Ervine the politician…

Probably the last of the many tributes to David Ervine. This one was published by the excellent Business Eye magazine, and reproduced on the net by Newshound, is a lobbyist eye’s view from Quintin Oliver of Stratagem. It was once on the cards that the East Belfast man be ‘elevated’ to the Lords, if his bid to get into the Assembly had failed.

Ervine was a joy to lobby – he didn’t waste our time; he said no and meant it, or yes, and equally meant it. He valued the expert knowledge and passion in their cause that our clients brought to his table, recognising that as a busy ‘jack of all trades’ he needed to draw from others – ‘real people doing real things with real motives’, he called it. In the Assembly once, he regretted that ministers and the large parties could read from prepared scripts, while he had to ‘busk it’. That’s why he was ready to receive advice, although he would question the brief with characteristic rigour. He was big enough to know what he didn’t know, and not just pretend, as some others do.

Although as an old-fashioned Socialist he was not instantly business-friendly in the traditional sense, he valued the dignity of labour, and understood the importance of employment in his east Belfast heartland. He and Jeanette had after all called their second son ‘Owen’ after the hero of Robert Tressell’s seminal Victorian novel on the struggle for workers’ rights. His gem on religion and work is worth repeating: “people shouldn’t wake up wondering whether they are Irish or British – they should be wondering whether they are going to be late for work.” That enshrines his practical and no-nonsense approach.

And lastly, despite the seeming contradiction of his career in the round, perhaps one of the reasons this once ‘gentile’ UVF bomber was held in such affection by many outside his own community:

He once scolded me for asking the banal question of him in public about his greatest sense of achievement as a politician; ‘of course, it’s the constituency work, Quintino, that’s what I’m meant to say, amn’t I?” But in reality it was his ambition to answer that much more penetrating question asked of him by Gusty Spence, as he had entered the UVF cage in Long Kesh, long before, “Why are you here?”

That was his driver, his shining light, his candle in the dark; and no ermine could have smothered that burning ambition.

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