Sunday, 5 June 2011

Tom Elliot right to centralise selection, but what next?

Of the many criticisms that were thrown at the UUP and Tom Elliot over the last 9 months, that of internal indiscipline is the one that probably hurt the most, mainly due to the fact it was so very hard to deny. It was also, for the most part, an unfair one to level at Tom Elliot as an individual. In a party like the UUP, discipline is almost impossible to insist on - it has to be encouraged and for the most part, requested. This is because of the decentralised structure of the party which allows each Constituency Association to run almost autonomously.

It was this structure which led to the likes of Paula Bradshaw being deselected in South Belfast and Harry Hamilton facing a similar such scenario in Upper Bann. In my constituency of North Down, it was this structure which saw a UUP Deputy Mayor, Harry Dunlop and another UUP Councillor, Dunlop's wife, Roberta facing certain de-selection before the local elections. Harry took refuge in the DUP (a move which rewarded Dunlop with re-election and the DUP with 4 of the 6 seats in that DEA) and Roberta fought as an Independent against the UUP Constituency Chair, Colin Breen, perceived to be the driving force behind the campaign to de-select the Dunlops.

By changing the rules to allow the party leadership final approval of all candidates, Tom Elliot can now go into the next election with a field of candidates that he can truly support and of course, he will have to accept responsibility for them. Whilst this is unlikely to be a magic fix for all the UUP problems it does at least mean that one problem has become a little easier to Tom - that of putting across a unified message. There will be no excuse for candidates going 'off message' in future as they will have all had to get approval from those crafting the message and will presumably have had to sign off on it before doing so. 

However, this is just one step on the very tall ladder to successful reform. I would advise the next step to be the engagement of a brand expert. With the exception of their Assembly posters, the UUP's branding for the last elections was, to put it kindly, abysmal. Brand isn't just about the fonts and images used in your literature of course, but any expert will tell you that building a professional and respected brand is a lot harder without such standards. 

Tom Elliot needs to decide what type of Brand the UUP want to project, he needs to get his senior people on board, put a strategy in place for realising that vision and then, most importantly and perhaps most difficultly, he has to get his 'troops' to buy into it.  

This is the first indication, for me at least, that the UUP hasn't quite lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. 

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