Mike Nesbitt on Gavin Robinson, David Simpson, good grace and polls

In the aftermath of the Westminster Election the UUP are now back in the House of Commons. Writing for Slugger, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, Mike Nesbitt writes for us about election night and hits back at the DUP’s David Simpson.

UK-wide, the 2015 General Election has been defined by the Conservative’s outright win, the tsunami of momentum behind the SNP and the failure of pundits and pollsters to call it right.

Here, the latter also featured, but to me, the local 2015 campaigns were partially defined by how the candidates brought them to a close. I was in the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey when Danny Kinahan ended our barren years, and I was extremely proud of his acceptance speech; it was a model of humility, grace and commitment to five years of public service to all.

And the next speaker was equally worthy of praise. The Reverend William McCrea demonstrated huge poise and magnanimity in defeat. As someone who found themselves in that position in 2010, I can testify it is not a pleasant place to be and you have to dig very deep to do what the Rev McCrea did in accepting the public had decided they preferred someone else.

And then the wheels came off. In Belfast, Gavin Robinson lost the plot. Others think the mask slipped, but I prefer to reserve judgement and allow for an error in judgement. I have known him a long time: his mother is my cousin. But either way, he has done damage that will be remembered throughout the mandate and leaves him with work to do.

But Gavin Robinson’s attitude was as nothing to David Simpson in Banbridge. Grace? Humility? Respect for others? I think not. I challenged Mr Simpson to provide evidence to back his allegations regarding alleged comments and behaviour by members of my Party. I promised I would not be found wanting. I assured him if he proved anyone had acted in the manner he was insinuating, I would personally drive to their home, refund their annual membership fee and dismiss them forthwith. He has produced no credible evidence, and the only name he has named is that of Colin McCusker. I have spoken to Mr McCusker; he has no case to answer. I believe Mr Simpson knew that all along, because anyone can read his Open Letter and see he uses the word “if” when suggesting Mr McCusker may have stepped out of line. I repeat, Colin did not.

Newsletter front pageWhat is extraordinary is Mr Simpson’s assertion that members of my Party acted in a manner that he describes as “unprofessional to say the least”. How surprising! Surely Mr Simpson’s memory stretches back to the 2001 General Election?

If not, here is a reminder. The Belfast Newsletter’s front page of Saturday 9 June 2001 captions a photograph of Mr Simpson as “Bitter Loser: DUP man David Simpson” and the opening two paragraphs of the newspaper’s report reads as follows:

First Minister David Trimble had to run the gauntlet of DUP supporters last night as the General Election turned ugly.

The Ulster Unionist Leader was led to safety by police and aides from the Banbridge counting centre, in his Upper Bann constituency as up to 200 people crowded round him, many aiming punches and kicks in his direction.

Returning to the role of pundits and pollsters, Mr Simpson’s campaign received a massive boost when the Portadown Times published the results of an opinion poll in its last pre-election edition. This poll played to the DUP narrative that a vote for Jo-Anne Dobson would split the unionist vote and allow Sinn Féin to slip through the middle and unionism would therefore lose the seat.

It is beyond belief that the Portadown Times felt it acceptable to publish that poll without informing their readers of the name of the polling company, the date(s) the poll was conducted, the methodology used (face-to-face interviews, telephone calls, internet) and all the basic best practice as identified by the British Polling Council (BPC).

What is clear, from the fact that the poll refers to “likely candidates”, is that it was old. What has also emerged is that it was not, as the Portadown Times reported, an independent poll, but one commissioned and paid for by the DUP.

Many have pointed out to me an article published on the same page as the alleged poll. It is an apology to a member of David Simpson’s family, who, to my mind, had been grossly defamed by the Portadown Times the previous week.

The Ulster Unionist Party will not let this go. We believe the newspaper has breached the Editors’ Code and more generally acted in an improper manner and we are in touch with the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

I shall defend a free press to the death (and continue to press for reform of our antiquated Libel Laws, which pre-date the invention of the Internet). But a free press must also be a fair one.

And we politicians must return to an era where mutual respect and statesmanship are values to be cherished and practised. Check out Gary Hart’s Blog on “The Death of Dignity”:

 

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  • Catcher in the Rye

    I dunno Mike. I remember the disgraceful treatment of David Trimble in both 2001 and 2005, but I also remember you telling everyone to vote for these people to protect the union and you even said that you would be voting for them yourself.

    Also, can you explain to us what the strategy is behind this Upper Bann thing ? Unlike you I know nothing about PR, but I’m not sure what the value is in inviting another party to publish allegations against yours in public which, as part of political campaigning, you will not be able to seek redress for under libel laws.

    Think about it. The public had no idea who David Simpson was referring to in his rant about dirty campaigning. Thanks to your intervention, we now know that he is referring to your party, and we now know that Colin McCusker in that context described politics as a “blood sport”. Where is all this going ?

    Given that you are now apparently discovering the true nature of the DUP, rather later than many of the rest of us, will you take this opportunity to rule out any further Unionist pacts involving them in 2020 and beyond ?

  • Mike, you should withdraw those allegations immediately, the Portadown Times is far from being a news paper, although its perfectly useful in its own right as a wrapper for fish and chips or as a lining for the bottom of bird cages etc.
    It’s satire has become less obvious since Newton left but it has continued to draw the line at printing the actual news.

  • Granni Trixie

    Mike
    Hard to take you seriously when you linked up in a pact and said you would personally vote for a party with a homophobic sectarian disposition. But then for you being in “the unionist family” trumps all other standards

    BTW, talking of families, you don’t appear to have made public your conflict of interest in having one of the DUP candidates as a family connection BEFORE election. But then you were proposing to zoom in your wife to EB or SB (whatever) – fortunately she didn’t agree when she eventually found out about it. Keep it in the family?

  • Thomas Girvan

    Sour grapes.

  • Thomas Girvan

    They had no idea.
    Doooh!
    In the words of Bob Dylan

    “You don’t need to be a weather man
    to know which way the wind blows!”

  • Granni Trixie

    You may think that but I am reflecting an opinion of the DUP prior to the election as now. My opinion of the UUP plummeted however after their pact deal – For reasons beyond petty party considerations even if you cannot accept that possibility.

    Aside from that, there is nothing I say above which has not a basis in fact.

  • Pete

    I never heard David Simpson specifically accuse UUP members. Did I miss something?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mike – what little respect I had for you was totally lost when you climbed into bed with the DUP. Well done, you won two seats, but at what longer term cost? It was a shameful act of political expediency and sectarian headcount politic. If you get into bed with the DUP don’t complain if you wake up with a serious dose of the clap.

  • WindowLean

    For democracy’s sake I think it refreshing to see Mike Nesbitt being so critical of a party for which he voted just 11 days ago.

  • Dan

    Unionist unity appeals to the unionist electorate.
    Simpson and Nesbitt would both do well to remember that,

  • Robin Keogh

    I remember quite well the DUP’s violent and agressive behaviour towards the UUP during the GFA negotiations and the immediate years after. Gavin Robinsons acceptance speech was typical of the hard core Unionist triumphalism of old. The gloating and generally nasty content reminded me of the dismal failure of the smash Sinn Fein campaign speeches of the past. As it turned out, he may well have won the seat but Political Unionism certainly didnt sweep up all before it in what was once the most Unionist Constituency in Ireland, barely winning 50% of the vote. Mike Nesbitt has clearly worked hard to pull the UUP up from the mud, the election results prove as much, and it is quite possible that the DUP didnt expect them to do so well at the polls, the pact was initially seen as damp squid for the UUP but it turned out quite different. Simpson needs to put up or shut up. If UUP supporters have abused him or anybody else the UUP can do nothing about it, all parties have supporters that lose the run of themselves. If members were involved as accused then Nesbitt has promised to deal with them, but he cannot do anything if Simpson refuses to give details. Suggesting that Simpsons bluster has no evidenciary credibibily.

  • Sharon Robinson

    Yes all Tom Elliott’s votes came solely from Protestants. #arguingwithidiots

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Thanks for that incisive contribution Sharon.

  • Don’t know who suggested this was a good idea to write. Having gained two seats, constantly pointing out – obsessing about – the seat the UUP lost is detracting from the positive note. Having a go at the media is NEVER a good idea. Jo-Anne Dobson lost in Upper Bann. Move on.

  • Sharon Robinson

    No problem, needed to correct some of your inaccurate rants.

  • submariner

    Just what is ” the unionist way of life”?

  • submariner

    Your post makes no sense, NI status as part of the UK is a political position not a way of life, that position does not depend on how many unionist MPs are sat in Westminster it would still be a fact if there were none, Also if Britain decided to join the Euro tomorrow you would be paid in Euros but still be part of the UK. Both Dublin and Brussels already have a say in the running of this place.

  • Carl Mark

    care to give some figures! that would be nice.

  • Sharon Robinson

    Mike the simple fact is that these attacks by both you and David Simpson are turning Unionist voters off. I have a challenge for you, the DUP canvassed heavily in FST for the UUP candidate Tom Elliott, did the UUP do likewise for DUP candidates in pact constituencies?

  • Sharon Robinson

    Figures on what?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I know a few electoral anoraks at the moment looking at that 10% and seeing what they can pick up out of it at next years assembly vote. It looks as if it is not a solid Alliance Vote but could swing back to Pro Union Parties !

  • submariner

    Er the number of Catholics that voted for Tom Elliott

  • Thomas Girvan

    I would estimate there were 2,675, Catholics who voted for.Tom Elliot.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yes totally agree BYC a lot of Unionist Voters were unhappy in East Belfast about the Pact it will be interesting to see at next years assembly elections it the UUP, UKIP, TUV, PUP who will be also running in the constituency can bring them back to Unionism or Alliance can hold onto them ?

  • Sharon Robinson

    Not interested.

  • npbinni

    Such despicable comments from Harold McCusker’s son brings shame and dishonour on his father. There is no excuse for racist behaviour and ‘blood-sport’ politics in NI should surely be a thing of the past.

    This is Simpson’s response to Nesbitt:
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/full-text-of-david-simpsons-letter-to-mike-nesbitt-such-behaviour-is-totally-unacceptable-31226832.html

  • David

    Anon, the ‘yes’ campaign is indeed endorsed by much of the media and ‘celebs’, as well as a very sizeable chunk of local politicians.

    Notably on the other side, we have the Catholic church, an organisation who oversaw and covered up myriad child rape, sought to dictate what we could read, watch and do in our bedrooms and who campaigned hysterically (and farcically) against contraception and divorce.

    Is it any wonder the ‘yes’ campaign are winning?

  • David

    Mike it’s difficult to see any long term gain coming out of the recent Unionist pact. It would seem likely that McCrea would have lost his seat without the pact, so it’s success for the UUP has been FST.

    These things tend to work both ways though, so don’t be surprised if the SDLP step aside in FST next time and the seat once again reverts to SF.

    Your actions in giving the DUP a free run in EB were exemplified beautifully in Gavin Robinson’s speech. Like most viewers, I don’t know the man and after his vile behaviour that night, would never want to. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Naomi or Alliance, Robinson’s speech and stance was disgusting, typical of the deeply un-Christian outlook and behaviour of his party. Two people I was with that night watching the results said they would never vote for ‘that shower’ again following Robinson’s speech.

    You team up with these people and then feign surprise when things turn nasty immediately in Upper Bann. Did you really expect anything better?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    So you’re not interested in proving your own accuracy?

  • Sharon Robinson

    It’s a pointless conversation, you guys will only believe what fits your narrative.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Tell me what my narrative is Sharon.

  • PeterBrown

    Where are the comments? The only ones I have seen relate to Simpson’s son in law in relation to the defacing of a Dobson poster in Banbridge and there are still on Facebook but what did McCusker says and where is the evidence?

  • Sharon Robinson

    Oppressed people rising up against imperialist forces, sectarian thugs and Orangemen who fight the good fight a triumph.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. How does that answer my question? Do you see the entire world’s population as falling into one of two camps: orange or green?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, why don’t you put up some figures to prove your point and give ‘them’ a red face?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    And that’s why it’s such a good thing to have someone open minded and willing to question their own views as you are, Sharon.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Go for it Mr Nesbitt, if there has been any monkey business then see to it that it is uncovered.

  • Carl Mark

    well on you vote thing, you may be right but you make a lot of claims and don’t back them up!

  • npbinni

    you need to click on the link above, peter

  • PeterBrown

    I did and the letter makes reference to an attachment which is not available via the link so I’m none the wiser…

  • npbinni

    If, as Mike says, ‘a free press must also be a fair one’, then when can we expect to hear the DUP side of things on Slugger O’Toole?

    (I know SOT is not ‘the press’, but I’m sure you know what I mean)

  • USA

    Talking to the mirror again Sharn? #ThatsSectarianAreSharn

    Mick….don’t blame me, she starts this shite regularly with her rude and unnecessary comments (see her hashtag). I’m only returning her serve, I don’t like having to come all the way down here to the basement to deal with her bigotry and sectarian mindset. But sectarianism and bigotry must be challanged wherever it is found.

  • USA

    You really don’t understand where you are or what you are doing. As has happened to many on here over the years, people will probably grow tired of you and stop responding. How can you possibly make a claim about voting preferences in FST, then refuse to engage ?

  • USA

    Get it right Am G, she pronounces it “themuns”.

  • USA

    Doh…. It’s like having our own Homer Simpson on Slugger 🙂 Perhaps I should just see the funny side. Maybe it’s really good satire?

  • USA

    I think she actually does Ben. When she arrived on Slugger she wanted to know who the PUL posters were.

  • USA

    You will have to back that up T.E.
    I would expect Alliance to do well in the Assembly elections. Their core vote came out for the Westministers. Their vote is actually up significantly. Alliance have the additional advantage of being transfer friendly. Consequently a PR election format should benefit Alliance greatly. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the body politic. Alliance have the perfect opportunity to build middle ground momentum. PR will suit Alliance better than FPTP. Look for a good performance by Alliance new year.

  • USA

    Tend to agree D. His piece was uninspiring to say the least. Hit all the wrong notes. He should have designated that “attack dog” stuff to someone looking to climb the ladder. It wasn’t even good attack dog stuff. But I have never been impressed with his leadership. Not at all sure he is a good strategist either.

  • USA

    Totally agree with your first paragraph Grannie.
    Don’t understand your second paragraph.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yes USA I agree it will have to be backed up by hard core votes but we already know that the DUP are not going to attract them votes back to Unionism. Also agree that PR will suit Alliance as they will pick up transfers across the board also believe that this will also help the smaller unionist parties in the East Belfast Constituency. There is definately a need for a working class unionist MLA in this constituency to represent a substantial amount of voters in East Belfast it will be interesting to see if the PUP can nick the 6th and last MLA seat in 2016.
    My prediction for 2016 Assembly Election Return is 2.DUP, 2 Alliance 1UUP and the last seat is a scrap between DUP, Alliance and PUP. Will be an interesting contest and look forward to the campaigns and end results.

  • DisparityNI

    Bitter much?