NI Tories: “You have to wonder on which planet the new UUP leader is living”

It’s odd for a political leader to get caught out wanting to do the right thing… But Mike Nesbitt’s line on the BBCyesterday that he wanted to see how the poor live, is one massive hostage to fortune. Even the Tories are having a field day at his expense:

“You have to wonder on which planet the new UUP leader is living, if he thinks he can understand the stress and misery experienced by one of our most deprived families, by ‘slumming it’ for a day,” Steve remarked. “Does he honestly believe that, in 24 hours, he can gain insight into the anxiety a family experiences as it chooses which bills it can and cannot pay, or as it seeks help from a health service which is broken, or as it attempts to bring up children who are tolerant of their neighbours, in a society where segregation is the norm.”

“If, after at least 4 years in public life, Mr Nesbitt is not yet familiar with these problems, then his ivory tower must be very high indeed. The irony is that while the new UUP leader proposes gimmicks, to give the impression that he’s engaging with communities in deprived areas, he has ruled out forming an opposition at the Assembly. Yet properly holding the Executive to account for its failure to create jobs or tackle poverty in Northern Ireland would make a greater contribution to combating deprivation than any number of cheap publicity stunts.”

  • alex gray

    He’s living on the same planet as the NI Tories. It’s the way I tell them !!

  • The Raven

    Erm…is it just me, or does anyone else need eyebleach after reading a Tory (by whatever regional label) talking about poverty?

    Similarly, Cllr Lee Reynolds (DUPe) has just tweeted:
    “IDS created a think tank & invested his own personal time 4 years 2 research poverty. Nesbitt’s willing to give it 24 hours #notaleader”

    Lee, 100,000-odd non-voting Unionists aren’t turning out for you. I’d be wary of pride coming before a fall. Yes, it’s outright gimmickry. But for you to criticise what Nesbitt is doing in light of what you might find if you click this link is nothing short of churlish.

  • alex gray

    Mike Nesbitt is the man in the white suit – did you see it on the Sunday Politics yesterday ? The Man in the White Suit is a 1951 film and one of the Ealing comedies. If I remember correctly the suit in the film was radioactive.

  • alex gray

    More recently of course the man in the white suit was Martin Bell, another journalist who went into politics. Where is he now ?

  • keano10

    Maybe he’ll stop a night in Ballybeen, then head to it’s local chippy to buy a heavily taxed Pastie, pretending that he loves it…

  • pauluk

    Return of the Fur Coat Brigade!

  • Lionel Hutz

    Well, listening to him on Talkback whilst driving home there, I have to say he seems to have got off to good start. He’s got people talking about it anyway. Gimmickry it may be, perhaps “gesture-politics” is a better way of putting it. But people seemed to like it, it was a love-in on Talkback (which isn’t the most confrontational of shows at the best of times).

    People can say they want to see policies but they dont. No-one votes for policies really. They vote for personalities and although I think he’s vacuous at times (I heard the phrase “measured vagueness”, which was perfect), I think people are gonna like him. Its a step forward from Tom for them.

  • “odd for a political leader to get caught out wanting to do the right thing”

    Mick, I’m puzzled by your use of ‘Big House’ unionism on the Slugger side-panel. I understood ‘Big House’ to be a reference to the landlord/gentry class who once played key leadership roles in Ulster Unionism. Doesn’t Mike’s language more readily fit the suburban middle class, the ‘garden-centre’ Unionists? By a strange coincidence, a lady of my acquaintance was found herself in the vicinity a few days ago of an immaculately groomed and supremely relaxed ‘garden-centre’ Unionist, Iris Robinson. Her purchase of an array of plants might, just might, indicate a residence near-by.

    Mike’s ’24-hour’ reference does suggest a certain political naivity; his reference to Tony Blair was also from the same stable.

  • Alias

    I suspect that it was a proposal to use media-savvy gimmicks that got him the leader’s role from a party that is now redundant as a result of the two-tribe party system created by the GFA but is clearly desperate to avoid its inevitable fate by suitably desperate means.

    Usually in episodes of Secret Millionaire the protagonist is actually a millionaire and slums it with the poor plebs for a mercifully brief period, so in this proposed episode we have a pleb slumming it with lesser plebs…

  • RyanAdams

    Foot in mouth. I’ll bet the UUP thought getting an ex-anchor man would solve that problem.

    At least he wasn’t running around looking for a pay rise …

  • Lee Reynolds

    The Raven

    “Yes, it’s outright gimmickry”

    Which was my point, and pretty shallow gimmickry at that.

    “100,000-odd non-voting Unionists aren’t turning out for you.”

    They aren’t turning out for anybody and gimmicks won’t work to get them out either.

    “for you to criticise what Nesbitt is doing”

    If you want to go down the personal route I’d point out I don’t need to visit such a family as I grew up in a family of working poor, lived my entire life in three different communities all of which are officially defined as deprived communities, have had to live on benefits (for abt 9 months after Uni) as well as doing 15 years work in the community sector (both paid and unpaid). So I don’t need to read an income chart to get an inkling of the issues or to become a poverty tourist either.

  • OneNI

    ‘Wanting to do the right thing’ Mick?
    This is just gimmickry pure and simple.
    To follow on from Lee Reynolds (very accurate) remarks about IDS where does Mike stand on Welfare Reform?
    I dont know his views on anything so it would be a good place to start.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Even the Tories are having a field day at his expense…’

    You haven’t got a link to the following piece but I cannot believe that it was written by a bona fide Tory.

    For example: “holding the Executive to account for its failure to create jobs or tackle poverty in Northern Ireland…”
    Pass the sick bag quickly.

  • OneNI

    Old Morality

    Yes he’s from the Shankill and runs a business creating jobs and exporting goods!!

    I’m sure he’s proud to be in a party that are tackling welfare reform and are raising the tax threshold that will help low paid most.

    And the NI Executive actions on creating jobs – taxing Tesco one of NI’s biggest employers.
    Tackling poverty?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Listen to Talkback, and see how the public reacted.

    interview starts 6 min in.

  • Dec

    ‘Yes he’s from the Shankill ‘

    According to his Tory profile he grew up in Lisburn and appears to regularly big Lisburn up’ on twitter. I suppose Lisburn doesn’t sound as ‘street’ as the Shankill when having a pop at someone on poverty.

    ‘And the NI Executive actions on creating jobs – taxing Tesco one of NI’s biggest employers.

    This will raise around £5m and will affect several large chains not just Tesco’s. This money will be used to subsidise rates relief for small businesses (like Steve’s)- what’s the problem? Tesco made over £3.5bn profit before tax last year so spare us the tears.

  • OneNI

    Dec. Is there a law against moving to Lisburn?
    We can debate the merits or otherwise of the Tesco tax however the important question is, as far as NI Executive plans to create jobs: Is that it?
    The Programme for Govt is widely recognised to be very weak

  • Old Mortality

    Thank you one NI
    I’m sure he’s very sound. It’s just that hand-wringing over the NHS is something I can only excuse from Tories when they’re talking down to the great unwashed, not when they’re trying to say something intelligent.

  • NeedNoAlibi

    Yes Nesbitt did do well on Talkback, even though his slick cliche laden delivery still give me the heebie-geebies.

    What would he have answered if someone had have asked this simple question “I have been voting for the DUP for this last decade, could you give me a couple of reasons why I should now vote for the UUP?”

  • The yokel

    No idea what planet he is on but Capt Kirk is there as well.

  • iluvni

    Has anyone checked that Simon Hamilton is ok…he nearly had a choking fit this morning when Nolan asked him if he and the DUP were going to pocket the £5000.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alibi, I believe he is pretty genuine behind the image, and I think with growing confidence in his role the answers will sharpen up. He did answer everything put to him I think. and I’m sure he would have answered your simple question too! Personally I have loads of answers to that question, but distilling them them down to the essence of the diffence is not easy.

  • Drumlins Rock

    iluvni, I’m starting to like Nolan more 🙂

    Still hate him making small issues into a crisis, but he is doing his homework well these day.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Help, I’ve woken up in some sort of weird parallel universe where the Tories are giving lectures to other people about patronizing poor people.

  • Drumlins Rock

    you think that is funny CS, now they are gonna form an opposition, in the phonbox on the Newtownards Rd.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Maybe you will just have to get used to surprises!

  • NeedNoAlibi

    There is every reason to question Nesbitt’s sincerity when you think why he became a member of the party which he now leads. He became a member in order to stand as a candidate in the Westminster election. It is clear he was being opportunistic because of the Iris Robinson scandal.

    Nesbitt often says the right things but there is always that thing in the gut that says he is only saying it because it is the right thing to say.

  • Progressive Unionist

    I think Mike at least comes across as sincere and well-intentioned on this – but what really matters is where he takes UUP economic policy.

    Where will the UUP under Mike stand on the Tory cuts, which are having, and will have even more, a disproportionate impact on the poor?

    It’s absolutely fine to say the private sector should be a larger part of NI’s economic mix – but, to be credible on poverty, Mike needs to also really ensure that improving economic and income equality is a core keystone of his party’s economic policy.

    To have any chance of really taking on the DUP, he needs to ensure his policies work not just for the middle classes, but for the bottom 60% too.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alibi, he had a chance to walk when he didn’t win, he toured round with Tom during the leadership race, and got his eyes open to what was good and what wasn’t good with the party, he still stuck with it, even though he won a seat (and dare I say helped McNarry return) the party didn’t do great, and he stuck with it and backed the leader 100%. Do you not think the membership have been watching out for any insincerity? they are not an easy lot to win over, but backed him 81% shows they have over what ever suspicions they had.

  • NeedNoAlibi

    Now that you mention Tom Eliott, I always considered it strange that someone who was deemed such a ‘progressive unionist’ was such an easy supporter of a quintessential ‘traditional Ulster Unionist’.

    What are we to make of Sam Foster’s announcement during the leadership contest that the FST members would basically be a block vote in favour of Nesbitt?

    I disagree that the UUP membership were able to be that obejctive at this stage in the game, they are getting desperate.
    Nesbitt only won the majority of a minority. Most of the electorate declined to vote.

  • Progressive Unionist

    NNA – Mike Nesbitt won a decisive 81% majority, much more than most people (including me!) expected.

    Watching the interview yesterday, he comes across to me as very sincere and well-intentioned – and he’s also very energetic and, for the first time in a long time, he’s got people interested in where the UUP is going.

    He really needs to follow through though – especially on this anti-poverty stuff. Tom Elliott ended up being defined for-ever-more by the mistakes he made in his first few weeks after becoming leader (the GAA and gay pride comments in particular) – and Nesbitt needs to be on his best game over the next few weeks not to fall into the same trap.

  • alan56

    The media always have a problem with how to handle ‘one of their own’ moving into politics and understandably so. Its only when the novelty dies down that we will be able to really judge this. Nesbitt has clearly made an impact with UUP members but will he be able to make a similar impact on the broader unionist electorate? Still too early to say

  • NeedNoAlibi

    I guess one of the advantages of Nesbitt being a newcomer to the party is that he might not have the sense of entitlement that is so common in the UUp culture. It’s like they think one day decent people will see through all those Paisleyite nutters and return to the natural party of government.

    If Mike Nesbitt can break that culture he has a fighting chance. But right now I can’t see what the UUP would do that the DUP could not do better.

    Whatever party can convince by words and actions that they can make devolved government, within the Union, effective and efficient should take the spoils.

  • Zig70

    I don’t think it will do him any harm. My immediate thought was what will he do if the offer is publically made from somewhere like Poleglass? What is Mike’s actual politics, does he sit on the right or left or dance between? Has anyone nailed him down to a political outlook, being in politics and all that.

  • dwatch

    Thanks DR, I thought this was an April fools day joke, but its dated 2nd April. Are these NI Tories serious, sure they dont even have one MLA. What are they playing at?

  • Progressive Unionist

    Zig – for Mike Nesbitt to spend 24 hours with a hard-pressed working family in Poleglass – that’s an excellent idea.

    It’s difficult to imagine a better way Mike could introduce himself, and his inclusive pro-Union values, to the Northern Ireland public.

  • Alias

    It might have served some practical purpose if he had offered to spend one day with an entrepreneur and learned something about that small business issues in NI.

    If he wants to live with a low income earner for a day, he should ask Alasdair McDonnell to invite him over.

  • The Raven

    Lee, I don’t believe I did get personal – but I will admit I should have said “your party” as opposed to “you”. But you’re an elected representative, you’ll not mind taking the hit. I feel the pain of your nine months on benefits. As did most of us, post-college and school. But things weren’t *that* bad in your Coleraine days, now, were they?

    I wonder, as I have read elsewhere today, that Nesbitt – for all his faults – is a just an eensy bit scary for you lot, gimmicks or no. He’s not a farmer. He’s not from Fermanagh. He’s not Tom Elliott, he’s not David Trimble and he’s not David McNarry.

    He *may*, though, probably representative of all those garden-centre Prods, the votes of which your party would love to get their hands on, but who just don’t turn out, because you just don’t get them. And I’d say he has a pretty good chance of making a land grab for at least *some* of them in the future – because they aren’t turning out for Tories, nor are they turning out for the Great Leader.

  • IJP


    To be fair – notwithstanding my own genuine anger at yet another middle-class do-gooder not having any properly researched ideas about what to do about poverty – you make a completely fair point. You cannot judge a manager after one game, even if it’s a 5-0 thrashing.

    Today, to be fair, he probably came back with a 1-1 draw; he had the nous, at least, to avoid Nolan and take Talkback instead.

    All the evidence is that he will keep being vague and keep making mistakes – but the evidence is not complete yet.

    And remember, the central issue is not so much whether Mike Nesbitt is a good Leader or not, but rather can his party be led at all? I suspect it can’t, so even if he turns out to be a genius it’ll be to little avail.

  • A considerable amount of anti-conservative bigotry has been written on this thread. It is largely based upon ignorance about what the Conservative Party actually stands for.

    Margaret Thatcher affirmed, on a number of occasions, that the weakest in society must be protected. In an interview in 1983, she quotes Winston Churchill

    “You want a ladder, upwards, anyone, no matter what their background, can climb, but a fundamental safety net below which no-one can fall”

    If anybody reading this is surprised, they ought to read a bit more.

  • BluesJazz

    It doesn’t matter a damn what he thinks. Nor does it matter what any of the Trumpton Assembly think.
    We might get free prescriptions and bus cards at 60, like Wales, but that is the height of Stormont’s wee ‘legislation’.

    NI is effectively governed by Westminster.

    And they have granted us the priveleges above. For how long, who knows, but let’s not even pretend that the real Boss(es) are not at Downing Street.

  • BluesJazz

    Spot on, Westminster has supported us over the years, well above the call of duty. David Cameron has spelt out how much. In less abrasive terms than Harold Wilson in his 1974 ‘spongers’ speech.
    McGuinness and his deputy Robinson never utter one word of thanks to the treasury for the massive annual handout they give us.

  • Lee Reynolds

    The Raven

    “I will admit I should have said “your party” as opposed to “you”.”

    Thank you for the clarification if somewhat contradicted by

    “But things weren’t *that* bad in your Coleraine days, now, were they?”

    Again you’ve strayed into the personal. There were families who endured worse than ours in Ballysally but we did not, especialy in my younger years have an easy time.

    “I wonder, as I have read elsewhere today, that Nesbitt – for all his faults – is a just an eensy bit scary for you lot, gimmicks or no. ”

    It’s wishful/conspiratorial thinking like that has delivered the past 15 years for the UUP. So much for MN being a break from it.

    The party that has been chasing garden centre prods for the last 15 years has been the UUP. They haven’t turned out for them because unlike mondeo man they are the stuff of demographic fiction rather than electoral reality. The demographic which regularly uses garden centres would be well-represented under the voting section of the public.

    “He’s not a farmer. He’s not from Fermanagh.”

    No he isn’t but you overlook that the remaining places of strength for the UUP are Border Unionism so Nesbitt ‘nots’ are an additional opportunity for the DUP.

    Also MN’s vote getting record is poor. The Strangford UUP result in 2011 lost all its 2010 gains despite Nesbitt being on the ballot both times. Where did the votes go? To the DUP and the Alliance party. Something John McCallister failed to make enough of in his campaign.

  • I dont this stunt has actually done Nesbitt any harm.

    I have to reluctantly admit that Lionel Hutz at 2 April 2012 at 1:36 pm is right. Personalities are more important to voters in NI than policies. Unfortunately for Nesbitt, this makes it much harder for a smaller party to make a breakthrough. If your party is in a dominant position, you will have the lion’s share of personalities. Nesbitt, even if he is a towering figure, might still have too much to do.

    IJP makes the point that the UUP can not be led. He may be right. I also think the UUP is tying one hand behind its back by not going into opposition.

    As to whether Nesbitt has enough presence to bring the UUP back from oblivion, he is certainly up against it but I would also agree with IJP that it is too early to Judge. He is certainly an improvement on his predecessor, particularly intellectually and he will make NI politics a bit more interesting.

    I would like to see him get his hands dirty in a few TV debates with the other parties. In order to detox from Tom Elliott, he needs to make a positive demonstration of anti-sectarianism. Perhaps he should go to a GAA match or kiss a Catholic baby.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Seymour, I think the party is starting to act much more cohesively than it used to, the new generation of MLAs realise they have to pull together if they want to keep their jobs, and most of the rest worked that out years ago and kept their heads down while bullets were flying! But there are still a few ongoing squabbles needing sorted. I think there are a few great personalities coming through, both in this crop and waiting in the wings.

    Its looking like he will be living with a catholic family for a day, and if you listen to yesterdays talkback (well worth a listen to) you will hear how he has been to many GAA matches, and has been invited by a friend to another one shortly, these are not stunts like Peter’s visit. To be honest I think going into a non existant opposition would be having both hands tied behind your back, BUT the “opposition” from within certainly need to improve.

  • OneNI

    How bizarre and yet in many ways so typical that some posters refer to Mike Nesbitt staying with a CATHOLIC family. Is Catholic disability and low income different from Protestant disability and low income?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I also think the UUP is tying one hand behind its back by not going into opposition.

    The grass may look greener on the other side Seymour, but (personal opinions aside) staying in the executive and taking a ministerial post for himself is actually a well advised move that could work out well. As discussed a couple of weeks ago there were some major downsides to the plan for the UUP to pull out. Not least that it would see another ministry handed to Alliance.

    It’s interesting that nobody from the party is briefing against the idea of replacing Kennedy to the media which might imply that he has prepared the ground somewhat. The news today that Nesbitt has appointed McCallister as the guy to do his constitutional review also seems like a sensible conciliatory move, although the reinforcement of the McNarry disciplinary matter might make things “interesting”, in the sense of the Chinese proverb.

    I am not sure whatever benefits flow from this will be sufficient to counterbalance Nesbitt’s clear weaknesses though. The guy has a serious dose of foot in mouth syndrome and I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next.