Mike Nesbitt: “I am entirely sceptical about what would motivate [DUP] to call for co-operation beyond self-interest”

Mike Nesbitt raced out of the pit lane and formally announced his bid for UUP leadership this morning as Rodney has already mentioned.

Press conference observers noted the presence of antique expert and MLA Danny Kinahan who had previously declared a preference for Danny Kennedy when the field was narrower.

Mike’s statement may end up as a good template for the other candidates to follow when they make their pitch over the coming days.

Praise the previous leader.

Tom was one of the few to telephone me when I experienced the bitter taste of defeat in my first attempt to get elected in 2010 … In my view, just as the late Harold McCusker is the best Leader my Party never had, so Tom Elliott will prove the most under-valued we did have.

Show an ever-so-bashful reluctance to step forward.

When Tom indicated his intention to stand down, I said I would be in listening mode. What I have heard has both surprised and inspired me. The mood of the Party this time seems to be for change and I am thankful to discover the breadth and depth of support for me within the Party throughout Northern Ireland, as well as the pledges of future support from the many unionists who do not currently vote for anyone.

Trumpet UUP big names who are willing to back your campaign.

While none of the three candidates commands a majority of the Assembly Grouping, I am grateful to those who have indicated their support: Roy Beggs, Jo-Anne Dobson, Danny Kinahan and Sandra Overend … I am also gratified by the unsolicited personal support of eight members of the eleven-strong Ulster Young Unionist Council and members of the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council. Thanks also to the many Councillors from across the Province who are publicly backing my candidacy, as well as the Lords Rogan and Laird.

Though whether this will hold much sway with the ordinary UUP voters who have to be persuaded to drive to Belfast on the 31 March to cast their vote at the AGM …

But above all, I am thankful to the many and varied pledges of support from the membership, across all constituency associations.

For Mike, it’s “a contest about who has the Leadership skills that will be required to bring about a step-change in Ulster Unionist fortunes”. He wants to avoid debate on run of the mill policy issues that “come and go as the political and economic environment changes”. The UUP needs to improve its body image and find a leader “who can bring cohesion to a massive membership organisation that has forgotten how to respect itself and once again be proud of who we are, what we have done, and what we offer.”

It’s important to stress how you’re different from the other candidates.

I suspect I am the only MLA who has walked in both Sinn Féin Headquarters at Connelly House on the Falls Road, and the DUP HQ on Dundela Avenue, to publicly question both about the weaknesses of their positions. I offer prior experience at a senior level of Leadership in both the private and public sector, having been Managing Director of a private sector company, and a Commissioner at the Commission for Victims and Survivors.

Issues of going into opposition, MLA pay and unionist unity need to be addressed too.

I know much of the focus will be on policies, not Leadership skills, so for the record, I do not favour a blind leap into Opposition, while there is no formal framework to accommodate it. I sense many of our citizens are not convinced they are getting value for money from paying MLAs to govern. It would be a big step to ask them to pay MLAs who voluntarily give up the responsibility of governing, especially in the week we are offered an 11% pay rise …

As for Unionist Unity, I have no objection to a debate on what that means, but after so many years as a broadcast journalist, interviewing senior DUP figures, and my more recent experience of fielding their inventive in the Assembly Chamber, I am entirely sceptical about what would motivate them to call for co-operation beyond self-interest.

And you need a final vision, your “I have a dream” rhetoric.

My vision for Northern Ireland is a government that lets teachers teach, nurses and doctors tend to the sick, business people do business, creating jobs, generating wealth and paying the taxes that fund public services. My vision is a move away from an obsession with the processes of government to a determination to deliver positive outcomes. My vision is of a system of government that commands respect, support and enough interest that people start voting again.

While sitting on the fence (albeit leaning towards the sceptical side) regarding unionist unity and opposition without a formal framework, Mike Nesbitt may appear ever so slightly indecisive. However, this could well be a winning strategy with the UUP voters who are not known for being terribly gung ho.

A hour or so before facing the press in Parliament Buildings, Mike Nesbitt was on the Nolan show:

Photo used with permission of Ignition247.com

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.