After the election, the UUP have… gone into opposition…

Some will have noticed a pause in these rough post-election profiles of the main and mid-sized parties. The truth is I was struggling with what I could usefully say about the UUP. It wasn’t a great election for them, but they at least pulled back to 16 (from 13).

On reflection in terms of content or the nature of their ongoing beef with the DUP it’s hard to see exactly what their campaign was for. Now Phillip Smith is a more able spokesman than David McNarry. And Steve Aiken acquited himself well on The View last night.

If Doug Beattie struggled in Upper Bann, he got home despite rather pronounced liberal views on gay marriage which split the party’s local voter base between himself and the more conservative Kyle Savage. A side casualty of which was Dolores Kelly.

I wouldn’t downplay the upgrade effect. None of them are spring chickens, but nor are they likely to shirk a political fight across the floor in Stormont, on the television, or in [Dr] Stephen Nolan’s chamber of political horrors.

What they face in the form of the DUP is non-trivial. If every Northern Irish party, with any ambition, has studied and learned from the exemplary electoral skills of Sinn Fein, the most highly skilled in politics is undoubtedly the DUP.

They say actions speak louder than words. So it is Nesbitt who claims the prize of being Northern Ireland’s first leader of the opposition since Roderick O’Connor last nominally held it until the formal abolition of the old parliament in 1973.

The nationalists in the old Northern Ireland Parliament forever struggled with their conscience over whether to accept the title or not: largely because, once accepted, they felt they were merely confirming their roles as the permanent outsiders.

The Ulster Unionists seem to have no such qualms. Unburdened from office and the onerous responsibility of having to defend every little vexatious thing your executive colleagues get up to, they may have time to consider how to prosecute that Opposition.

However, Opposition is not a policy.  It’s a blunt (and hopefully useful) political instrument. The best use their position not to critique the government, but to challenge its blindspots and weaknesses and align themselves with a larger chunk of people outside.

And finally demonstrate they make better decisions than the crowd who are already in power.  All of that may take some time!

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • T.E.Lawrence

    By going into opposition another monkey off the back of the UUP is the delivery of the Loyalist Paramilitaries. There is no doubt that in this term of the Assembly a concerted attempt shall be made to wrap up all paramilitary structures. I remember a debate on Radio between Danny Morrison and Lee Reynolds this year and Danny queried the DUP’s capability to be able to do this. The DUP maybe able to take one shade of Loyalism with it but it will be interesting to see if they politically can take the other side with them too.

  • Declan Doyle

    Nesbitt is brave and kudos to him because anybody who is paying attention can see that he is playing a long game. He is trying to soften the Unionist message whilst at the same time shake up the establishment. He has totally eclipsed Eastwood’s outreach to the Greens and PBP. But Nesbitt is not thinking of tomorrow, he is positioning the party as potential future kings with a long term view, leaving the DUP to continue panicking over today and yesterday. He should drop the whole – who sits where issue, it is distracting when so many other problems exist and could undermine the progress he has made. Other than that, so far so good.

  • colmh

    Mick I’m surprised you thought Aiken did well on The View. I thought he was awful. At one point he claimed the UUP hadn’t been in government for long and Given pointed out they’d be in for 9 years!

  • ted hagan

    Alliance badly needs a new leader. Opposition with the Ulster Unionists, and hopefully the SDLP, should be their natural territory.

  • Declan Doyle

    Well they are getting a new leader in the form of Naomi pretty soon. However i worry about her health and I say this with absolute sincerity. She appeared a number of times on TV over the election period and looked very bloated and pale, I hope she is OK. In a fraught electoral battle we can sometimes forget that politicians are human and sometimes are treated to humiliation and bullying tactics on air.

  • Slater

    At Westminster they say the worst job in politics is being leader of the opposition. And they are right. At least Corbyn has some mathematical possibility of becoming PM.