A former Ulster Unionist chairman who also served as David Trimble’s chief of staff has quit the party, accusing the leadership of “political mismanagement” and “amateurism”.
David Campbell, a life-long Ulster Unionist, said in a statement to the News Letter that his long analysis that the UUP should have struck a deal with the DUP while it was still politically relevant had been proven accurate by last week’s election result in which the DUP annihilated its unionist rival.
There has long been a swathe of the UUP which has disliked Mr Campbell and he has been outside the inner circle of the UUP leadership since the then leader Mike Nesbitt made clear five years ago that he wanted a new party chairman.
Nevertheless, the departure of such a long-standing party veteran signifies that not only has the UUP taken an electoral battering in this year’s two snap elections, but it is now losing previously senior members as well.
Mr Campbell has been a long-standing proponent of unionist unity and was involved in several secret attempts to engineer either electoral pacts or a single unionist party.
In his statement yesterday, he said: “Within my own party I argued that terms should be reached with the DUP whilst the party still had electoral credibility and I warned that if the party did not act, the electorate would act for them.
“This position has now come to pass. It is a tragedy that the Ulster Unionist Party of today is unrecognisable from the party that I joined 35 years ago or more recently had the privilege of chairing.
“Regrettably the political mismanagement, amateurism, and fundamental disrespect witnessed over the past five years has brought us to this all-time low and I feel that I can no longer allow myself to be associated with it. Accordingly I have resigned as a member and trustee of the Ulster Unionist Party.”
He added: “The Ulster Unionist Party served Ulster well for one hundred years. The unionist electorate has now passed the mantle of leadership exclusively to the DUP and circumstances have provided them with a unique opportunity to play a key role in advancing our nation as a whole and cementing Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. I wish them well.”
The Carrickfergus farmer and businessman has since October 2015 been chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) – the body of loyalist paramilitaries set up by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell to move the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando away from gangsterism. That body came out to endorse three DUP candidates and the UUP’s Tom Elliott just ahead of last week’s election.
However, a backlash led to the UUP and then the DUP moving to distance themselves from the endorsement.
In his statement, Mr Campbell expressed particular annoyance at how the UUP had reacted to the LCC support. He said that it he had “no doubt that the loyalist vote played a decisive role” in the election of Nigel Dodds and Emma Little-Pengelly – two of those explicitly endorsed by the LCC.
Mr Campbell said: “What was unacceptable however was the hypocritical outrage that accompanied the statement from those who should know better. The individuals behind the formation of the LCC and its declared aims of supporting the peace process and opposing criminality are well known to all.
“They played a key role in supporting the Belfast Agreement; in fact whereas the Alliance Party was arguably largely irrelevant to the delivery of the agreement the Ulster Unionist Party could not have made the agreement nor carried a majority of unionist opinion in its favour, without the endorsement and support of the loyalist organisations.
“So why is it acceptable for former republican paramilitaries to run for office or engage in electioneering yet it is apparently unacceptable for loyalists to do likewise?”
He added: “I care little for the condemnation issued by Sinn Fein and their fellow travellers last week but what I found inexcusable was the reaction from my own party leadership. Again, knowing the positive intent behind the LCC, Mike Nesbitt and Robin Swann appeared to jump on the bandwagon of opposition to the LCC and apparently felt it necessary to make it clear that they were not soliciting loyalist votes.
“Excuse me, but is an election not all about soliciting votes?”