Nesbitt recognises that partnership is not just unavoidable but the only way to get stuff done

Jude Collins was not impressed with Mike Nesbitt’s interview with Alex in which he nonetheless traversed some interesting ground

MN: If you are going to talk about unofficial opposition and the UUP walks out on its own, what’s the proposition we are offering people for next time, if you want to talk about electorally? Surely we would have to be doing this in conjunction with the SDLP: because I would like to see an official opposition, I think that would be the next step towards normalising politics and I think it would be a mature recognition that the institutions are solid enough to withstand another significant step forward. But it needs to be cross-community because we are not going back to majoritarian government.

AK: Have you talked to the SDLP about this?

MN: Yes, we have had conversations with the SDLP about these issues – and I don’t want to overegg the pudding because they weren’t in any great detail – and I think, frankly, the Haass process and party leaders stuff that followed has not helped to create that space recently. But I think that we should be having that conversation and I hope they feel the same way about us. I would love to see a stronger SDLP, as I would love to see a stronger UUP. But what I’m also encouraging unionists to think about is what they are going to do when the day comes – and it might be sooner rather than later – when you look at the benches downstairs and there isn’t a single member of Sinn Fein who was in the IRA or had any connection with the IRA. So in a few years it will just be the younger ones, who have no blood on their hands and are only there because they have a mandate.

AK: Is there an electoral advantage in reaching an electoral pact or understanding with the DUP to get you back into the House of Commons?

MN: But would that ‘understanding’ be with the DUP necessarily, or could it be with the SDLP?

AK: In what sense with the SDLP?

MN: In the same sense that there could be an understanding with the DUP.

AK: Let me get this clear: are you saying that there could be a pact or understanding with the DUP in one constituency and with the SDLP in another?

MN: What I’m saying is that at the moment our entire focus is on the UUP and we’ve actually in the last two weeks done a lot of work in terms of discussing and strategising for ourselves – dare I say for ourselves alone – about the next election for Westminster and the knock-on for the 2016 Assembly election. So we are basically ploughing our own furrow here. But we do so aware that at least one other party wants to talk to us and indeed the DUP did initiate a discussion at staff level more than six months ago and we would expect them to come back now that the elections are over … Would there be a conversation to be had with the SDLP? Yes, possibly.

Yes, possibly. My first reaction is to say “wake me up when it is all over and done”.  And yet, it’s in line with what I’ve argued before about the need for a broad alliance across rather than of middle ground.

Jude’s criticism is pretty straightforward:

I sometimes get the feeling that Mike  in his heart would like to ride the unionist horse towards fresh and more productive pastures, but the beast is accustomed to the corral marked “Not An Inch” and instinctively heads there.

Mike knows if he isn’t very careful, the creature could throw him into the nearest cactus patch. Remember, Mike was the man who told us the Haass talks were 80% agreed,  then within hours was saying how there was no way unionism was going to buy into this deal.

There’s a tough and unavoidable truth in some of that. But Nesbitt, for one at least, seems to be questioning the viability of the new ‘anti agreeing anything’ establishment. Retrenchment to a pro Agreement recognition that partnership is not merely unavoidable but in fact the only way to get things done is useful, is an interesting if not yet useful turn.

The question is can his party profit by it, and will he still hold such a ‘liberal’ line when the inevitable street pressure comes to bear?

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