“Ulster Unionists have never been adept at gauging the public mood…”

An English friend who knows more than the average Englishman about Northern Irish politics asked me in all seriousness, just a few days before the last election, whether the UUP was now anti Agreement. Well, I explained, not exactly and yet it  looked that way if you were taking seriously anything Reg said (which was not a lot) on politics in the run up to the election.  Davy Adams goes a little further than my English friend (or I would) in today’s Irish Times:

Faced with a DUP that was administering the Belfast Agreement with gusto and aplomb and pushing the political process ever forward, Sir Reg and his party were at a loss how to react. If some of those aforementioned “bright young things” had still been around, doubtless they would have pointed out to the UUP leadership that attacking the DUP for becoming what they had previously attacked them for not being would serve only to confuse the electorate.

But they weren’t around, and neither, it seems, was anyone else to offer sound advice – or at least no one who was being listened to. Acting purely on instinct, the UUP settled for spending its time being awkward and sniping at the DUP.

This not only came across as petty and spiteful, but pushed the party further to the right in the public mind. This was hardly the place to be, when the vast bulk of the unionist community had already settled on the middle ground, or was well on its way to that location.

Whatever, as Chekov notes, it might be better to choose a new leader (and thus direction) before choosing the candidates for the next Assembly/council elections…

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