this reduced his party’s support at the last election.

Most of those UUP candidates who declared support for extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland performed poorly in that election. It should be obvious that support for abortion alienates many Protestant voters as well as most practising Catholics. Nevertheless Mr Nesbitt continues to support changes to our abortion law.

Furthermore the UUP’s opposition to church schools hardly makes its candidates attractive to Catholic voters. The UUP had prominent Catholic members twenty years ago, the late Sir John Gorman in particular. Now it has none; under Mr Nesbitt it cannot expect to have any.

One sometimes gets the impression that Mr Nesbitt’s unionism is vestigial at best. A good example of this is an article in your pages which appeared not long before the last election. If my memory is correct Mr Nesbitt had little or nothing to say about Britishness or the importance of the union; he did, however, find space to praise Henry Joy McCracken (as well as to attribute to the executed rebel a French Protestant ancestry which is unknown to anyone who has written about him).

Mr Nesbitt’s greatest success as leader was to oppose the plans for the Maze formulated by Sinn Fein and the DUP. Since then he has been in general more reluctant to confront republicanism. In recent years I have suggested to two UUP members (one an elected representative) that the party ought to oppose Sinn Fein’s foreign funding. I have heard nothing more of the proposal.

Mr Nesbitt is the first Cambridge graduate to lead his party; it is a pity therefore that even though he read for the English tripos at Jesus he speaks and writes in strings of cliches. He is just a little too sleekit. His predecessor lacks a university education of any sort but he possesses character and authenticity. The UUP’s electoral performance under Tom Elliott was slightly better than under his successor. The last election showed only too well the present leader’s capacity for poor judgement.

The party’s performance in Belfast is far behind the Alliance’s party’s and disturbingly close to that of the Greens. That ought to worry Ulster Unionists. I write as a sometime member of the UUP and as one who has often voted for it in the past; I have given the UUP assistance in various ways in public and private.

I have no wish to see the UUP disappear but I do not want to see it turn into the Country and Western branch of the Alliance Party. Is it not time for UUP members to ask themselves whether or not their leader has become a liability?

C.D.C. Armstrong, Belfast, BT12