NI21 falling apart just as it approaches its first hurdle?

Sam McBride reports John McCallister’s comments in The Newsletter…

“The way in which the [NI21] executive was handled points to a lot of the dysfunctionality in the party. There was no agenda sent out. This was organised this afternoon; I was literally told to come down from my constituency to Belfast to do it, with no idea what it was about.”

He said that the meeting consisted of a “15 or 20-minute discussion with everyone keen to get back out canvassing”.

The South Down MLA said: “It went to a vote which was overwhelmingly [in favour] if you count that there were five or six people in the room – Tina [McKenzie], Basil [McCrea], Olive [Buckley], Stephen [Hillis] and Tony [McMahon] all voting for.

“I voted against. I think it muddies the waters unnecessarily; I don’t think it’s helpful; I don’t think it clarifies any position.”

, ,

  • BarneyT

    Seems to be a question as to the authenticity of this newsletter article. It feels real and if so, it has to be the kiss of death. Shame they did not align their European and ni delegations…cross community and unionist sends the wrong message. A confused party searching for an identity it seems. If john’s run to the paper is genuine, then he,s part of the general dysfunction it seems. Maybe this is designed to offload john? It may allow him to hitch his wagon to the pro union engine, and help cement the knew cross community direction? Unlikely.

  • aquifer

    Keep it inside the tent or there is no tent.

  • keano10

    NI21 have been a shambles since the day that they were formed. An unbelievably ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, seemingly based on a presumption that voters would switch to them purely on the basis of their existence. Despite having two known leaders, they have been virtually non-existent in the local media, showing none of the fight which is necessary to survive in local politics.

  • iluvni

    Are they ‘agnostic on the Union’ now too?

  • Charles_Gould

    I understand why the UUP didn’t choose Basil now.

  • GoldenFleece

    Charles, I can also see why NI Conservatives didn’t want Basil anywhere near their party as well.

  • Comrade Stalin

    GF, to the contrary the NI Conservatives were desperate for Basil and John to come on board and I’m fairly sure it’s public knowledge that there were negotiations at the time with various offers made. Having two MLAs would be an immense coup for the NI Tories and in their position I’d have ran after it.

    I don’t think the redesignation is actually the real story here. Who in their right mind decides two days before an election to scramble the ruling executive and push through a major headline policy change, out of the blue ? No, there’s something else afoot here.

  • GoldenFleece

    CS, from what I have heard. Is that NI Conservatives really only wanted John and would only take Basil IF John would be leader of their party. Didn’t sit too well with Basil’s ego.

    Agreed, redesignation is not the real story here, definitely more going on.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sounds about right in fairness GF.

  • Politico68

    Everybody is so keen to give them a kicking, is this a reflection of our own detachment from the human behind the politician? I like them and I hope they can wake up a few decent Unionists who hold a non-sectarian approach to their United Kingdomness. I also think John is quite attractive, he gets my gay vote anyday. Its bad luck that they are up to their necks in scandal before even one child in the house is washed.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Mr McCrea being totally disassembled by Nolan as we speak.

    Did he really think this would improve things???????

  • Never understood John McCalister leaving the UUP. He was so much better than Basil, and although there were differences within the UUP (when weren’tt there) had always had room to be accommodated. Now he’s adrift.

  • 1) They should have designated as other from day 1 and been clear with all members (and Deputy Leaders) what the party is about

    2) The process for policy changes within the party is a shambles, this is not the first we have heard of this. It is the Basil and Tina show and they seem to concentrate power at the top in a very DUP/SF fashion

    3) If NI21 was a true movement that a lot of people had bought into and were working hard on the ground to deliver, why then were 6 people allowed to take the decision to change the accepted direction that movement was going in

    4) This is unfair on the election candidates on the ground who now have to answer questions and face mockery on the ground as a result of Basil and Tina’s sudden decision

    5) John McCallister is a man of considerable integrity and loyalty. He would not throw his toys out of the pram based on one isolated incident. This suggests that the current issues are the result of a culmination of problems over time. John is clearly not happy with how decisions are taken in the party and feels that it is in the party’s best interests to speak out now

    6) Where is the political strategy here? Seems like a misguided act of desperation to pick up some Alliance and soft nationalist votes. John appears to be the only one with a real sense of strategy, noting quite rightly that this will only drag them into a debate on sectarian issues when the very issues they should be focussing on in this debate are things that matter to every day people on the ground

    I think the more parties that designate as other – all the better – but that is not the issue at hand today. The issue is that the party is clearly suffering from divisions, poor management and lack of engagement with those on the ground. Power is concentrated with two people at the top and that should be very concerning for those involved in the party.

    It’s a shame to see.

  • Framer

    The BBC website has finally noticed the News Letter’s ‘dysfunctional’ NI21 lead story at 11.30am (only after Nolan’s interview with McCrea.)
    The morning radio news bulletins and GMU could not even mention the new designation or the McCallister attack on NI21 until Nolan.
    What is going on in Ormeau Avenue and indeed on the Belfast Telegraph which is underplaying the party’s implosion though mentioned it?

  • Outside

    1) It is very possible to designate as ‘other’ and also be pro-Union. Designation itself is an increasingly counter-productive concept and that is the point.

    4) Not sure what you are getting at. You are only harming chances of success in Council by sending these mixed messages.

    5) John and Basil left UUP on a point of principle. You do not stay with a party that you fundamentally disagree with simply out of loyalty. Are you suggesting he should have hung around there?

    6) Eh… I’d take that down if I were you.

  • GEF

    Me thinks this erratic change from “Unionist to Other” just before an election has something to do with canvassing in West Belfast by Basil and Tina.

  • Outsider

    Point six has already been linked on Slugger.

  • I’d be careful whilst it is still anonymous and unsubstantiated…

  • DC

    They should have designated as other from day 1 and been clear with all members (and Deputy Leaders) what the party is about

    Not sure, in my opinion there was and is space for a liberal unionist party, one designating as unionist, given the UUP’s hardening up or at least not arguing for liberalizing of social policy re abortion and same sex marriage and so on. To me that’s where the gap in the market is over the short to medium, it at least would have some ground or basis by designating unionist.

    There is space for a compassionate Unionist party, robust on equality issues but also on identity – sovereign constitutional identity.

    Drifting into Alliance territory is well drifting into Alliance territory and I agree with John it’s not a good place to be.

    Re the allegations, I have only seen Basil a few times but when I did see him he was usually surrounded by work experienced-aged women.

  • Outsider

    DC, that link you posted is damming in relation to Basil McCrea if true.

  • Morpheus

    Hold the phone – have I found something that I agree with DC on????

    I tooagree that there is a place in NI politics for a moderate pro-UK party that doesn’t have the stranglehold of the Loyal Orders around their neck.

    I just can’t see the logic of announcing a redesignation now because the redesignation doesn’t kick in until the Assembly elections in 2016 but if they were trying to be honest with the electorate before the elections then surely the vote that was taken yesterday should have been taken weeks ago.

  • Outsider


    The Loyal orders don’t have a stranglehold on the two main Unionist parties, in fact most of the senior membership of both are non members. Not too long ago Basil McCrea advised that he had a lot of respect for the Loyal orders as a whole.

  • sitarman

    I was hoping to vote for a liberal unionist party although i had already had reservations about NI21’s competence & lack of experience before this. I guess they’ve made my decision for me. I won’t be voting for a liberal unionist party after all as there are none… I won’t be voting for NI21 either.

  • Morpheus

    Don’t make me laugh. You live in cloud cuckooland if you believe that the Loyal Orders don’t have a stranglehold on the Unionist parties Outsider. it is blindingly obvious that our illustrious First Minister is afraid to take his party in the direction he knows they need to go for fear of upsetting the local Grand Master…everytime he reaches out a hand of friendship it is snapped back in again for him.

    2% of the population are members of the Loyal Orders yet 40% of those who voted against The Haass Proposals were members and 75% of our Unionist MPs are members – it is their anti-Catholic ethos which stops Catholics from voting for the party in any significant numbers.

    Need I remind you that despite the fact that only 2% of the population are members the shambolic DUP had the unelected, unrepresentative ‘Reverend’ on the ‘negotiating team at the Haass Talks? Not the OO leader who negotiated the hugely successful 12th in Derry, oh no, that would be too sensible. Instead they opt for the guy who called the ordinary people onto the streets securing convictions for hundreds of people while he watched at home from his armchair with a cup of tea. Great leadership.

  • GoldenFleece

    Ole John’s photos have been removed from the NI21 website. Not good.

  • Mick Fealty

    Just a warning. Slugger’s a bit a swan. Mostly it glides through the waters unruffled and serene. That doesn’t mean to say that there’s some poor bugger underneath paddling a way trying to keep the poor old multiple-persona-ed bugger afloat.

    We have a rule. Play the ball not the man. We also have laws, which Slugger and its commenters are all subject to. There’s a lot of messy agenda setting around this story, and I want to be able to pick our way cleanly around them.

    I don’t want to have to do that through lawyers to defend some idiot who thinks everything that’s not printed on the Interwebs is true.

    DC, consider yourself back on the choke chain!! Outsider, one more, and you’re on a bus-ride to nowhere, very fast!!

  • Outsider

    On the flip side Unionists could lay claim that there is an undue influence from the GAA.

  • Outsider

    Mick – what have I said or done? I’ve been heavily attacked on here and I’m not allowed to defend myself?

  • “I don’t think the redesignation is actually the real story here. Who in their right mind decides two days before an election to scramble the ruling executive and push through a major headline policy change, out of the blue ? No, there’s something else afoot here.”


    I agree. It is either a sign of complete ineptitude, or more likely it is a sign that the party is experiencing a power struggle. Likely Tina McKenzie or someone we aren’t familiar with decided to push McCallister out and massaged McCrea’s ego in order to do it. But taking over a party without any electoral assets is meaningless. This is the equivalent of an INLA power struggle.

  • keano10

    Is’nt the truth simply that the media hyped NI21 out of all proportion from it’s outset? They were billed as The Great White Hope, but they simply did not possess the skills or the kudos to make any impact whatsoever on the local political scene.

    Furthermore, would’nt it be a plausible argument to say that both McCrea and McCallister’s political skills have been vastly over-rated also? Since when do so-called “nice guys” make great politicians?

    The current shambles certainly lends weight to that argument…

  • Red Lion

    Am finding it hard to comment on this as it is difficult to pick through exactly what is going on at leadership level of NI21.

    I find it hard to believe that John would run telling tales to News Letter unless there is more to it. It is just not the way he gets on, he doesn’t react like that to an isolated didn’t-get-my-own-way decision.

    Most NI21 people seem to have no problem with ‘others’ designation in principle as NI21 still remain pro-UK constitutionally. They have a problem with how this decision was taken without candidates knowing, they think it an unnecessary furore 2 days before election, and they don’t like John’s attack. But it be that John has seen the writing on the wall or that something else is going on we don’t know about.

    Overall, I feel very sorry for the hardworking candidates brave and committed enough to take on the job. When I vote NI21 I will be thinking about them and not the leadership.

    But again, can really only pass comment when we see where this story goes.

    A crying shame

  • DC

    It outgrew its strength Keano, which in my opinion was the opportunity to cater for liberal unionists, tough on identity issues but keen on liberalising social policy and OK with equality, people into this sort of approach to things are stuck for a party in the current climate, the massive decline of the UUP as a liberal-ish and sensible enough unionist force, the next political alternative with impact is the ultra conservative DUP – that is one big gap in the political market needing filled. The Alliance party must be a blessed party last time out it was the collapsing UUP that gifted them votes as most voters viewed the UUP as pretty much done and not worth a vote so Alliance seemed a safe alternative, back then. Now another rival has tanked, there’s an NI21 implosion party currently taking place out on university street! Parsely has been spotted celebrating with an almost empty bottle of Courvoisier and it’s not even election day!

    NI21 took on far too many all sorts just wanting a better future, if anything it reminded me of a more hyper active Alliance party, this should be a salutary warning to Alliance that you need to have your party grounded in something. Or else all hell breaks out like cats in a bag that’s what this was or maybe I should still say is as it is still a live party at the moment. The Alliance Party’s ‘For Everyone’ marketing campaign, yeah let’s just see how that plays out in the end.

    NI21 appealed to too many people, sadly a lot of young – yes young – enthusiastic people, it played on hope, young hopefuls wanting a new way, a new future, a new party, led by Basil, what a guy, eh?! Except each member had their own outlook on things it would seem – and with that came a lot of bitter, selfish perhaps, infighting and positioning.

    At the end of the day, heavy marketing and getting people to join your party on the grounds of ‘aspiring to better’ may get people to join but politics is more than just marketing of hope, there needs to be a meeting of minds, people agreeing on ideas and outlook and dare I say it ideology.

    This turn up and stand for election whoever you are and come on in under the NI21 banner was just silly stuff.

  • Morpheus

    As Mick (I think) says, any seat at all is a gain for a new party – I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

    It almost makes it interesting…


  • Red Lion

    DC , at candidate and member level NI21 are quite a strong united party with commonality of vision.

    One of the reasons for this as you allude to is the clarity over constitutional issues.

    This designation stuff muddies waters…slightly. They remain a pro-UK party.

    The problem is how this decision was taken not the substance of it. The problem with NI21 appears to be at leadership level and making snap decisions without consultation. Which John has referred to.

    More revelations to come so who knows how this will play out. One possibility?- the strong smart candidates rise up and say enough of this and we want John in there at the top table with good decision making structures.

    The more I think about this, the less I think all this has to do with the substance of unionist/others issue, more about working structures and power issues.

    NI21 leadership are making a rod for their own backs if they keep going over the heads of their candidates and making the candidates look stupid and exposed to the leaderships unpredictability. An erratic leadership may not last when the quality of the candidateship might be thinking ‘we could do a betterjob’.

  • mark7694

    ”We have decided to clarify our position of the constitutional question” is what NI21 posted on their Facebook page after the re-designation announcement.

    I don’t think the general feedback of the last 24 hours are evidence of an electorate, or NI21 party members for that matter, who have clarity on the issue.

  • Comrade Stalin

    RL, it is indeed a crying shame.

    This whole thing is such an ongoing clusterf**k that I still can’t make out what the hell is going on. I can get redesignating … but doing it so suddenly, two days before an election, and knowing as they surely must have known that McCallister would not wear it .. what the hell is all that about ?

    I can tell that the NI21 leadership are trying desperately to spin the line that it was John who was out of line by going to the News Letter, but I’m afraid that this is unlikely to be how the matter will be seen by the public, and it is obviously not been seen that way by a substantial chunk of the party’s membership/support base.

    What an absolute mess. I am not sure if I am even going to vote the same way or not. Why give a preference to a party that loses the run of itself in such spectacular fashion at exactly the wrong moment in this way ?

  • GoldenFleece

    NI21 should just cut their loses. After their redesignation they are literally no different to the Alliance. None at all. It is extremely difficult starting up a party, its not like Borgen.

    Basil and the “others” like Tina should go to Alliance and try work in that party.

    Any that think of themselves pro-union can go to UUP or NI Conservatives or some other.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Frankly GF, and I can speak for nobody other than myself, but I wouldn’t want Basil anywhere near a party I was a member of. This mess you are seeing unfolding right now is all Basil and is all entirely in keeping with the past ten or so years of his political career.

    John McC on the other hand, is a chap for whom I’d headhunt. John’s been fairly clear that he doesn’t rate Alliance on a number of levels, so he may feel it is not right for him, but I would have thought that there would certainly be room for him in Alliance if I way could be found to allow him to designate as unionist. I would struggle to think of any serious differences in principle between where Alliance wants to see the country going and where John does.

    Tina I could take or leave.

    John clearly has no future in NI21 and I am sure we will hear imminently of his resignation. Where next, I’m not sure. I’m sure an ideal world would be one where he would rejoin the fold in the Ulster Unionists, but I suspect he may be beyond the point of no return with those guys. He left over a disagreement concerning an electoral pact, at a point where pacts are likely to be the only way the UUP can save itself. The NI Conservatives are not a serious political force and are unlikely to become one with his help.

  • Red Lion


    what’s unbelievable is this all basically happening ONE day before elections.

    say what you want about NI21, the ride has not been boring

    I will be voting for the candidates, a great bunch really. They deserve it.

    For them redesignation not the issue its the process of how important calls are made.

    I think it possible that these intelligent candidates, who have invested so much, may turn around and not accept their leaderships shenanigans, diktats, randomness, and most importantly not accept lack of decision-makng protocols.

    If NI21 get 1 or 2 strong councillors elected, and they are John friendly-coup anyone?

  • Red Lion

    John isn’t out of NI21 yet he is much loved at the grassroots. More so than Basil .

    John will have his supporters, and who knows how it could go.

    If the 2 alternate ‘prizes’ are redesignation v good party protocols then following this debacle I feel more of the party would choose the latter. John ain’t finishd yet

  • GoldenFleece

    CS, yeah, I can’t see how any party would touch Basil McCrea, even with a very very very long pole. Man is toxic and his political career is probably over.

    No chance McCallister will join Alliance. Would have more of a chance as an Independent in South Down than Alliance.

    But hopefully Alliance will pick up some talented NI21 candidates after this. NI21 is basically Alliance anyway, so the transition will not be too stressing.

    RL, I predict 0 councillors of NI21 tomorrow and its a shame because I really like some of the candidates.

    If I was 5 years younger I probably would have bought into NI21, but I am getting a cynic in my older years and I learnt my lesson with UCUNF.

  • Broadly agreeing again with Comrade Stalin.
    But there are always individuals in all parties with a slightly exaggerated view of their own worth.
    Basil McCrea may be one such person. I certainly think he is not a team player.
    Possibly he is more secure in Lagan Valley than John McCallister in South Down.
    But can John go back to UUP. Well he may be an asset but he would I suspect have to deal with accusations of disloyalty.. And of course he will have lost all seniority.
    More likely that he will leave politics.
    People who leave a party and go back lose all credibility.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I’ve said a lot about NI21 but it seems inappropriate to repeat much of it, only to restate that I always thought the absence of a policymaking structure, and the setup whereby Basil appeared to make all the policy decisions on the hoof, was a fundamental problem for any party. It is obvious that on Wednesday night the executive were called to a meeting and Basil gave them their orders. Parties that are properly organized spend months formulating policy or implementing changes within it, following procedures that are within the party’s constitution.

    I do not get the impression JmcC is the sort of person interested in running a party, he seemed happy enough to allow Basil to do the driving. Aside from that it is clear that the party’s executive is loyal to Basil and it sided with him to sideline John. I’d dearly love to know what was really behind it – I can’t believe that anyone would be so stupid as to believe that it would be good PR.

  • RyanAdams

    I’ll still be voting for them regardless. In the event any NI21 candidate does get elected as a councillor, he or she may gain a lot of influence very quickly, especially if they are on John’s side. I’d predict 2-3, probably all in Belfast and Lisburn/Castlereagh.

  • WhatWasThat13

    NI21 have proven themselves to be a farce. All pillow-talk and promises but no proper planning or strategy. Talk of redesignation is a desperate attempt to garner votes at the 11th hour; nothing more. The party’s clear pro-Union stance has not changed. Furthermore, talk is all it amounts to at this point! If the BelTel is to be believed, the change may not even be allowed:

    “NI21 said their move would be in place for the elections following this week’s poll. But the procedure for MLAs to designate takes place on the first meeting of a new Assembly — after elections.

    The rules also state that MLAs belonging to a party may only change designation if they join a different party or cease to be a member of any party.”

    Voting for such a party does nothing but waste a vote on a party that exhibits no clear direction and never has.

    What is to stop NI21 doing similar U-Turn on any of the issues they supposedly stand by?

    Answer: Nothing.

  • GoldenFleece

    Tina McKenzie has resigned and NI21 party treasurer Tony McMahon have quit the party.

    Bye bye NI21, nice knowing you.

  • Morpheus

    “So sad that freshpolitics has been let down by old politicians. I have resigned from the Executive but still fully support NI21.”
    Tina McKenzie

  • WhatWasThat13

    Thanks 4 the info @GoldenFleece & @Morpheus,

    Guess it is true!

    This just in via Twitter:

    Sam McBride @SJAMcBride · 7m
    Extraordinary developments. A third member of the NI21 executive, Stephen Hillis, has quit. I think just one, plus Basil & John, remains

    Sam McBride @SJAMcBride · 12m
    NI21 is imploding. Following Tina McKenzie’s resignation from the NI21 executive, party treasurer Tony McMahon has just quit the party

    Sam McBride @SJAMcBride · 17m
    The crisis in NI21 deepens. Still 20 minutes before polls close, NI21 chair Tina McKenzie has just resigned from the party executive