Beattie: If UUP does not lose any MLAs I will consider it a success
Doug Beattie, the UUP MLA who is looking like the surefire replacement for Steve Aiken as party leader, has said that simply maintaining the party’s current number of MLAs would be a victory for him.
Mr Beattie is currently the sole candidate to replace the outgoing Mr Aiken, after Robbie Butler decided on Wednesday night that he would not be running afterall for the party leadership.
Assuming no-one else puts their name forward before the deadline on Monday, Mr Beattie will become the UUP’s fifth leader in a decade, and he will inherit a party which has struggled against electoral decline ever since the 1998 Agreement.
On the subject of what kind of electoral performance he would deem acceptable, he told the News Letter: “Of course I’m reaching out to people and I want to increase our share of the vote.
“I want to increase the number of MLAs I have. But I’m also a realist.
“This could be seen as a standing start. And if it’s a standing start we need to make sure our message is heard.
“If at the end of the election next year I came back with 10 MLAs as I have now, that could be seen as a measure of success given the situation we’re in.
“But I’d hope to be able to grow that.
“If it reduced then of course it’d be a failure. It’d be negative.”
As reported yesterday, an analysis of the figures from the ARK website (an archive of election results run by NI’s two universities) shows that after the 1998 Assembly elections, the Ulster Unionists emerged with about 21% of the vote, compared with roughly 18% for the DUP.
The DUP took over as the biggest unionist party in 2003, and by the time of the 2017 Assembly elections the UUP commanded just 13% of the first preference votes, against the DUP’s 28%.
Mr Beattie also told the News Letter that his erstwhile potential challenger Robbie Butler can become his deputy leader if he wants.
Mr Beattie said: “He is our chief whip and he is a very effective chief whip. If he wishes to stay the party chief whip, then he’ll be allowed to.
“However, if he’d prefer I’ll make him my deputy party leader, without a shadow of doubt – if indeed I’m elected to be the party leader.
“The point I am making is, no matter which way you look at this, Robbie Butler has an important role within the MLA group, and within the party, regardless of what he decides to do.”
He said that, as chief whip (in charge of keeping the party cohesive and disciplined), the job is arguably more powerful than that of deputy leader.
He also confirmed that Robin Swann is expected to stay on as health minister.
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