Nesbitt recognises that partnership is not just unavoidable but the only way to get stuff done

Jude Collins was not impressed with Mike Nesbitt’s interview with Alex in which he nonetheless traversed some interesting ground

MN: If you are going to talk about unofficial opposition and the UUP walks out on its own, what’s the proposition we are offering people for next time, if you want to talk about electorally? Surely we would have to be doing this in conjunction with the SDLP: because I would like to see an official opposition, I think that would be the next step towards normalising politics and I think it would be a mature recognition that the institutions are solid enough to withstand another significant step forward. But it needs to be cross-community because we are not going back to majoritarian government.

AK: Have you talked to the SDLP about this?

MN: Yes, we have had conversations with the SDLP about these issues – and I don’t want to overegg the pudding because they weren’t in any great detail – and I think, frankly, the Haass process and party leaders stuff that followed has not helped to create that space recently. But I think that we should be having that conversation and I hope they feel the same way about us. I would love to see a stronger SDLP, as I would love to see a stronger UUP. But what I’m also encouraging unionists to think about is what they are going to do when the day comes – and it might be sooner rather than later – when you look at the benches downstairs and there isn’t a single member of Sinn Fein who was in the IRA or had any connection with the IRA. So in a few years it will just be the younger ones, who have no blood on their hands and are only there because they have a mandate.

AK: Is there an electoral advantage in reaching an electoral pact or understanding with the DUP to get you back into the House of Commons?

MN: But would that ‘understanding’ be with the DUP necessarily, or could it be with the SDLP?

AK: In what sense with the SDLP?

MN: In the same sense that there could be an understanding with the DUP.

AK: Let me get this clear: are you saying that there could be a pact or understanding with the DUP in one constituency and with the SDLP in another?

MN: What I’m saying is that at the moment our entire focus is on the UUP and we’ve actually in the last two weeks done a lot of work in terms of discussing and strategising for ourselves – dare I say for ourselves alone – about the next election for Westminster and the knock-on for the 2016 Assembly election. So we are basically ploughing our own furrow here. But we do so aware that at least one other party wants to talk to us and indeed the DUP did initiate a discussion at staff level more than six months ago and we would expect them to come back now that the elections are over … Would there be a conversation to be had with the SDLP? Yes, possibly.

Yes, possibly. My first reaction is to say “wake me up when it is all over and done”.  And yet, it’s in line with what I’ve argued before about the need for a broad alliance across rather than of middle ground.

Jude’s criticism is pretty straightforward:

I sometimes get the feeling that Mike  in his heart would like to ride the unionist horse towards fresh and more productive pastures, but the beast is accustomed to the corral marked “Not An Inch” and instinctively heads there.

Mike knows if he isn’t very careful, the creature could throw him into the nearest cactus patch. Remember, Mike was the man who told us the Haass talks were 80% agreed,  then within hours was saying how there was no way unionism was going to buy into this deal.

There’s a tough and unavoidable truth in some of that. But Nesbitt, for one at least, seems to be questioning the viability of the new ‘anti agreeing anything’ establishment. Retrenchment to a pro Agreement recognition that partnership is not merely unavoidable but in fact the only way to get things done is useful, is an interesting if not yet useful turn.

The question is can his party profit by it, and will he still hold such a ‘liberal’ line when the inevitable street pressure comes to bear?

Do read it all

  • aquifer

    He is onto something.

    The idea of a SFDUP coalition only looks ridiculous if there is a middle ground cross community alternative government in waiting.

    But this could be a last ditch defensive move also.

    I think we are at the point, driven by demographics, where Alliance SDLP and the odd Green begin to hold the balance of power if they chose to exercise it. Nesbitts ‘Not An Inch’ matching of DUP sectarianism leaves him outside this group.

    My bet: the Orange backwoodsmen will drag Nesbitt away and ensure Alliance eclipses the UUP.

  • “Nesbitt recognises that partnership is not just unavoidable but the only way to get stuff done”

    I recognise that a cross-tribal partnership is just not possible, thanks to the tug-of-war 1998 constitutional settlement and the things that get done will flow mainly from DUP-SF horse-trading.

  • Charles_Gould

    Hope there will be an interview with SDLP leader to balance this one out.

  • Zig70

    Fantasy land stuff from Mike. The undertow is that UUP see themselves as moderate because they are too inward. Nationalists don’t view them as moderate, far from it. Does he think we have no memory? It would be political suicide for the SDLP. Talk of opposition is just a sign you have no clue how to get back into power.

  • gendjinn

    The Alex Kane piece read a bit like a party political – certainly gave Nesbitt the opportunity to talk about fairness a lot. Seen it before in the Decent People vote UUP BS, they still swung right in behind the DUP.

    If it’s just optics, then why? They held their votes in the last election, where their rivals didn’t. Surely they would want to double down on the current strategy. What was it they’ve learned during the election that has them changing tack?

    Unless it’s Nesbitt on a solo and he’ll soon be brought to heel.

  • After reading the entire interview i got the distinct impresioon that either Nesbitt had not made up his mind about a strategy or he had at least not started the process of selling such a strategy to the party’s executive. I think he’ll make a decision in terms of political expediency and then try to rationalize and market it in terms of principle and what is best for the union and NI. At least this shows him to be somewhat flexible.

  • “questioning the viability of the new ‘anti agreeing anything’ establishment”

    The DUP and SF leaders are prisoners of the 1998 constitutional settlement, a settlement reinforced by the later St Andrews Act which delivered the First Minister’s revolving chair to the party with the most MLAs. They need to present a cuddly image to attract votes from the UUP-APNI-SDLP spectrum yet that creates a risk that they can be outflanked by those who adopt more hardline stances.

  • mjh

    He makes a couple of interesting points, about the lack of nationalist iconography at Stormont, and the approaching time when Sinn Fein no longer has any elected representatives with an IRA past.

    But taken at face value the interview as a whole makes no sense:
    1) If all SF representatives have no IRA connections what is the point of a UUP/DUP/SDLP electoral pact?
    2) Or, if he genuinely wanted talks with the SDLP about forming an Opposition to a DUP/SF Executive he would not have issued the invitation through a press interview. He would have prepared the ground first to ensure that there would be no knee-jerk refusal.

    This looks like a smokescreen for the DUP/UUP pact talks. Some in his party will oppose such a pact: some on tactical grounds; others on grounds of principle; and quite a few because they hate what the DUP has done to them over the years. Now he can say “There is no alternative.”

    Incidentally it is disappointing that the SDLP failed to take the opportunity to exploit this to their advantage.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Mike is mischief making at best, he knows a pact with the SDLP won’t be supported by his party unless it is in the form of standing aside in Newry and Armagh and Foyle to ensure the SDLP candidates are returned. This has the problem of disadvantaging Unionists in these areas who may opt to just stay with the SDLP come council and assembly election time.

  • Barry the Blender

    I don’t see the logics of any sort of deal with the SDLP.

    Pulling out of westminister races would mean that supporters either stay at home or go DUP. In Foyle and South Down unionist voters have already got their heads around voting tactically, so there’s no need to formalise that.

    If one’s talking about a deal to take seats from SF, the precedent is when unionists gifted Joe Hendron Belfast West in 1992.

    That didn’t exactly last long, or help the SDLP’s local organisation in that part of the city.

  • Seamuscamp

    Where is there “interesting ground” here? A fox and a fox terrier have more in common than the UUP and SDLP. To be a moderate like Ian Duncan Smith is to be a moderate like Billy Hutchinson.

    Alliances are based on common ground – in the UK Government’s case the common ground was a thirst for power and some policies on which they could agree (albeit with teeth gritted on occasion). Given the OO’s continuing centrality to UU policy, it would be hard to achieve any common ground, particularly with no prospect of power as a reward. The SDLP would not want to go the way of the LibDems.

  • gendjinn

    Nesbitt/UUP ersatz outreach didn’t even last a day.

    Just another example of how unoinist foaming at the mouth about SFs past does not manifest when unionist politicians are rubbing shoulders with the UPRG.

    In future can we just immediately file all unionist statements about reaching to Nationalists, the SDLP or SF under fiction and ignore them?