DUP MLAs and MPs should judge leadership candidates over course of campaign

The News Letter editorial of Monday, May 3, 2021.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 7:00 am
News Letter editorial

Edwin Poots has unquestionably stolen a march in the battle to succeed Arlene Foster as DUP leader.

As a key player in the letter of no confidence that toppled Arlene Foster last week, Stormont’s agriculture minister was out of the starting blocks in double quick time.

Within 26 hours of Mrs Foster’s announcement on Wednesday that she was standing down, Mr Poots was promoting a professionally filmed short video clip released in time to lead the evening television and radio news bulletins.

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By Friday night, Mr Poots had posted six more videos from among the group of 35 DUP MPs and MLAs whose votes will decide who the new leader is.

Already this feels like a campaign with real momentum with any potential rivals having to play catch-up.

However, it’s important that this isn’t just a coronation for Mr Poots and that the DUP holds its first ever proper leadership election.

With Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson expected to declare imminently, we should have an intriguing leadership campaign, not least because the two men have shared an office together in Lisburn and know each other well.

However, they are on opposite wings of the party, with Mr Donaldson having remained close to Mrs Foster, who he defected to the DUP alongside from the Ulster Unionists back in 2003.

There have been claims from Mr Poots’s camp that he might already have enough votes to guarantee him the leadership but that would be premature. Those entitled to vote should wait to hear what the differences are between these two aspiring leaders, wait to hear what direction in which the candidates want to take the party and indeed take unionism.

The best way for MLAs and MPs to make a properly informed choice is to watch these candidates perform under the glare of a campaign spotlight. They need to know what their policies will be on key issues like the NI Protocol.