COUNCILLOR Carl McClean has quit the UUP, launching a blistering attack on the party’s leadership and direction as he went. “The future of Unionism is not the Ulster Unionist Party,” he said, slamming the organisation for its declining election fortunes and what he argued is a lack of vision from the top down.

    Describing the UUP as ‘a party full of good people let down by poor decisions’, he hit out at leader Doug Beattie as well as senior officials whose stewardship, Mr McClean feels, has let the UUP drift away from the modern electorate.

    It’s a shock move from a man who was encouraged back from a career and life in London to enter local politics, and was at one point being groomed as a potential future MLA for the party. A member of the UUP for almost a decade, Mr McClean has sat on Ards and North Down Council since the body’s creation in 2014 – first representing Bangor Central, and then the Holywood and Clandeboye district.

    He was also deputy mayor of the borough in 2016, his appointment to such a prominent role so quickly a sign of the rapid impact he’d made within the party and the UUP’s hopes for his political career. But announcing his departure this week, he lashed out at recent internal controversies that have struck the Ulster Unionists in North Down.

    Sources state that locally the party has been split by serious power struggles over selecting candidates for May’s elections. This newspaper understands incumbent councillors in more than one district worry that, given the UUP’s decline in popularity, they’ll have a fight on their hands to keep their seats this year – yet party high-ups insisted they must have second candidates in their districts as running mates. Those second candidates, it’s understood, left some incumbents fearing that the already low Ulster Unionist vote will be split, paving the way for rival parties to nab their seats.

    For Mr McClean, those power struggles and what he described as the UUP leadership being ‘either uninterested in or incapable of addressing’ the issue were the final straw. “Constituents have been wondering as to the point of the UUP, even the viability of the UUP, for some time,” said the 43 year-old. “I have defended the party every single time this has been asked. “But the failure to address the chaos and unprofessionalism locally in North Down has convinced me the UUP won’t make the necessary changes to survive, let alone compete to be the leading party in Stormont.” Originally joining up during Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt’s time in charge of the Ulster Unionists, Mr McClean this week argued that the party’s continuing decline in popularity and its struggles to reconnect with the electorate under three subsequent leaders have left it increasingly irrelevant as a political force.

    He said: “I moved home from London to join the UUP with hope and excitement, because I wanted to help improve the place where I grew up, promote the cause of Unionism for all, regardless of background, in a party that could claim to govern well in the interests of everybody. “In the face of poor messaging leading to disappointing election results, I have always kept the faith in the potential of a party that’s full of good people let down by poor decisions. “However, recent behaviour within the local North Down party, culminating in the selection of council candidates for the 2023 election, has been disgraceful and wouldn’t be tolerated by any other political party in the UK. “The party leader has repeatedly waved away concerns from several members, candidates and councillors, including me, and appears either uninterested in or incapable of addressing it.”

    Mr McClean did take time to praise local grassroots activists and his former UUP colleagues on the council, stating: “They are a huge credit to their constituents, as their rivals will be the first to admit. I hope they are not hurt by their UUP’s continued decline. “I have been encouraged by their support and understanding for my decision to resign, and value their continued friendship.” The Holywood and Clandeboye councillor said he hopes to stay in politics and will serve out his current term on the council as an independent, but is considering his long-term options.