DUP leadership contest must be open and transparent, it’s important that someone challenges Edwin Poots

The starter’s gun was pressed on the DUP leadership race last night when Edwin Poots, the agriculture minister, was first out of the blocks.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 7:41 am
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 2:54 pm
News Letter editorial

As the early bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Arlene Foster, it was probably no surprise that Mr Poots was the first to declare his candidature.

We will have to wait to see the identity of the other candidates, if indeed there are any, but it is a significant statement of intent that Mr Poots declared little more than 24 hours after Mrs Foster revealed her decision to stand down.

Mr Poots, from the traditionally conservative wing of the DUP, wants to be both party leader and first minister with some suggestions in the media that he wouldn’t even want to be first minister if he also wasn’t party leader.

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If he was to succeed it would be a remarkable turn of events for the Lagan Valley MLA who revealed in an interview with the News Letter earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Mr Poots has since undergone surgery, and is fit and healthy, having returned to his ministerial duties in early March.

The likeliest candidates to challenge Mr Poots is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Lagan Valley MP with whom Mr Poots shares an office in Lisburn. Gavin Robinson, the East Belfast MP, and a qualified barrister, has also long been thought of as having leadership credentials although he looks increasingly less likely to run. If an MP won the leadership race, it would leave the DUP with a different party leader and first minister.

It is important that the DUP holds an open and transparent leadership contest for the first time. Previously, DUP leaders have effectively received a coronation with a leader chosen by MPs and MLAs and presented to its central executive for ratification. The process has been largely hidden from the public.

The party needs to make many changes and modernising this process would be a crucial first step.