Mike Nesbitt: “A steely determination to get what he wants…”

Great piece from Alex Kane on Eamonn’s site looking at some of the realities of politics of Northern Ireland, against which he tries to measure the new leader of the UUP… First the winning team:

The DUP and SF didn’t get to where they are with make-it-up-as-you-go-along ideas. They defined an end goal, put in place a strategy and an agenda and then set out yardsticks by which to measure success. Mike says he has no ‘quick fixes’ or ‘big idea.’ I’m not even sure what his end goal is, other than putting himself in as First Minister ‘at the end of the second electoral cycle.’ He still insists that politics is about ‘getting power.’ Maybe so, but before the electorate entrust you with power they probably need some idea what you plan to do with it.

And the scale of the comeback required:

In the 2003 Assembly election the gap between the UUP and DUP was 20,533 votes. By 2007 it had grown to 104,576. In 2011 (with turnout falling and the DUP losing 9,285) the gap grew again, to 110,905. That’s a startling turnaround: the gap between the UUP and DUP is now greater than the UUP’s vote in 2007. By any definition that is meltdown territory and it is not going to be reversed by a leader who happens to be comfortable in front of the microphone and camera. He’s right about there being no ‘quick fix,’ but he really does need the ‘big idea.’

Now, I suspect that’s not why they picked Mike Nesbitt. A leader who wants the job (even if he’s not yet worked out what he wants to do with it), and won’t wreck the factional harmony of the UUP. He found his way around the power structures of the party and is now looking for something that no party leader has asked for for some time, absolute loyalty.

Alex again:

…since I first met him back in 2009 Mike Nesbitt has displayed a steely determination to get what he wants. He isn’t the sort of politician we are used to in Northern Ireland. Whether that is a good thing or bad thing for the UUP is, at the moment, anybody’s guess.

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  • I’m not sure the DUP or Sinn Fein got where they are by having an end goal at all. Both of those parties are extremely pragmatic and are very astute at making up policy on the hoof. To me there are two clear dynamics:

    1. Consistency – of who puts out the message and what the message is and the message is rarely concrete – For Sinn Fein it has always followed a theme – such as “equality of opportunity” or “an island of equals” – these are themes that can be moulded to any issue and it was clear that every politician within spitting distance of media was/is on-message. Just look at the number who have walked away because they couldn’t cope with the straight jacket. It was internal organisation rather than policy or vision that got them where they are.

    2. An understanding that Northern Ireland is not governed by ideas of what is possible but more so by fear of what might happen. Sinn Fein and DUP helped each other to power as one progressed a counterbalance was put in place. One community watching and reacting to what the other does.

    The challenge for any party to break this is immense and will probably require an external force to help. It certainly is not impossible and absolutely has to be a core vision of someone in politics. The alternative is to walk away from politics and see that there are opportunities to make a difference to the world in other places – other centres of “power”. I sense that many many people are practising their right to simply walk away until they are forced to get politically involved. I’m not sure if Mike Nesbitt is that person but you never know.

  • “He isn’t the sort of politician we are used to in Northern Ireland.”

    Well, apart from Peter and Martin, that is. However, as far as I can see, Mike doesn’t have the ‘muscle’ that the other two have to keep dissenters in line. I thought David Trimble had a fair bit of steely determination but his and Seamus Mallon’s positions were undermined by the appeasement tactics of Blair and Ahern.

  • keano10

    Before we get too carried away with the cheery disposition of Mr Nesbitt, we ought to remember a few things. Firstly one of the main reasons for the continuing DUP/SF success is that the majority of voters within the respective tradtions actually like Peter Robinson & Martin McGuinness. This may not be agreeable to many people on Slugger, particularly to the huge anti-SF lobby on this site, but it happens to be true nonetheless.

    Much of global modern-day politics has as much to do with personality and presentation as it has to do with policy. The Yanks know this all too well.

    Their latest appearance at The Titanic Centre Launch simply reaffirmed that Robinson and McGuinness have essentially got this thing boxed off at the moment. It does’nt really matter what policies Nesbitt comes up with, he is going to face a massive challenge to break through the public persona of co-opertation that the FM & DFM have created.

    In fact distinct policy platforms are surely Nesbitt’s only hope, however it was interesting to hear him on TV last night claiming that he does’nt really need to bother about any policies at all just now and that the public are only going to be worried about them come election time. There seems to be an arrogance in terms of his assumptions about what the voting public and he may be somewhat naive to underestimate the kudos of voters in this part of the world.

  • dwatch

    This post may be more appropiate to the above thread’s title. Oh, how quickly things have changed over the past two years for the benefit of Mike Nesbitt. Not only has the former UTV presenter become leader of the UUP but all three bit hitters of the old school McNarry, Empey, & Campbell are completely out of office with Kennedy’s wondering when he will be next to lose his ministerial seat.

    “I helped Mike join UUP, now I’m out in the cold”
    “It is only over two years since Mike Nesbitt — then not even a member of the UUP — came to my home in Ballygowan to meet with the then party leader, Sir Reg Empey, and the party chairman, David Campbell.”


  • NeedNoAlibi

    Nesbitt: A steely determination to get what HE wants.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I do hope so Alibi, he wants to be First Minister.

  • NeedNoAlibi

    And for what purpose Drumlins? To big himself up?

  • NeedNoAlibi

    Peter Robinson was was co-writing policy documents for unionism 30 years ago strategising a way forward. Mike Nesbit was………

  • “Peter Robinson was was co-writing policy documents for unionism 30 years ago strategising a way forward. Mike Nesbit was………”

    It’s really not clear who you are belittling here because 30 years ago Peter Robinson was into some fairly embarrassing stuff.

    In politics 30 years can be more of a strait jacket – leopards don’t change their spots – type stereotypes. Maybe Mike Nesbitt can offer a friendly face to comfort Unionists into a new direction and that is what his role is, rather than be the great strategist. Or is that too generous?

  • NeedNoAlibi

    Much much too generous Michael. You don’t really know Unionists if you think they will change direction because of comfort. Comfort and security are not the same things.

  • We might just be overanalysing the UUP here, in that like the SDLP they have no shots left in the lockers to keep them relevant and both have exhausted their roles in the drama of political progress. So as these things have a natural shelf life, theirs is now completed and wrapped.
    Nothing more to see here.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s very true. Mark McGregor once did a chart for both minor parties and charted their twin track decline. The conclusion he came to was that these were large generational tides turning.

    Scratch anyone in either small party and the consistent reason they don’t like the other choice is that it’s the ‘nasty’ party of their tradition. That’s not good enough to run a campaign on.

    There will, however, always be people who will want a choice. It’s whether that choice is merely an emotional release valve or politically meaningful that’s the real question facing Mike and Alasdair…

  • andnowwhat

    I’m pretty sure that there’s something wrong with my head but I have to confess that I feel very sorry for Mc Narry. I just have this automatic reaction to someone who has given long service being shafted.

    Anyone else feel this way.

    (Just to add; Yes, I do remember some of the crap Mc Narry has come off with over the years)

  • “Scratch anyone”

    Mick, I think you’ve touched on something that is very important for society here. Were the MSM to dig a little deeper and for a little longer then the quality of life and governance might improve. The toleration or lack of awareness of ‘nastiness’ in politics and in other spheres is also leading to lots of frustration and anger amongst folks who act decently and who treat others with respect. This ‘nastiness’ also skews voting patterns in the council chamber and that can’t possibly be healthy for democracy, including the health of the smaller parties you refer to.

  • andnowwhat

    Hmm..picking a fight with David Mc Narry was always going to be dirty…

    “Mr McNarry claimed that more than two years ago, when Mike Nesbitt was a victims commissioner, he met with the party leadership in Mr McNarry’s home and said he wanted to replace the already selected candidate for the Westminster election of 2010.

    Mr McNarry said Mr Nesbitt said he was arrogant enough to believe he could win the seat.”


  • Tochais Síoraí

    He might be new to politics but I there was more than a touch of Machiavelli when he backed Elliot in the last leadership contest.

  • dwatch

    “Mr McNarry said Mr Nesbitt said he was arrogant enough to believe he could win the seat.”

    The same can be said about all members of political parties who put their name forward to stand for election

  • Drumlins Rock

    Tochais, I never saw that, and believe me I was watching out for it, Mike made the wise call that Tom should and would be the new leader, and stayed 100% loyal throughtout Tom’s leadership, if that counts as scheming then we need much more of it.
    Dwatch has it right, you have to believe you can win a seat if you stand, no matter how long the odds are, if you don’t believe it yourself then it is impossible to convince voters to give you their vote.

  • dwatch

    No sooner all the nonsense over Tom Elliott’s resignation and a new leader for the UUP is elected now we have another pantomime begone over the re-election of Jim Nicholson MEP has begun.

    Plotters want me out – Nicholson


  • dwatch

    MEP Jim Nicholson ( a farmer by profession) has no doubt represented, as spokesperson for the agriculture & farming (middle class rural) comunnity in the EU. But what has he ever done to help the inner city and urban working class community during his time of office from 1989 to 2012?

  • emanonon

    Wasn’t Nicholson elected as a Conservative and Unionist and doesn’t he sit with the Conservatives in Europe?

    Maybe a change of party is coming up.

  • dwatch

    emanonn, indeed, the first (and only) candidate to stand for election using the UCUNF description was Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson in the 2009 European Parliament election. Whereas the 2010 Westminister election returned no UCUNF MP’s and declared a failure which resulted in Reg Empey resigning his position as leader of the UUP.

  • dwatch

    Any readers an idea who these five UUP MLA’s may be, or is McNarry up to his usual party stunts of being a naughty boy and just mixing it?

    Five UUP MLAs may quit like me: McNarry


  • Drumlins Rock

    “all said so with a smile on their face,”

    McNarry dosn’t seem to know when people are just winding him up, sense of humour by-pass.

  • OneNI

    UCUNF ‘Declared a failure’ – actually it was the only thing that temporarily halted the UUP electoral slide.
    It was a failure in that it didnt win any seats, however, lets not pretend that losing Hermon was much of a loss.
    Regardless of personality one MP has no influence