Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Nice Mike parachutes in
In the wake of the George Lee debacle in the south, there’s a general agreement that it’s not a good idea to expect a celebrity candidate, especially one from the media, to fit smoothly into the political machine. George certainly didn’t and the pain of his recent walk-out will make political parties slow to rush in to a repeat performance.
Except it now looks highly likely that Mike Nesbitt, late of the UTV parish and then the Victims’ Commission parish, will be selected as the Ulster Unionist candidate for Strangford in the coming Westminster election – the seat held hitherto by one Iris Robinson. It’s certainly a winnable seat. It belonged to John Taylor (since assumed into the House of Lords) for many years and Iris’s spectacular activities in the sexual and commercial field mean the DUP are really up against it this time.
But is Nesbitt a good choice? If you’d asked a similar question about Lee in the run-up to his election, you’d have got a resounding Yes. The good burghers of Dublin South just loved little George to bits and voted him in overwhelmingly. Nesbitt is also a good media operator – in fact considerably better than Lee, who exuded a certain narkiness in most of the time – but will he make a good politician? As Bill Clinton might have said but didn’t, it depends on what you mean by ‘good’. He’ll be good on TV, which is how the public judge politicians by and large. But whether he’ll be good at working within the system of constituency surgeries and helping devise legislation, I don’t know. Probably not – most journalists are better at broad-brush stuff than tedious nuts-and-bolts.
But if you’re an Ulster Unionist, fret not. Remember it’s Westminster that Nesbitt is aiming for. If he gets there, nobody will care whether he’s a good committee-and-House-debate man or not: what distinguishes any debate involving Northern Ireland in Westminster is the fact that politicians of all other stripes clear off as if threatened with bubonic plague, so the chamber echoes to the sound of half-a-dozen N Ireland MPs debating an issue to an audience of maybe two, knowing all the while that nobody else has heard them and that in any case, nothing they say will make a blind bit of difference.
So good luck, Mike. You’re a nice guy and if wife Lynda joins you on the stump, you’ll draw the crowds who enjoy a bit of eye-candy. But is it conceivable, do you think, that some day unionism will awake from its slumber and see that being part of a parliament where you’re a valued 20% of the representation beats being in a parliament where you’re an ignored 2% of the representation?