#NI21: Was John McCallister pushed before he jumped?

So, a short addendum to my rhetorical question from this morning.

On Talkback Martina Purdy has added a little more to the explanation of what’s been going. She suggests that the decision to undesignate (if it gets returned to the next Assembly) is a response to the new people it has drawn in from a highly diverse set of backgrounds.

However, there may also be other factors involved. Post unionism for instance was always going to be more attractive to Basil’s Lagan Valley constituency than John’s. My view has been that John was already struggling to keep his south Down seat long before the liberal duo left the UUP.

You’d be hard put now to bet against the idea that the UKIP Euro candidate Henry Reilly is running a greater South Down first with various councillor candidates second and the rest of Northern Ireland nowhere sort of campaign, prior to taking that second unionist seat.

In other words, John’s viability as a NI21 MLA has been in the balance right from the start. Veering out of the unionist fold would have been a final nail in that coffin, and a final departure between NI21’s genesis and its future.

It should be noted here that for NI21 to claim they’ve made progress they only need to win a few council seats.

But here’s the interesting bit.

There are rumours (and I emphasise that word) that John had been talking to some of his old colleagues in the UUP about a return to the fold, with a possible option of being co-opted into Jimmy Nicholson’s seat should the UUP veteran manage to retain it tomorrow.

If it were proven to be true, it would be a smart move on both sides. John needs out of the Assembly before it collapses on him and the UUP need someone of John’s strong agricultural background and popular profile to take over in the EP. His liberal instincts might help too.

Ah, the fine art of Machiavellian politics. Except that Machiavelli only works well for you when the rest of us on the outside never get to find out the grizzly details. [Ahem, or you can count on a whole raft of helpful witnesses to keep it all under their hats – Ed.]

All of which leads me to finish with another rhetorical question: Was McCallister pushed before he jumped?

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  • Outsider

    Just to confirm, has John definitely left NI21?

  • GoldenFleece

    If John re-joined UUP after how he left on principle I would lose all respect for him, showing him to be another career politician.

    Outsider, it is looking that way. I can’t see how if he still wanted to be in the party he would set the sinking ship on fire the day before the elections. His photos are also removed from NI21 website.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “This site is so anti-NI21.

    Look at the number of anti NI21 posts that have been assembled quickly and so close to an election.

    This is evidence of dark forces at work within the machinery of SO’T and a demonstration of their opposition to the peace process.

    Or summat.


    (joking, jeeeez…)

  • Outsider


    The UUP looks to be his only option, he has already ruled out Alliance by claiming they’re in no man’s land. UKIP, TUV and DUP would not be natural bedfellows for him. Joining the conservatives or becoming an independent would be suicide so the UUP is his only option.

    On another note the Young NI21 have said the treatment of McCallister was a disgrace and have came out in support of him. NI21 grassroots are split – the party is over.

  • Jagdip

    Exclusive! Have just obtained the secret transcript of Basil McCrea trying to rescue his own political skin:

    McCrea: Are you the Judean People’s Front?
    Robinson: Fuck off!
    McCrea: What?
    Robinson: Judean People’s Front. We’re the People’s Front of Judea! Judean People’s Front. Cawk.
    Donaldson: Wankers.
    McCrea: Can I… join your group?
    Robinson: No. Piss off.
    McCrea: I didn’t want to sell this stuff. It’s only a job. I hate the Romans as much as anybody.
    Patterson: Are you sure?
    McCrea: Oh, dead sure. I hate the Romans already.
    Robinson: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you’d have to really hate the Romans.
    McCrea: I do!
    Robinson: Oh, yeah? How much?
    McCrea: A lot!
    Robinson: Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.
    Patterson: Splitters.
    Dodds: And the Judean Popular People’s Front.
    Poots: And the People’s Front of Judea.
    Robinson: What?
    Poots: The People’s Front of Judea. Splitters.
    Robinson: We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
    Poots: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
    Robinson: People’s Front! C-huh.
    Patterson: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Peter?
    Robinson: He’s over there.
    Allister: [shrugs]

  • The best person to take the UUP Euro seat would be Tom Elliott. Perfect for that role. Having left the UUP (with *Basil* for goodness sake!) his stock with the UUP membership ain’t that hot, and the UUP isn’t the top down directed Party like the DUP. It is not a leader’s gift to drop someone into an elected role.

  • Outsider

    I think Tom will be their next MEP, the problem for them is there isn’t anyone capable of taking over from him as an MLA in Fermanagh.

  • As the Assembly/Euro polls aren’t in sync, plenty of time to plan and organise succession. Mind you, that’s where the plan falls down. Nesbitt rarely sees past the last headline.

  • Outsider

    Could very well see Tom left with a dual mandate if the UUP do in fact hold onto the seat from TUV pressure?

  • Neil

    To repeat Outsider’s question has John jumped/been pushed? Obviously some fraught exchanges in the media today but is he actually going? I agree that his credibility will be in pieces if he heads back to the UUP, but given Northern Irish politics that may not be fatal for his career.

  • Outsider

    He is in a no win situation, he can’t stay at NI21 after what has happened and he is going to have to swallow his pride if he returns to the UUP.

    He may come at it from the angle that he was persuaded by Basil but secretly had “genuine doubts”.

  • Barry the Blender

    [Person] meets Basil McCrea. [Person] thinks he’s marvellous. [Person] becomes a Basilite. They fall out. It all ends in tears.

    Today’s person John McCallister

  • GoldenFleece

    If he does not go to UUP he has two options.

    1). Go Independent, work hard as hell in the next few years and try his luck in South Down. Independents have been elected before on a personal vote. Catholics are more likely to vote for him rid of the UUP tag.

    2). Go to NI Conservatives. Lead them as a pro-union non secretarian party. Run for MP and MLA in Strangford.

    Both are no guarantees.

  • Outsider


    If he pursues either option he will have an exit strategy from politics planned.

  • Barry the Blender

    To get in as an Independent you really need to convince voters that you’re party has left you hard done by (see David McClarty, Sylvia Hermon).

    Bearing in mind that John fell out with his party in order to become a disciple to Basil McCrea, I doubt he could sell the “I’ve been wronged” narrative to the voters

  • Outsider

    Yes I agree Barry – being an independent is not the option for John and the Conservatives are not a good fit either for him.

    He could retire from politics altogether now – would an NI21 member get his seat?

  • DogInTheStreet

    GoldenFleece et al

    John McCallister’s images have not been removed.

    Check here to see one of many examples:

  • Outsider
  • Outsider


    Sorry this was meant for you: http://ni21.org/our-party/

  • DogInTheStreet

    ANI21mal Farm synopsis:

    Napoleon McCrea will convince his sheep and chickens that Snowball McCallister was treacherous and has been sent to Denny’s meat processing plant to contemplate his future.

    Squealer McKenzie will take Snowballs place and the sheep and chickens will baa and squawk with glee (hashtag #WeAreNI21) while sipping capuccino’s in Common Grounds cafe, just like every ordinary person does of course.

    Or will Napoleon McCrea become Mollie and leave for another farm to follow his fortunes?

  • Outsider

    I can’t see how NI21 can exist any longer?

  • DogInTheStreet

    Ah. that’s very interesting. imagine removing his image but without removing the ‘Deputy Leader’ title/blurb.

    I think we can safely say John is gone.

    Whatever we think of Basil, he is a smart man. he wouldn’t do this without some reason, even a Machiavellan one. Could it be there’s a Rasputin-like figure who is bewitching Basil with every whisper, behind (or so behind) the scenes?

    NI21 is a new party as we all know. No better vehicle, full of new shiny but empty seats near the top of the tree to be filled or coveted by the ambitious. Perhaps someone knew the re-designation would put John in an untenable position thus forcing his hand. A small amount of insignificant collateral damage of others leaving perhaps but names we haven’t heard off so no big deal there.

    This is how you checkmate someone you don’t want in the game anymore.

    Tina to be deputy by tea time. Mark my words

  • Outsider

    Dog in the Street, very interesting but why do this to John who was supposed to be Basil’s friend?

  • Two years ago John McCallister spoke at SDLP Youth Conference in West Belfast. He spoke openly about his vulnerability as a MLA in South Down and appealed for transfers.
    He also made a (perhaps jokingly) remark about the low preference he had given Alliance in 2011.
    In various places I have heard him he has been critical of (Alliance) fence sitting.
    The guy is a unionist. Good luck to him. I have respect for that.

    But the scenario outlined…Nicholson wins…stands down in a couple of years…McCallister likely to lose South Down …gets the Euro gig.
    I think thats just too …..

    Well actually after events of past 24 hours nothing is too strange.
    When a politician gets elected for one Party and leaves it….well thats one thing. Nobody will ever do the decent thing and resign. They all claim the electorate voted for the candidate not the party.
    But for a politician to knock my door in one election and say “vote for me…heres my party leaflet”
    And then call four or five years later and say “vote for me….heres a different leaflet…sorry I was in the wrong party last time”.
    Frankly I have no time for that.
    Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice….shame on me.
    Trying it THREE times!!!!

  • DogInTheStreet

    We don’t know what other pressures are being applied to Basil we don’t know about. All this stinks to high heaven. I have high regard for NI21 but John should challenge Basil for the leadership. This is no other way for John as far as I can see it. He’s burnt too many bridges to eke his way back to UUP or Alliance even.

  • Outsider

    Do we actually know if the UUP have been in contact with McCallister?

  • Morpheus

    Maybe they were right and the people on the doorstep said that the designation was an issue. Maybe we will be talking about the new 40+ NI21 councillors come Monday. I guess we will find out soon enough what the future will be for Ni21.

    As I said yesterday though, its like Anna Lo all over again. There is a section of the population who don’t want a real middle of-the-road-cross-community party….they want a ‘our-side-of-the-road-cross-community party

  • Outsider

    But Alliance are the middle of the road cross community party. NI21 were supposed to be a centre left Unionist party.

  • mjh

    Sorry I cannot buy that the latest twists have arisen because Basil and John have simultaneously developed forward-thinking abilities. John to see the coming wreckage and plan his life-boat. Basil to work out what John is up to and to plan a way to minimise the damage.

    The party has managed all the important things well – even with flair. The name, the branding, the launch event, the web-site, Twitter, relations with the media, the Euro-candidate…..

    But it managed all the critical things dreadfully.
    – The months before the Jasil exit – which should have been used to decide whether they were going Tory or forming their own party; to pre-plan the party strategy, it’s positioning, the name, the party principles; to identify those who would go with them, and those who should be approached after they left; to draft the statement to be issued on their departure and the line to be taken with the media – were all wasted. None of the work had been done.
    – They managed to let Mike Nesbitt out-manoeuvre them. His announcement that the UUP would back a unionist unity candidate for Mid Tyrone seemed almost to take them by surprise. So they failed to to be in charge of their own departure
    – The post-exit weeks, while media interest was at its height, were also wasted so that the marketing persons could work on a consumer-goods style brand-launch.
    – The pre-election campaign period was wasted with no announcement of candidates until the very last minute.
    – The party’s name will not even be on the majority of ballot papers.

    I’m with GEF on another thread who suggested that yesterday’s decision arises from the party’s canvassing of non-unionist voters. People who have never canvassed before are often surprised at the politeness and pleasantness of the response they receive. They misinterpret this as support. Others who may never have canvassed in non-unionist areas before may have anticipated a degree of hostility or suspicion which they would not in fact meet. The voters don’t want to offend the stranger at their door who has taken the trouble to speak to them. They wrap up the message that they will never vote for you in the most polite phrases. I would not be surprised if NI21 canvassers had often heard something like – “I like your Basil/Tina/John but I would not vote for a unionist party”. This means “I am voting SDLP/SF/not at all.” But NI21 have heard it as “If you were not unionist I would vote for you.”

    Without thinking it through, they have seized the presumed opportunity to double their vote tomorrow.

    The rest of us see this as high political farce. But for the members, and especially the candidates, it is nothing short of tragedy. Many will have worked body and soul.

    They do not deserve this.

  • GoldenFleece

    “But Alliance are the middle of the road cross community party. NI21 were supposed to be a centre left Unionist party.”

    NI21 were meant to be centre left?!?! There are some right wingers in NI21 which would make Dave Cameron blush.

    Nah NI21 tried to be another big tent party for all – first big mistake.

    Also outsider, John McCallister and NI Conservatives ARE the perfect fit…. ideologically. But that will probably be not enough.

  • GoldenFleece

    Apparently some NI21 council candidates have poured their own money into their own campaigns, some more than £1000. And for the rug to be pulled under them in the last days of the campaign without consultation….

    Man I would be fuming.

  • iluvni

    NI21 are a shambles. I had one of their candidate at my door looking my vote…..shame for him he was canvassing outside his constituency boundary.

  • ” Nobody will ever do the decent thing and resign. They all claim the electorate voted for the candidate not the party.”

    In first-past-the-post elections this is quite credible, with a PR-List system (as in Israel) it is impossible, and with the PR-STV system it is very difficult.

    “Also outsider, John McCallister and NI Conservatives ARE the perfect fit…. ideologically. But that will probably be not enough.”

    @Golden Fleece,

    I agree. The Tories needed a politically credible candidate and McCallister needed a party that was pro-UK but not really unionist. I was surprised when he turned them down. Now he must feel rather sore at Basil.

  • Turgon

    I think The Dissenter got it exactly right here above. I have met both Tom Elliott and John McCallister and I was more impressed by Elliott. John McCallister is personable and friendly. However, I am far from convinced that he is either that good a politician or indeed that bright. Elliott on the other hand may sound like a dull Fermanagh farmer but is in reality a much sharper intellect and politician. He easily dealt with Trevor Ringland’s prima donna act after his own election as leader.

    Considering the way McCallister left the UUP and how much more united the UUP has appeared since McCrea and his departure I think it would be most foolish of Nesbitt to let McCallister back in and give him a high profile position.

    Without wishing to play the man Basil McCrea was clearly the more toxic and divisive figure (anyone who knows anything about UUP internal politics has known how divisive a figure McCrea has been for years). However, McCallister allied himself to McCrea at the time of his leadership bid and as such he would bring some of the venom of McCrea with him.

    If McCrea wishes to rejoin the UUP that may be fair enough but I suspect Nesbitt would be very foolish to give him anything other than the opportunity to defend his own seat and if he loses spend some time in the political wilderness. Remember McCallister left over the decision to run Nigel Lutton as a unity candidate against Molloy who had been directly accused in parliament of involvement in Eric Lutton’s father’s murder. That election resulted in an increase in the combined unionist vote and was seen as a modest unionist success. Against that success and against standing up to an individual like Molloy, McCallister left the UUP (though he previously accepted a unity candidate for F/ST against Gildernew). Rewarding such inconsistency and disloyalty to the party line so quickly with the MEP seat would significantly damage the UUP’s recent greater cohesion and discipline. Any hint of it now might also weaken the UUP vote at this election against Jim Allister’s challenge.

    As Mick observes in the opening post overt Machiavellism is dangerous to parties and individual politicians in a democracy.

  • Granni Trixie

    Alliance always has had to strive to communicate its identity in a NI where people tend to want to put you neatly in one or other box. Around mid nineties after much internal debate it was decided to try and brand ourselves as “the third tradition” but the problem was it never took off in the publics imagination so we reassessed and gave up on that particular label. I use this example to illustrate that NI21 identity tensions are parr for the course which require much internal debate as well as feedback from the public. A short discussion with half a dozen NI21 people was always going to end in tears.

    Re a point made above – I have also witnessed at first hand that new canvassers do tend to read too much into the polite responses of people on the doorsteps. However when you are more experienced you can often detect accurately if there is a groundswell of support or trend against the party or candidate.

  • BarneyT

    I was thinking he may have been pushed but airing on the side of own volition. But where does he go. Never go back they say. Uup realignment is however most logical.

  • Comrade Stalin


    He easily dealt with Trevor Ringland’s prima donna act after his own election as leader.

    Maybe, but the McNarry farce was pure incompetence on several different levels at once.

    I cannot see any way back to the UUP for McCrea, even if he wanted it.

  • Am Ghobschact [2.05] It would be a turn up for the books if voters decided that, as ‘dysfunctional’ as the NI21 are, at least they’re not as well oiled a machine like the main parties, it shows they’re genuine while the others are so deeply cynicalno breath of disunity can be exposed.

  • “Around mid nineties after much internal debate it was decided to try and brand ourselves as “the third tradition” but the problem was it never took off in the publics imagination so we reassessed and gave up on that particular label.”

    When I was doing research on Alliance in the summer of 1998 I came across a remark in the party newsletter by a canvasser that someone remarked that they liked Alliance’s policies but couldn’t possibly vote for them because they weren’t a unionist party. I suggested to several people at Alliance HQ that it might make sense to market the party as a unionist party with a difference–stressing its past Catholic leaders (three), lack of ties to the marching orders, etc. I was told that it wouldn’t wash with Alliance’s core constituency and that the party would lose more votes than it gained. I think that NI21 was attempting to do something like what I suggested except that it had no track record or established credibility to fall back on. And it obviously doesn’t know what its core constituency wants for the simple reason is that at this point it doesn’t have one.

  • Ruarai


  • JH

    So IF the rumours are true, the UUP are running Nicholson to get the seat with the intention of giving it to someone else currently of another party?

    That f*cking stinks.

  • Comrade Stalin

    JH, I’d be very surprised if that were in any way true.

  • mjh


    Consider whose interests a rumour like that (if not true) might serve?

    Then what stinks?

  • JH

    The thought had crossed my mind alright, time will tell I suppose.

  • Charles_Gould

    Its not a credible rumour – it rewards someone who left the party. The idea of replacing Nicholson after a while is credible enough, but with a core UUP candidate.

    The best that John McC could hope for is to return as a UUP MLA. That might not be a bad option but would require some humble pie from him.

    On a related theme: I wonder if the new MLA in Coleraine, Claire, has any plans to join a party. The UUP would be wise to try to snap her up.

  • mjh


    You’re right there about Coleraine.

    Can’t see McCallister rejoining the UUP. Apart from all the other obstacles, Mike Nesbitt has given no sign of abandoning his pursuit of unionist unity candidates for Westminster.

    How could McCallister campaign for a unionist unity candidate next year having left the party on this fundamental point of principle last year?

    Everyone who has had dealings with him reports that he is a decent man. He couldn’t do it.

  • GoldenFleece

    IF NI21 get a good turnout today, it is possible that McCallister will stay and challenge for leadership. That would certainly be entertaining.

    I am sure he would get the votes to challenge. Still think McCrea would win though.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    “NI21minutes” haha Ruarai,

    how about “NI21seconds to go” So Solid Crew featuring Jasil …………..

  • Tochais Síoraí

    For most people NI21 are barely, if at all on the radar. Now they’re making headlines. Not for good reasons but hey, it’s not the end of the world – nobody’s been caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl as E Edwards used to say.

    For a party struggling with brand recognition they’re getting a fair bit of publicity right on cue for the elections. BMC got 20 mins on Nolan last night, the night before polling. Some people may have saw him and asked who’s yer man and what’s he about? Every cloud has a silver lining and all that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The only way the UUP would want to win the Euro seat again and then intentionally give it up to someone else would be if they got something in return – what could that be ? The European seat is not strategically significant enough for anyone to offer anything in exchange for its return.

    As things stand right now, the UUP are probably not going to run any Westminster candidates in any seats where there is a prospect of a Unionist victory, except in North Down where I expect there may be a pact with the DUP to allow them a free run.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There are limitations to this “all publicity is good publicity” notion that some people have (especially people on the pro-Basil side of NI21).

    Any positive impact of the publicity, which if anything will be miniscule, will be more than offset by the visage of a party declaring war on itself two days before polling day. Setting aside my pre-existing issues with NI21, I cannot reward a party which reserves the right to reverse a headline policy at short notice without consulting its own members and which shafts its own members and deputy leader. I am sure that I am not the only one who made that calculation.

  • Charles_Gould

    UUP might do okay in Upper Bann Westminster depending on getting a good candidate, also in South Antrim.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles, no. Upper Bann is utterly dominated by the DUP, even if the UUP had a good candidate, which they don’t. The UUP may stand there but they’ll not win.

  • GoldenFleece

    UUP won’t win a Westminster seat again unless the DUP gift the one.

    There will be a lot of wheeling a dealing between the UUP and DUP next election and not only in the marginal seats.

  • Comrade Stalin,
    I was intending to give NI21 a preference in Europe (no local candidate) but for very much the same reason I could not do so.
    If they do this to their own members, they would do it to their voters.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sam McBride has just tweeted that Tina McKenzie has resigned from the NI21 Party Executive.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Indeed. The UUP have nothing the DUP want and are in no position to make any bargains. The DUP leader and deputy leader are both significantly invested in what are marginal Unionist seats, especially in the case of North Belfast.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Tony McMahon (NI21 Party Treasurer) has resigned his party membership – again the news breaking from Sam McBride of Twitter.

    Apparently The View on BBC1 will be covering this at 10:35.

  • Red Lion

    Comrade – is UpperBann dominated by DUP?

    I thought at last WM election UUP got 10,000 votes through Harry Hamilton, withDUP only getting 2000 more? Could be wrong like.

    I expect Mike Nesbitt may engineer a free run for himself in Strangford for the personal kudos of a WM seat, and deals will be bargained in return, North Belfast being his trump card.

    I can just see Doddsy and Nesbitt on easyjet together, chuckiling

  • Comrade Stalin

    Marc Mallett of UTV has gone further and is alleging that Tina has actually quit NI21 altogether.

    If this is the case I think it’s probably the first time in the history of the Northern Ireland state that an election candidate has quit their own party on polling day.

  • GoldenFleece


    OR they are quitting because of what The View will uncover tonight.

    We shall see.

  • GoldenFleece

    Third member of NI21 executive Stephen Hillis has just quit.

    NI21 will go down in Northern Irish electoral history… for all the wrong reasons.

  • Comrade Stalin

    RL – DUP had 33.8, UUP 25.7. That’s a very wide gap to bridge.

    I am not sure why exactly people think the DUP would gift Strangford to the UUP. Why would they bother when they have a perfectly good vote-winning sitting MP there already ? And if Jim didn’t want the seat, why would the DUP screw their own loyal party activists ?

  • WhatWasThat13

    This just in via Twitter, any idea if true?

    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

  • GoldenFleece
  • Comrade Stalin

    Press release from Basil .

    The entire party are basically running away from Basil at this point, and apparently he hasn’t worked it out yet.

  • Charles_Gould

    “If this is the case I think it’s probably the first time in the history of the Northern Ireland state that an election candidate has quit their own party on polling day.”

    One for Nicholas Whyte!