Attended the UUP's Annual General Meeting in the Balmoral Conference Centre yesterday morning. I was disappointed that I hadn't managed to make it along to the fundraising dinner the night before, but I was genuinely heartened by the large turnout in the hall. I think it's fair to say there was a significant buzz in the conference centre as we all look forward to the election.
It has to be said that Sir Reg Empey, unopposed for the party leadership, was on fire as he tore into the DUP, into the Labour Government (with special emphasis on the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward) and into the DUP's approaches on Unionist Unity.
Congratulations to the always impressive Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency for scooping the President's Cup (awarded to the Association who raises most money for the party) for possibly the zillionth time, and we wish them well in their efforts to unseat their absentee MP in the coming weeks. Congratulations also to the newly elected and re-elected party officers to serve their two year terms. It was also good to see most of the party's candidates on the stage at the very end for a final salute (as it were) from the leader and the other delegates. The candidates in question were Sandra Overend (Mid-Ulster), Mike Nesbitt (Strangford), Dr David Harding (Foyle), Lesley McCauley (East Londonderry), Ross Hussey (West Tyrone), Tom Elliott MLA (Fermanagh and South Tyrone), Danny Kennedy MLA (Newry and Armagh), Lady Daphne Trimble (Lagan Valley), Trevor Ringland (Belfast East), Bill Manwaring (Belfast West) and Rodney McCune (East Antrim). Justifiably, they got the biggest cheer of the day.
I think all of us in attendance went away feeling a little better about our political affiliations and looking forward to a decent election. The meeting certainly ticked all the right boxes in terms of boosting members' confidence and giving us an aim - placing Northern Ireland politics at the heart of the Union. That is what the link with the Conservative Party offers us and that is what has been missing from the local political scene for far too long. All we have to do now is get as many of the above as possible (not to mention the seven candidates who were not present for whatever reason) elected.