Mike Nesbitt is a nice man. Or he was a nice man when he used to work for the BBC. At that time I found him pleasant, friendly and intelligent. Have I changed my mind since those far-off days? Mmm, not sure. But he’s certainly doing all he can to get me thinking differently.
Since becoming UUP leader he’s managed to lose Ken Magennis, David McNarry, John McCallister and Basil McCrea from the party. These losses came for many reasons but principally because of thinking which sent Mike into a huddle with Peter Robinson, after which they selected an ‘agreed‘ unionist candidate for the coming election in Mid-Ulster. Were these losses worth the possible gain in selection agreed-man Nigel Lutton? Mike thinks so because...
Well, the because of it is a bit hard to spot. Nigel Lutton is not going to beat Francie Molloy of Sinn Féin to the seat in Mid-Ulster. Willie McCrea in his, um, not-totally-gracious speech after being defeated by Martin McGuinness for the seat in 1997, warned the electorate of Mid-Ulster that if they lay down with dogs, they would rise up with fleas. For sixteen years now the voters of Mid-Ulster appear happy to carry on scratching, including scratching their voting mark against name of Martin McGuinness.
But Mike Nesbitt is now hopeful all this may change.
“Nigel Lutton has worked for many Catholic victims. He’s worked for WAVE, which is absolutely across all sections of our community, he has worked for victims in Mid-Ulster, both Protestant and Catholic, and I see no reason why you would assume that Catholics or indeed that some nationalists would not vote for Nigel Lutton, particularly nationalists who would prefer that their Member of Parliament sat on the green benches once in a while”.
Basil McCrea begs to differ. In fact, he believes the selection of an ‘agreed’ unionist candidate will work against unionism. “From the experience of Fermanagh/South Tyrone we have seen that unionist unity candidates tend to energise the electoral opponents more than their own supporters”.
I think Basil (another nice man) has got it right on this one. Those of you who know me will know that I am not normally a betting man. But I am prepared to bet Mike Nesbitt £50 at odds of 5-1 that Nigel Lutton, despite all those Catholic and nationalist votes he sees swinging behind unionism, will be defeated on 7 March. Over to you, Mike.