The line between Political Reality and Political Fantasy…does it even exist anymore?
For the best part of a year, two UUP MLAs, Basil McCrea and John McCallister …two liberals in a notoriously conservative Party…dithered about leaving the UUP.
Speculation that they might join the Conservative Party. Speculation that they might join Alliance as some minor UUP figures (Bradshaw, Parsley and Hamilton) had already done.
During that year 2012-2013, they got a lot of media attention…mostly favourable…and together created a lot of goodwill as being self-effacing and presenting themselves as a double act.
In June last year, I attended the official launch of their new Party…a sincere attempt to create a version of unionism that was non-sectarian and not toxic to Catholics or indeed any Protestant born after the 18th century.
Certainly the new Party…NI21 seemed a departure from the norm.
And then it started to go wrong.
NI21 is amateurish…and in June 2013, that seemed to be endearing, especially as it brought on board new people who had never been involved in Norn Iron politics…the disenfranchised middle class.
NI21 is of course a rival of the Alliance Party, the market leader in LetsGetAlongerism. And the arrival of NI21 meant that the Alliance, a thoroughly ruthless and professional machine had to deal with the threat to their market share.
The chaotic nature of NI21 and occasional inability to take things seriously and the outsize ego of Basil McCrea made it easy to ridicule the new Party.
In the past few weeks…during the Euro and local Election campaign, they have been making too many mistakes. The amateurism…once attractive…is no longer acceptable.
Yesterday…they excelled themselves in Stupidity.
McCrea called McCallister to a meeting of some (SIX!!) members of the Party Executive (including Euro candidate, Tina McKenzie) and the Executive decided by five votes to one ( McCallister) to change from being a “unionist” Party to being “open” on the issue of the Union with Britain.
From a nationalist perspective this might be good news …another brick in unionism is gone. But it is crazy stuff…less than 48 hours before polls open to fight their first ever election.
The vast majority of NI21 candidates are new to politics. They have knocked doors and distributed leaflets as a moderate unionist Party…their unique selling point.
Not only is it crazy to do this so close to an election, it is downright arrogant to limit the decision to just six people.
McCallister has been left high and dry.
Seemingly this is a whim of McCrea.
The feedback from canvassing was that some people wont vote for them because they are “unionist” but otherwise wish them well. To change core policy …core identity …on a whim is madness.