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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 11:54 GMT
Jeffrey Donaldson: Ulster Unionist

By BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent, Martina Purdy

In some ways, Jeffrey Donaldson is to David Trimble what Michael Portillo was to John Major: young, fiercely ambitious and a threat to his leadership.

And just as Mr Portillo enjoyed the favour of a former leader, Margaret Thatcher, Jeffrey Donaldson came to power under the shadow of Mr Trimble's predecessor, Lord Molyneaux.

In fact, Mr Donaldson's Lagan Valley seat was inherited from Lord Molyneaux at the last general election.

Mostly rural, anti-agreement and unionist, Lagan Valley has been one of the safest seats for the Ulster Unionist Party.


While Mr Trimble still has the upper hand, Mr Donaldson remains a formidable figure of opposition

Even when Ian Paisley's party stood in the constituency in 1997, Mr Donaldson was rewarded with a majority of almost 17,000.

New breed

At 38, Mr Donaldson, who is married with two children, is the youngest Northern Ireland MP at Westminster. He is the first in a new generation of politicians to enter Parliament.

And despite his relative youth, Mr Donaldson has about 20 years' experience in politics.

He began his political career in 1983 when he was appointed agent to Enoch Powell in South Down.


Mr Donaldson has not followed the way indicated by his leader
Presently a vice-president of the UUP, Mr Donaldson has also held senior posts in the Orange Order, and his views are those of the traditional unionist.

His split with David Trimble came when the leader signed up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Just as the negotiations were concluding, Mr Donaldson made a hasty exit - complaining the deal fudged the decommissioning issue and allowed for prisoner releases.

Until then, Mr Donaldson had been one of Mr Trimble's closest lieutenants. Despite efforts to resolve their differences, the two men remain bitter opponents.

Anti-Agreement leader

Mr Donaldson is now the de facto leader of the no-camp.

Although it was his colleague Martin Smyth, MP, who challenged Mr Trimble's leadership last March (winning 43% backing), Mr Donaldson seized the initiative last October.

At a crucial meeting of the party's ruling council, Mr Donaldson tabled a set of proposals designed to force the Ulster Unionist ministers to withdraw from the executive in the absence of decommissioning.

In the end, the party backed Mr Trimble's plan - but only by 54%. Mr Donaldson had hoped to win outright, but was seen to force his leader to adopt a tougher stance.

There is a perception in the party Mr Donaldson is not yet ready to take the leadership - and he has been careful to say the issue is not one of leadership but policy.

He continues to demand decommissioning as the price of power-sharing with Sinn Fein. While Mr Trimble still has the upper hand, Mr Donaldson remains a formidable figure of opposition.

Some months ago, Mr Donaldson warned his party was facing "electoral meltdown" in the forthcoming elections - claiming it had not lived up to its policies of "no guns, no government".

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Related stories:

30 Sep 00 |  Northern Ireland
UUP faces 'electoral melt-down'
26 May 00 |  Northern Ireland
Profile: Jeffrey Donaldson MP
27 Oct 00 |  Northern Ireland
Head-to-head: Donaldson and Trimble
16 Dec 00 |  Northern Ireland
Trimble faces further showdown
19 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
Donaldson denies Trimble challenge
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