Lord Maginnis was wrong. I’ve no intention of condemning the man, he’s a personal friend and doesn’t deserve it. But he was just downright wrong.
The substance of his comments was not good. There is a logic to the argument that homosexuality is on the ladder to bestiality, but only if your starting point is that homosexuality is an illegitimate lifestyle choice and/or inherently some sort of public health risk. Morality is a question that can be debated, but the rest is just downright wrong.
Whatever Ken believes, the fact that he decided that it was a good idea to go on Nolan and say it is fairly depressing for the UUP. The story arose out of the fact that a healthy proportion of the DUP parliamentary party are Vice Presidents of a group which claims that gay marriage is the first rung on the ladder to legalised incest. Which is as absurd as it is appalling. For the UUP it is devastating that yet again it has managed to turn a bad news day for the DUP into a terrible news week for itself.
Mike Nesbitt has arguably dealt with the situation as well as he could have. There was never any question of sitting out Ken’s comments; they had to be responded to. Instigating disciplinary proceedings, which is apparently to be done, killed the Alliance Party’s hyperbole before it started (although that was very much a damage limitation exercise) but would also appear to be the crossing of a Rubicon. UUP leaders since the dawn of time have shied away from situations like these. The amount of ill-disciplined comments under the carpet doesn’t bear quantifying. In this instance though, Nesbitt immediately stated 1) that the comments were a solo-run and that 2) they wouldn’t be tolerated.
This course of action is not without it’s problems. Ken is a very popular man, and with good reason. There will be those loathe to see him disciplined for what they will see as a minor matter. There will be a sense amongst a great many that this kind of thing could and should be ignored, if for no other reason than if it wasn’t for Ken Maginnis , the chances are that everyone, gay, straight and neither, would still be shooting at each other. There is also the fact that he isn’t a man to be told what to do quietly, and due process of discipline will be slow, awkward and public.
The road to making the UUP an election winning machine is going to be a long and slow one. These kinds of situation traditionally befall the UUP around four weeks ahead of an election, it is at least fortunate that today Northern Ireland is several years away from one. If Nesbitt is to turn the party around, he really has to grasp the bull by the horns. It is a shame that the bull turned out to be Ken Maginnis , but really, he had no choice but to take the challenge once it appeared. The fact that Adrian Watson presented himself up on the same day (for reasons that aren’t altogether clear quite frankly, although I haven’t heard what he actually said) is interesting for similar reasons.
The wisdom of calling an Executive Committee meeting is a little beyond me. If it is there to reaffirm the Party’s position on gay marriage as a matter of conscience, that will be a short meeting. Otherwise I can only see a lot of shouting. However on the matter of how Nesbitt handled the first four hours of this ludicrous situation, he has passed the test that his predecessors never quite managed to. The challenge now is to turn that into something useful.