Lo is aiming high but needs to figure how not to frighten our jumpy ethnic horses…

Interesting comments from Brian Feeney and our own Gladys Ganiel on Sunday Politics… In short, Feeney thinks Alliance will suffer in Belfast but it will bring Anna Lo nationalist votes outside its own natural area. Gladys doesn’t think it’s worth the burn to their base.

She could be right. In today’s Irish News Tom Kelly, who spent a bit of time at the Alliance Party conference reckons, that even as a short term tactic it has the capacity to tie the party in a number of very awkward policy knots:

South Belfast and its rarified air of liberal self-aggrandizement is not the same as the Bible belt country. The flags issue has unfairly damaged the Alliance party within loyalist communities and unsurprisingly all of the unionist parties are exploiting this for electoral benefit. Alliance tacticians most know how much damage has been done.

Certainly any prospective Alliance candidates contesting seats east of the Bann in the forthcoming local government elections will not be looking forward to taking Lo with them to canvass. Just when they thought they could knuckle down and escape the flack over the flags debacle – Ms Lo lobs in a green grenade.

Far from impressing nationalists with her newly declared love for all things Irish –Ms Lo has confused them. In an attempt to gain the full traction of pre election publicity the Alliance party chose Lo to spearhead their amendment to the local government bill which called for the Union flag to be flown on all local government buildings on eighteen designated days everywhere from Newry to Newtownabbey and from Derry to Downpatrick. Logically speaking this makes sense but electorally neither Sinn Fein or the SDLP will support its implementation anywhere west of the Bann.

And why would they? As there is no appetite for Union flags from their constituents. So one day Ms Lo wants nationalists to accept the flying of the Union flag in their own areas in line with the official Alliance policy and two days later like David Cameron’s ill-fated “hug a hoodie” remark, Lo love- bombs nationalists while simultaneously alienating many ordinary unionists. Alliance has tried to side step the issue and say her remarks were personal- but there is no personal space in politics.

This goes to the heart of some key assumptions about the limitations of working the middle ground. It’s hard to impossible to create policy innovations from anywhere other than in the deeper reaches of the electorate.

Kelly’s final remarks just about nail it…

Alliance has an important role in Northern Ireland politics and while it sometimes over plays its sense of self-righteousness it has often provided some courageous voices at crucial times. Lo is aiming high but she needs to learn to tread more carefully.

David McWilliams knows what she needs too, but the question is, does anybody have one?

The ethnic GPS approach to conversation is a form of communication whereby we all know more or less what is being said, and who is saying what about whom – but we can never be direct about it.

“O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod…”

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