Nesbitt treatment of McCallister sounds death knell for UUP

Mike Nesbitt’s dismissal of John McCallister from the post of Deputy Leader of the Assembly Group means the end of the Ulster Unionist Party.

There are two prime reasons for this, but let us be clear first of all that any type of proper disciplinary process would have cleared Mr McCallister. I gather the real reason for disciplinary action was that his speech did not initially go through proper channels – but yet it was approved for the UUP web site! In terms of content, he talked of Unionist Unity only in the conditional, and he talked only of “reasonable observers”  (quite possibly including this one!) suggesting that recent joint events looked like they were setting the scene for it. Afraid to open the message, Mr Nesbitt simply shot the messenger – without trial. The idea that Mr McCallister’s post has been “abolished” is merely designed to provide cover for that.

So, why does this particular move mean the end of the Ulster Unionist Party?

Firstly, this will be presented (and perfectly accurately) as the dismissal of the “civic unionist” wing from the Ulster Unionist Party – the very wing Mr McCallister was talking about, the one to which he belongs, and the only one not already clearly occupied by the DUP. Mr Nesbitt spent the weekend surrounded by Orangemen and playing second fiddle (almost literally) to Peter Robinson at the Covenant signing; Mr McCallister spent it defining the potential difference between the UUP and the DUP. For doing precisely what Mr Nesbitt should have been doing, Mr McCallister was fired by Mr Nesbitt…

Secondly, it is totalitarian. The UUP has tried to make a virtue of being a broad church, of not enforcing rigid discipline the way the DUP has, of (in academic terms) being more representative of Unionism’s genuine dissenting tradition. Now someone gets fired from his post for stating publicly what other people are openly saying about the party and suggesting something should be done about it. Even tactically, the UUP is no longer meaningfully to be differentiated from the DUP, other than on competence (where it clearly comes out worse).

Mr McCallister then stood down from the Health Committee – a disaster for those of us lobbying on key issues who had hugely valued his work; and an even greater disaster for those who valued the independence of the Ulster Unionist Party. Its leadership has been handed over to a Mr P Robinson. It will soon be no more.


13 thoughts on “Nesbitt treatment of McCallister sounds death knell for UUP

  1. Given the disciplinary action I was still surprised that the entire McCallister speech was made readily avaliable on the Ulster Unionist website … Pro-discipline and Anti-censorship does send a confusing mixed message. It does show that the UUP leadership were probably more offended not at what he said, but how and when he said it. My own thinking is that McCallister was “breaking the whip” and giving the profile of a leadership that doesn’t come from the central party but he was doing it for nobleness of reasons.

    The real death knell will be sending a unity candidate … even a UUP member with DUP backing … into Mid Ulster, though it’s unlikely as the last unionist to hold the seat was Rev. McCrea. I think Mike Nesbitt will avoid that massive own goal. Northwest Unionists like McClarty, like the head of the UUP in Foyle, have shown they’re being fed up with party elitism over constituency issues and my own feelings is that the little house of UUP Mid-Ulster constituency branch would like the chance to campaign for their own candidate, just like the SDLP and Alliance … even if it is a losing hand, people need a voice and even a losing candidate has the profile to make one.

    Big House Unionism doesn’t just marginalize Catholics/Nationalism and other non-Unionists, it marginalizes everyone who is not part of the “in” crowd including many Unionists with a big U. There are some Orangemen who think that this actually betrays Orange values, that William of Orange got rid of absolute monarchy to reconnect with the people of the land.

    That’s not to vilianise a central party structure. Recently the SDLP stopped a promotion by its youth group about serving alcohol, which shows the proper use of central power discipline. The Youth group has admitted it was in the wrong this time, and will learn. And the DUP and Sinn Féin have a much worse reputation for centralized power.

    Whether this hurts the UUP or not is neither here or there, in politics you don’t die from a single blow, you only have to look South to Fianna Fáil and the major problems it has had, and this wasn’t because of the party’s voice but its own actions. Voices can be lost in the mirage of banter, nonsense and agitprop which passes for politics around these parts, Actions though do make an impact, even now when politicians are forced to do things they don’t want to do out of necessary austerity.

    The UUP might be hurt by this but it will fight on, as it’s only pain. Partisan politics does need to follow grassroots politics but at the same time maintain the balance of the purpose of the party, and the party’s ability to provide practical issues and balanced attention to the collection of its views. Though I’ll never be a UUP voter, I did find their manifesto quite sensible.

    My own thoughts is that Mike Nesbitt is a reasonable man (with an ego of course but still a reasonable man), as a journalist he was a man willing to hear the other sides of the story and be frank and direct with both, my question is he a reasonable enough leader to be able to listen to the McCallister’s in his party and find a UUP vision that does offer a genuine alternative to the DUP. A more selfless party that suffers for its voters and not for itself. If it can do that, it will inspire better politics and more resourceful politics.

  2. Sorry, Not serving alcohol but promoting a pub tour, where cheap drinks were available.

  3. The Listener says:

    Ian, How absolutely spot on you are. I am afraid that Mike Nesbitt joined the wrong party. Perhaps he thought that the Unionist Party was the party of 50 years ago? As with everything in life, what was becomes slowly different, with different people and different perceptions. John McCallister was, and is the voice of reasonable rural Unionism.

    Nesbitt despite being a rounded journalist, and well educated he seems to have become dicatorial, pehaps not facing up to the fact that how he perceived the UUP, is not the UUP. In this day and age, nothing he can do can change the Unionist Party into his perception of it, and, and as you have implied Ian, he is going to hasten its dissolution.

    Learning in depth recently about the Ulster Covenant, and the once great Unionist Party, clearly indicates that in 2012 its mantle, and history now falls to the DUP.

    • This is a really important final point.

      What was clear from the Covenant (which I’ll come to later in the week) was that Peter Robinson is the undisputed Leader of Unionism now as Carson was then. Undisputed – even by Mr Nesbitt.

  4. Surely the technical leader of Unionism is David Cameron, Ian, in the manner Bonor Law claimed at Carson’s time. While the individual leaders of Unionism in both Scotland and Wales are Labour representatives perhaps in connection of the Celtic fringe origins of the Labour movement in the likes of Robert Graham, Keir Hardie and Robert Owen.

    Any mention of Cameron filling the boots of Bonor Law on this Covenant blog?


    Statement from John McCallister MLA

    “I am disappointed at the decision of Mike Nesbitt to remove me as Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Assembly Group but I accept that he has the right.

  6. Hi IJP,

    You may be pleased to know, I largely agree with you on this matter, I was pretty amazed when I saw that news yesterday ( . Mike Nesbitt’s leadership of the UUP as an independent party must be tenuous at best.

    If you don’t mind me doing a shameless plug, I have started a new blog where all are welcome to comment.

    • Don’t mind at all – in fact, it’s the best named blog I’ve come across!

      • Thanks! It was a moment of drunken, philosophical clarity from someone I can only call ‘a character’, which I have used in a meeting with an MD of a former employer; she decided to bandy it about quite a bit thereafter.

        Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on where the UUP go from here in future posts.

        Alliance should definitely benefit from this self-inflicted nonsense, the DUP too.

      • At the end of the day, that’s gone and made complete sense to me…

        Yes, despite yesterday’s shennanigans on their own part (which I will come to – I have to be fair!), Alliance will gain further.

  7. Harry Merrick. says:

    Such self-opinionated nonsense, mostly based upon wishfull thinking, I have seldom if ever come across! Parsley, you excell yourself! The UUP is now accepting the very necessary disciplines that any party with any hope of survival has to endure.. There is no doubt that the position of Deputy Leader was going to disappear within the UUP anyway. McCallister now has a much more important job, plus one other in addition. It seems that your thinking on the Mid-Ulster election has already been overtaken, since the DUP have decided to put up their own Candidate. That leaves the UUP with no alternative than to field one of their own, which is at it should be. Nesbitt inherited a very badly damaged party, he has only been Leader for six months, it will take at least a year or maybe two to undo the damage. He is well on his way to acheiving a new, universally acceptable UUP. All this Alliance and SDLP inspired rhetoric is exactly that, rhetoric based upon wishfull thinking.

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