DUP leadership fight an internal party matter not for public: Wilson

Veteran MP Sammy Wilson says it is only proper for the DUP leadership battle to be conducted behind closed doors, indicating that it will allow candidates to be “honest”.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 9:41 am

Mr Wilson – who served as DUP press officer for about a decade – was speaking after the News Letter reported that the party’s current press team is enforcing a ‘gagging order’, barring the two candidates from giving interviews.

So far Jeffrey Donaldson (MP for Lagan Valley) and Edwin Poots (MLA for Lagan Valley) have put their names forward in the fight to succeed Arlene Foster.

A leaked internal party memo says that “no candidate is to be fielded by the party for media appearances/interview during the period of the leadership campaign”.

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DUP leadership candidates Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (left) and Edwin Poots

It adds: “This applies to both candidates for leader and deputy leader positions.

“No candidate is to unilaterally give broadcast or print interviews about their candidature.”

There are different schools of thought on the idea of whether leadership contests should be public or not; some people believe that having party colleagues attack one another in a bid to secure the top spot reflects badly on their party’s unified front.

Mr Wilson refused to say who he is backing.

Ultimately the contest will be decided by a vote, with only MPs and MLAs having the right to cast a ballot, he said.

Mr Wilson told the News Letter: “It shouldn’t be public at all. It’s an internal party thing. The only interest the public have is in the outcome.

“But what happens as to a leadership contest is within the party, it’s own structures.

“And that’s where the arguments have to be made.

“Why should [there be] a public debate when the public don’t have an input in the vote, at the end of the day?

“My view is that these are internal party discussions. They should be kept internal within the party and then the public will see the outcomes announced.

“That’s when the public interest starts – the person who wins should be and will be subject to public scrutiny, questioning about their polities, et cetera.”

He further added that it would be “bizarre” in his eyes to do it any other way.

And when it came to the description of the interview ban as a ‘gagging order’, Mr Wilson replied: “It’s not a ‘gagging order’ at all.

“It’s simply a recognition that the only people who need to be influenced at present are the people within the party who have the vote...

“If it’s an internal debate people can be honest in the internal debate, and you’re not washing your party’s linen in public.”

Mr Poots has already launched a manifesto, promising to transform the party – saying, among other things, that “from top to bottom, we have to drive up transparency”.

He also aims to separate the jobs of DUP leader and First Minister, believing both to be full-time jobs.

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