McCallister, Kennedy…..Nesbitt?

Three nominations for Leader of the UUP. And most posts on the subject seem to involve the words “poisoned chalice”. Certainly the UUP Assembly Party is not a happy ship and the wider membership are in near despair.

For the record the UUP has fifteen serving MLAs, one MEP (Jim Nicholson) and four members of the House of Lords. It had ninety nine councillors elected in 2011.

Yet three people want the job that……er nobody wants.

John McCallister is Deputy Leader of the Party. He has the endorsement of fellow “liberal” Basil McCrea who lost the 2010 Leadership contest. McCallister is popular and possibly his South Down base puts him more in touch with the grassroots than McCrea from the Greater Belfast area.McCallister wants the UUP to leave the Executive and go into Opposition. This seems a bit strange. First off the Assembly has no Opposition benches. It is shaped as a horseshoe and while the Green Party MLA (Steven Agnew) TUVs Jim Allister and two other Independent Unionists (David McClarty and David McNarry) are not “in government”…..there is no provision for Opposition “time” in debates. At best McCallister and his UUP colleagues could only speak in the same designated order they do now.At worst the UUP would actually lose influence. Yes they would be popular with journalists and they might even feel good about themselves……..for a week.

But surely leaving the Executive would be an own goal. Alliance is due to lose their gerrymandered seat next month. Would UUP leaving Executive not simply hand it back?

Danny Kennedy is a traditional UUP man who literally beats the big Orange Drum on 12th July. He is a member of a band and tends to make sure that the TV cameras record the scene. Away from the Twelfth Field, he is quite popular. The conventional wisdom and maybe even the convention is that the Party Leader should not be in the Norn Iron Executive. Thus Tom Elliott the outgoing Leader was happy to have Kennedy as Minister for Regional Development and it was an arrangement which suited Kennedy. I dont think that Kennedy can really pitch for the Leadership without “promising” Regional Development to someone else.

Mike Nesbitt? Nesbitt was only elected to the Assembly in 2011. He is a former journalist who people of a certain age will recognise from his popular catchphrase “Lisnagarvey 3 Instonians 1”. Or the equally popular “Cliftonville Olympic 2 Linfield Swifts 2”. A BBC sports reporter who became “anchor” of Ulster Televisions flagship news programme, he always seemed to lack gravitas. In actual fact, he is an alumnus of the exclusive Campbell College and Cambridge University. Briefly a Victims Commissioner after leaving UTV, Nesbitt was poster boy for the UUP-Conservative “new party” which proved a total flop at the 2010 Westminster Election. There was a time at the height of the Iris Robinson Scandal when Nesbitt was considered a near certainty to replace her at Westminster. In the end he lost easily to Jim Shannon of the DUP.

Interestingly Danny Kinahan, Kennedy’s Chief of Staff has endorsed Nesbitt. This suggests to me that Kennedy will be safely re-employed as Minister if Nesbitt wins………and that Nesbitt gets the job if Kennedy wins. Certainly Nesbitt is media savvy and can talk to fellow journalists. He has a certain charisma in a Party that does not do charisma……….but to me he lacks substance.

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