On Friday at the count, Mike Nesbitt was on a roll and so was his party. I was surprised at the news from East Belfast, particularly Ormiston one of two DEAs making up the most of the coming battleground between the sitting MEP Naomi Long and the DUP.
The drama lingered to the very end, just into Sunday morning when the DUP’s Denny Vitty was edged out by the Green candidate Ross Brown. Having taken two seats further up the count, the UUP, for once sitting proud of the rest of the field.
I think I confessed on Slugger and privately to one UUP friend that I hadn’t seen it coming. Then I asked him what he thought was driving the party’s sudden growth and it quickly became obvious that he couldn’t really pin down any concrete reason why.
In the meantime, buoyed up by his party’s strong showing Mike Nesbitt starting acting up with Ian Paisley on BBC and UTV, making a rather ostentatious show of whether he might or might not do a deal over East Belfast to get a free run at South Belfast.
Then came to the Euro count, when it became very painfully clear that whatever was driving the rise in UUP votes (+0.9%) and seats it was nothing directly to do with what the party had done.
Given a broader choice in an NI wide constituency, Jim Nicholson’s vote dropped four percentage points from 17.1 to 13.3, just ahead of the SDLP’s Alex Attwood. From that point on, Mike was barely to be seen.
He was powered across the win line by strong transfers from Jim Allister. Relief at getting the seat, surely.
But it may tell us something else, ie that the party’s right ward trajectory if they are attracting mass transfers from the TUV, there is every possibility that they are losing them elsewhere.
Now consider what the weekend would have looked like for Mike if the events had been reversed say if the local results had come after the Europeans? Local seats are for local people, of course. But there may awkward times ahead.