#AE16 Five leaders and five ‘Crap Portraits’ of last night’s debate

If you want my fuller view on it clip to the end of this post and watch this morning’s #SluggerReport. But here are some abbreviated thoughts on last night’s BBC debate in order of the LucidTalk panel (or digital focus group) findings, along with original artwork from @crap_portraits to accompany each of the ‘party leaders’.



Mike Nesbitt: Keyword is story.  Three out of the five leaders are new.  Of these, Mike was the only one with what you might call a story (rather than a soundbite) to tell. He’s had time to experiment, make mistakes, get smaller, start to win seats, and finally (in the last five to six months) figure out just exactly what he wants to say. He already owns mental health and is beginning to boss on the past.

Segmenting the Unionist market has allowed him to focus on simple gains. By ascribing the ‘nothing is agreed until everything is’ trope to the DUP and SF he set up a strong message that uncontroversial help is being withheld from victims.  He used Martin McGuinness’s own testimony to Savile to extinguish the dFM’s suggestion that the IRA would ever reciprocate on state disclosures.

Twelve years after Arlene left the UUP for the DUP, Nesbitt is at least starting to look plausible.  However, he faces a formidable team in the DUP. If this is a fightback it is only the end of the beginning.


Martin McGuinness: Keyword is age. I’m not sure I go along with Brian Feeney’s on the spot judgement last night that he was the only statesmanlike figure amongst them all, but Martin does benefit from being the most senior figure on the panel last night, as well as being the only one isn’t a party leader. Not only do we know him but his age is still something of an asset alongside his main rival Colum Eastwood.

He adroitly stepped aside when it came to the news (breaking almost as the programme was airing) that funding was to be delayed for troubles related inquests because of yet another disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP (Gerry Kelly blamed the Brits rather than Arlene Foster last night), letting Arlene catch the flack. Education failed to materialise, so a free pass there. Asked about the £1 billion boost he promised for health, there was a vague nod in the direction of monitoring rounds (ie someone else’s budget).

At times, he seemed just a little bit too desperate to box the ears of the young cub from Derry, which he signally failed to do: particularly over the possibility of the SDLP going into opposition. An ageing boxer with slowing footwork.


ArleneFosterArlene Foster: Keyword is snark. Of all the party leaders probably most pressure is on Arlene. She’s the only woman, which by and large should and does play in her favour. And her party has pretty much made her the brand this time round. Pre the election campaign, she’s displayed a fairly calm exterior even in fairly tough interrogations. But in both debates her rather angular and snarky side has emerged.

It’s not that she didn’t have her wins. Nesbitt was mostly too much for her last night, but perhaps more on matters that may not matter too much to her DUP dog whistle sensitive electoral base. She did anticipate an Eastwood attack on investment figures by pointing out that 75% of all investment goes to places outside Belfast. Tidy enough performance, but her tendency to overreact rather than pick her moments undermines her ability to  cut through.

Newton Emerson’s criticism last week nailed the problem: Ms Foster must become her office or the office will eventually become just her.

ColumEastWood-SDLPColum Eastwood: Keyword is punchy. Colum is the boy amongst men (and woman). His age and generation are both his greatest strength and weakness. On Good Morning Ulster this morning, a younger respondent suggested they wanted more people like him, though it is not yet clear that he is any more capable of breaking through TV’s fourth wall to connect with those same youthful voters. [Patience, tomorrow’s polling day. We’ll find out soon enough! – Ed]

Last night he dropped a lot of the policy stuff he’d come in with during the UTV debate and for one long period in the middle of the debate said nothing or saw no reason to interject. No strategy survives contact with the enemy, and it may be that after Gerard Diver’s contact with Stephen Nolan the SDLP decided to go for minimum risk and make it a very tight defensive fight.

Suzanne Breen said he’d be happy with last night. He showed fight and dealt comfortably with some very aggressive attention from McGuinness. Eastwood still looks too young for his job, but then again he has time is on his side.

DavidFord-AllianceDavid Ford: Keyword is marginal. Age is a factor. Marginality is always a problem for the Alliance party, but you get a sense that they aren’t quite responding a subtly shifting environment. David’s complaints aimed volubly at Noel Thompson for giving too much space to the two-sided infra communal bun-fighting had resonance. But it also highlighted his own lack of penetration in the fray and lack of a new compelling story.

He has been around long enough to have learned all the Alliance mantras about the costs of division backwards, and in Swahili, but he looks tired, and at times exasperated with the sheer routine of it all. He gives the impression that he (and probably most of the party) is just standing in the corridor, waiting by the exit for the arrival of one time Slugger ‘Up and Coming Politician of the Year’, Naomi Long.

Under Ford, the Alliance party has prospered as an efficient buffer between the angry OFMdFM twins stepping into the breach and taking Justice. But this campaign has been a holding operation: as they wait for their once and future queen.


And this morning’s #SluggerReport…

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  • Kevin Breslin

    You make a good point, I don’t know who is going to be the Millennial Northern Leader of Sinn Féin, strictly speaking they do have their great young Ulsterman in Pearse Doherty but he sits over in the other jurisdiction. Daithi McKay perhaps?

  • Skibo

    Question for all you eggheads out there, with the number of ministries being reduced, how will reductions and increases in party strengths affect the number of ministries each party receives?

  • Granni Trixie

    Why say Mike Nesbitt ‘owns’ mental health? The mental health lobby have been very busy and it is an item on many party’s agenda/manifesto.

  • mickfealty

    Give me strength!!! The lobby?? What has the lobby ever *done* for us??? Politicians are the ones we charge with engaging the polis on policy, not the lobby.

    The only legitimate comparitors are with his rival politicians, and believe me – hard as it may be to believe – there is currently zero competition for that role!

  • Lee

    I have wondered this and I can only guess. OFMDFM and Justice I think remain as shoo-ins (I expect Alliance will have the same arrangement for Justice?), leaving apparently 7 new merged/departments up for grabs.
    Does this mean DUP gets 1st pick, then round each big 5 party and back to the DUP for 6th pick with SF getting seventh?? (assuming no big changes in MLA strength). But if that’s the case then Alliance would get 2 (including Justice) while the bigger UUP and SDLP just 1?
    Also, whats the threshold of MLA’s needed before getting a ministry?

  • Skibo

    I had a quick look at it and depending on the numbers, we could see 2 DUP, 2 SF, 2 UU,1 SDLP then with SF and DUP sharing the new Executive office and Alliance taking Justice. I think Alliance must get over half the MLAs UU gets to ensure their second ministry. I was assuming DUP would get 34. If the can raise it to 36, they should hold onto their 3 ministers.
    Interesting if we get an opposition containing UU and SDLP, we would probably have 3 DUP, 3 SF 2 Alliance plus FM and DFM

  • Toaster

    Throughout the debate, Martin McGuiness stood out as the leader who was most calm, magnanimous, progressive and demonstrated him to be a champion of minority rights and the oppressed.

  • Msiegnaro

    I went to the doctor, for some reason I felt like a pair of curtains – the doctor just told me to pull myself together.

    Come on folks keep the jokes coming….

  • Skibo

    I thought the same myself. Thought Brian Feeney got it spot on. The only statesman wanting to work together.

  • Lee

    Interesting, thanks

  • Backbencher

    I suspect Conor (the explosives expert) Murphy will be in with a shout. They will need an former terrorist to keep the ‘boys’ on board. In anycase it will be the Army Council who will pick the leader given last years assessment.

  • Backbencher

    Toaster & Skibo
    Statesman, are you serious? You undermine your credibility with comments like that.

  • Skibo

    The only issue I had with MMG was the way he went after Colum. But I think he was trying to impress on the electorate that SF are there to make the thing work and will not be spitting the dummy out and walking away.

  • Skibo

    I think your comment and the comments of some others hers shows your blind hatred of SF. Nothing they will say will change your mind. Perhaps due to this ongoing persecution, I maybe give them too much slack but I will condemn them also when required.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I agree with your term: ‘featherbedding’, with endless disagreement about ‘how to deal with the past’ etc.: comfort zone stuff ultimately.
    With all the young people in the audience there was a sense that they’d shown up to one show only to be presented with an entirely different one. In light of that the leaders all looked old and somewhat irrelevant.
    Focusing on a different meaning of ‘snark’ the disconnect between the audience and the panellists, not well bridged by Noel Thompson’s maintenance of the ‘4th wall’, only resulted in a hunt for the perpetually elusive. The pessimistic view (and how can it not be?) is that the future’s still going to evade us for some time. An optimistic view is that the gulf will have to be filled somehow. Leaders aside, these parties appear not to know the questions.
    Trivial issue maybe, but Arlene/Darlene stated in the first 3 minutes, I have took (twice) and I have went (once). I’ve known colleagues who have deselected job candidates for less. And those candidates weren’t running for 1st minister/joint first minister/prima inter pares/hostes or whatever she wants to call herself.

  • chrisjones2

    I always wondered just what he was expert in

    Still Gerry seems to like him so its all alright