And into the last bend of the UUP leadership race: Who will win?

Someone, in their infinite wisdom, at the BBC has decided not to make this week’s Hearts and Minds video available on the iPlayer (which is odd)… So all we have of Mike Nesbitt’s interview is this fragment clipped and satirised and played over and over… (you’d almost think someone didn’t want him to win tomorrow)…

The only thing I’ll be betting on tomorrow night is that Eamon Mallie will have news of the winner before anyone else… But over at Eamon’s place, David McKittrick rightly points to the mountain any new leader of the UUP will have to climb, not least after that masterly speech in Dublin last night

It’s not a case of can John (who definitely started this race as the firm back runner)… Beat Mike, but can either of them reel Robinson’s Party’s commanding lead back to any degree… Nesbitt’s performance has possibly suffered from two things: one, being the favourite from the off; and two being inexperienced as a politician…

McCallister on the other hand has had the freedom that comes from being free from the burden of expectation (even his own). For the first time in a long while we’re seeing clear messaging work too… His position on Opposition is in reality not far from Mike’s, but in claiming it first and unambiguously, he’s boxed his rival in and forced to him into equivocation.

Though, there have been times when equivocation might have been more prudent. With David McNarry now rejoining the party in nine months time, I’ll be interested to see how he would cope as leader with someone he promised to get rid of but who will by then have served his time).

As a relative unknown, McCallister has been able to use this campaign to introduce himself to a much wider public. Far from being the big ignorant farmer from Rathfriland, he’s proven light on his feet, thoughtful and capable giving political journalists lessons in some of the constitutional realities other politicians prefer to ignore.

Nesbitt’s background as a journalist may actually have been a disadvantage, with former colleagues already on their guard against one who have gone over to the other side.

There is no doubt that he started relatively smartly by hunting down the right people to sign his papers and getting the news out in Fermanagh, but McCallister has, against the expectation of many, made this a very public fight. And according to my own marking of it has won every round.

And when it comes down to the meagre 12 minutes each will to make their mark on their party tomorrow night, it is possible to anticipate exactly what McCallister will say. He’s been developing it over and over (and delivering his own son in the middle of it without batting an eye) right from first political light in Mallie’s back garden onwards..

Mike’s is harder to anticipate… And so is the reaction of the Ulster Unionists as a corporate body… They are an unpredictable crew at the best of times… And in the poll, just started on Slugger’s Facebook page, Mike is already attracting the early backing…

So tell us, who think will win? And why?

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

donate to keep slugger lit