UUP meets to discuss future but radical change unlikely

UUP leader Robin Swann (left) pictured at the European election count with Danny Kenney (right) .'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
UUP leader Robin Swann (left) pictured at the European election count with Danny Kenney (right) .'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
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Radical change within the Ulster Unionist Party is unlikely to happen despite a sharp decline in electoral fortunes, former leader Tom Elliott has said.

Mr Elliott, who also sits on the party’s ruling executive, said that while there will be “enthusiasm to have a shake-up,” the history of the party would suggest otherwise.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s scheduled UUP executive meeting, Mr Elliott said: “The difficulty is, that immediately after an election there is always enthusiasm to have a shake-up, but quite often not a great lot happens.

“I will be surprised if there is not an indication tomorrow that there will be a significant review or shake-up required.”

He added: “But that is not the big issue. The big issue is what will happen after that.”

The first of three disappointing polls under current leader Robin Swann came at the 2017 general election. However, that setback occurred just weeks after the North Antrim MLA had taken over from Mike Nesbitt.

Mr Nesbitt’s resignation followed a poor UUP Assembly election performance earlier that year.

Mr Elliott, who led the party from September 2010 to March 2012, said he expected some ideas to be floated on how the party’s electoral fortunes could be restored.

“There will be some discussion around that,” he said.

“Two [poor] elections in a row – I would have thought that would be a prime issue and a significant item on the agenda.”

Mr Elliott would not be drawn on whether he would prefer to see a change at the top, other than to say he believed the current leader would remain in place until he himself decided to step down.

The Ulster Unionists lost its only two Westminster seats – held by Mr Elliott and Danny Kinahan – in May 2017.

Earlier this week, UUP candidate Danny Kennedy failed to the retain the European seat held by party stalwart Jim Nicholson for three decades.

Mr Kennedy polled 53,052 votes (9.2%) compared to Mr Nicholson’s total of 83,438 (13.3%) in 2014.

Current leader Robin Swann said he considered resigning following the collapse in the party’s vote on May 23.

“It was a bad result, it was a bad night, it wasn’t a good place to be.

“I thought about it and if the opportunity comes up, if the party wants me to go, I’ve no problem standing aside as leader,” he said.

Earlier, he said: “I’m big enough to do whatever needs to be done for the good of the Ulster Unionist Party.”

Mr Swann stressed that he is “not stepping down”.

He added: “I’m not running away from the responsibility that the party gave me at the last AGM.”