Less than three years ago, the UUP were suffering defections to the Tories. In September 2006, Bob Little joined the Tories and there were rumblings about Empey’s leadership.
Fast forward less than three years and the UUP have absorbed (er… almost all) the local Tories and are now receiving incoming defections from the DUP. And no doubt Reg is being warmly congratulated for the quality of his leadership.
It’s 33 months since Little’s defection. It’s c.48 months since a political tsunami in the form of the DUP swept the Ulster Unionists aside at the general election.
I think that’s amazing. When you consider how bad it was for the UUP, how close they were to the end, and now… Cameron joins Reg on party platforms, Hague stops by for a chat, the party RECEIVES defectors (!). It’s only 48 months since brave Sylvia survived meltdown – only to now become an unpopular figure for saying she bears no philosophical affection for a political party with which her political party has not yet merged. Politics is a topsey turvey world all right.
Of course, the UUP campaign has suffered serious setbacks but overall the effect is positive. How much of this is good leadership, good fortune or just good timing?
Put it another way – the UUP have produced a media friendly defection. They’ve been sitting on this for weeks and (just like the Tory pact announcement), they locked it up, took control and waited for the right moment to arrive. So in answer to my own question, the explanation does not wholly lie in leadership, fortune or timing. The simplest, most complete explanation is that the UUP has finally got professional.
The effect of these defections will be to galvanise and get people thinking about the UUP in a way they haven’t done for some time. And all just 10 days before polling. Few things impress more than constructive politics smartly executed.
PS. The last time I was this impressed was when the SDLP PEB got screened. Put a ring on it Alban!