THE man hoping to replace Sir Reg Empey as boss of the Ulster Unionist Party has promised to "lead from the front".
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott outlined his plans last week when he beefed up his leadership campaign in Enniskillen.
It was the first time since announcing his intention to stand last month that Mr. Elliott has spoken publicly about his vision.
Flanked by fellow party colleagues, Lord Ken Maginnis and Mike Nesbitt, Mr. Elliott admitted: "Our party must now move forward".
"Today is the start of us beefing up our leadership campaign. We want to ensure it is a positive campaign which is why I have people like Mike and Ken on board. I want to make sure I have things in process for the leadership contest because the most important thing is the vision of what's going to happen when I'm leader," he said.
Following a disappointing Westminster election, Mr. Elliott says his first challenge is working out how to persuade more people to vote.
"We need to attract people back to vote because, whether we like it or not, people are coming out in smaller numbers to vote for the unionist parties. We have got to address that head on. The other issue is the benefits of the union and being part of the United Kingdom. This party must move forward in a positive vein, we must not moved back to negative politics. We also need to remind people that just because the broad based troubles are over, doesn't mean you can become comfortable. I am confident that the union is safe and we are not going to get into an All-Ireland situation. But what people need to remember is if they think that can remain unhindered -- that they don't need to come out and vote -- they are mistaken." Mr. Elliott says he wants to be the leader of a "leadership team", adding: "I treat politics as a business and the party as a particular business that I would be running. I don't want people to believe that this guy can do everything himself because that can't happen.
"We need discipline in our party. I have a vision of having someone in charge of discipline so they have my authority to go ahead and do the work. We need someone in charge of finances, obviously he needs my authority to go ahead and do the work. We need someone in charge of party management. We need someone in charge of constituency co-ordination. Those people need my authority to go and do that. I think it's important that I don't get myself bogged down in every detail. I will lead from the front and those people will be in charge of those specific areas. What I want to see is a leadership team and it is important to include the entire province in that team. That's why it's extremely important to have Mike on board to make a team," he said.
Veteran politician, Lord Ken Maginnis described Mr. Elliott as "head and shoulders" above everybody else in the Ulster Unionist Party.
"I would look at the potential for leaders in our party. Tom is at the right age, he has the energy to guard Northern Ireland's interests. He spent his life building up his own business and now with those years of experience he is prepared to take a huge risk on the people of Northern Ireland and the unionist community. How often do you find that? How often do you find someone like him, willing to dedicate their time to this country? He is head and shoulders above everybody else." Lord Maginnis added: "An hour and a half takes you anywhere in Northern Ireland but the province tends to be seen as just in and around the Greater Belfast area. Tom travels his 90 miles back and forward every day. It's not that he doesn't recognise the importance of Belfast but the vision of Northern Ireland needs to be strategically directed better and not just the rich east and the poor west. He is the man to do it," he said.
Mike Nesbitt admitted that the two most important functions that need addressed in his party are "the politics and the business".
"We need to box more cleverly at both. In my short time in active politics it has amazed me at how easy it is to be negative and how much energy people put into being negative. We have had several discussions over the last few weeks about policy and Tom and I would be very much on the same page. The job that was done in 1998 with the Belfast Agreement was a good one because it did secure the union at that time and it did open up the prospect of a shared future. Unfortunately since then the DUP have picked up on that policy, their only positive policy for forty years, which is ours, and they can't deliver it. The only people who finish the job, which is the same party that started the job, is the Ulster Unionists and Tom is the man.
"If you ask Tom a question you will get an answer. There is an honesty and a directness there and that's refreshing and important. It's not like when Reg said he'd stand down, Tom turned round and said 'Ah great, this is my turn'. I wouldn't be particularly enthusiastic if he had done but there's no me, me, me about him. Tom happens to the best man for the job rather than somebody who has been waiting for his turn to come around. For Tom, his time has come and it's his time to serve," added Mr. Nesbitt.
Mr. Elliott is so far the only Ulster Unionist to have thrown his hat in the ring. Though it's understood his colleague Basil McCrea will stand for leadership too.
The election leadership contest will take place in the last week of September, following a five week battle between the prospective candidates.