UUP: A party with less and less visible means of political support…

Fairly brutal says Basil McCrea. But John McCallister is gone as Deputy leader of the UUP. Why? For making this speech to the Young Unionists on the future of Unionism at the weekend.

Nesbitt loyalists grumble that McCallister (Nesbitt’s defeated rival in the recent leadership election) was doing little more than laying out his alternative vision for the party. Odd when you think he’s supposed to be Deputy leader.

Picking a fight over Nesbitt’s call for Unionist unity was presumably a matter of choice on the part of the Deputy Leader. There are a dozen things he could have talked about that might not have triggered such a strong reaction.

For Nesbitt’s part a major fall out with a second senior party figure with a few short months begins to look more like carelessness than misfortune. At the very least it looks like he’s not been keeping his party rivals closer than his friends.

Chris Farringdon has written well on the ungovernability of the old Ulster Unionist party. But with all the reforms to party structures in recent years, that’s not necessarily an excuse any more.

The party has a social profile which is mixed and broad. It’s the sort of profile Peter Robinson would love to have, but finds it difficult to reach. In Belfast many former unionists are choosing to slide across and into Alliance as much as turn to the DUP.

The party’s problem is more political than social.

In a presentation at an Electoral Commission event at Queens just after the 2005 general election, I suggested the party faced a “What are we for?” crisis. Seven years have passed, and it remains a question that has not even been close to being answered.

The DUP continues to control any Unionist realignment, a reality underlined by Nesbitt’s joint appearance with the First Minister. This after a summer in which many of the parties former middle class voters have noted Nelson McCausland’s failure to back the Parade’s Commission ruling.

Busy in the woodshed conjuring up new candidates who can appeal to the middle class core of the Ulster Unionists the DUP believe they can cope with their rival’s long slow decline.

Mike Nesbitt’s problem is a little like a rear gunner who’s not quite in control of his political gunfire. Having done for McNarry on one wing, and Maginnis and McCallister on another, it remains to be seen just how long this old crate of a party can continue to fly.

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