Hearing that the party leader Sir Reg Empey has been selected as the Ulster Conservative and Unionist candidate in South Antrim (I'm sorry, I despise the acronym UCUNF). As most will know by now, this follows a somewhat controversial selection process in that highly winnable constituency, after the frontrunner, serving Mayor of Antrim Adrian Cochrane-Watson, was deemed unsuitable by local Conservatives after statements he made four years ago surrounding homosexual couples renting rooms in his family run Bed and Breakfast.
Despite the discontent spread by the Watson affair, South Antrim is high on the target list, and it's not hard to see why. Rev Dr William McCrea MP MLA, former MP for Mid-Ulster and serving Magherafelt councillor (not to mention recorded Gospel artist and full time Minister at Calvary Free Presbyterian Church, Magherafelt) is defending a fairly slim majority of 3,448, and has, according to sources, never really found a true home in the constituency. Furthermore, the DUP didn't really set the world afire here in the 2007 Assembly elections either. Certainly, most people still automatically associate McCrea with Mid-Ulster, the seat he held for 14 years but lost in 1997, and Magherafelt, where he's been a local councillor since 1973 (and where his portrait was a feature on the Orange arch in the town centre until painted over with an image of Dan Winter's cottage in 2007). I won't beat about the bush - last week, I despaired as we wrangled about candidate selection in the public arena - I thought ''That's it, we've handed the seat to the DUP for another five years.'' Now I'm not so sure (or pessimistic).
Now, I am aware of the obvious; McCrea, a resident of Magherafelt, hasn't really gelled with the good folk of South Antrim whilst Sir Reg, an east Belfast boy born and bred, somehow has what it takes. My argument is that Sir Reg's candidacy is proof positive of just how serious the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists are taking this election. To take the party leader out of his long time electoral base in the east of the city, potentially out of a safe Assembly seat and Ministerial office, is a significant move indeed. Sir Reg is heavily bound up in the Ulster Conservative and Unionist process and if his candidacy is what it takes to win South Antrim back, so be it.