John McCallister’s removal as deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is unfair and totally unwarranted, argues STEPHEN GOSS
WHY would you want to lead the UUP? Is it worth the hassle? Tom Elliott decided it wasn’t. If Mike Nesbitt hasn’t asked himself this question, he might do so soon.
Leading the Ulster Unionist Party is not easy; discipline in particular is a long-term problem. Mike is to be commended for taking on the challenge and attempting to do something about it, but his application of discipline to date is perhaps somewhat dubious.
David McNarry was expelled from the UUP for discussing the establishment of links with the DUP; John McCallister has been sacked for ruling it out. Lord Maginnis was punished for giving his – shall we say forthright – views on an issue the party had no policy on and considers a matter of conscience.
The problem Mike faces in enforcing discipline is that he has no direction for the UUP. During his leadership bid he said that too much emphasis was placed on relationships with other parties – the DUP, PUP, Conservatives – and that he wanted to see a strong Ulster Unionist Party standing by itself. Unfortunately he is not that definitive now. If proper discipline is to be maintained in the party, then there needs to be clear policy and direction so that discipline does not fall to being imposed at the leader’s whim.
John, in his speech on Saturday night, offered a direction for the UUP. He called for reform of Stormont to facilitate an opposition so the people of Northern Ireland have real choice at election time. He advocated a confident, pluralist and inclusive Ulster Unionism which could appeal to the next generation of voters who have no recollection or association with the past. At the UUP conference, Mike said: “I see us as a pluralist party. I see us as a progressive party, and I see us as a political party, and one everyone can look to for a positive alternative to what is on offer today.”
John simply and rightly argued that unionist unity would be a precursor to nationalist unity and therefore the entrenchment of the sectarian divide and our contrived system of government. It is not the way to achieve the pluralism which Mike says he wants.
This is why John’s removal as deputy leader is unfair and totally unwarranted. He has been sacked for making a speech largely expanding upon the leader’s stated aims and objectives. Unionist unity is an option for the UUP, the wrong one, but nonetheless an option. Mike must decide on what direction he wants to take the Ulster Unionists, so that this sort of confusion does not continue. Alternatively, perhaps John needs to find a more receptive political vehicle for the articulation of his values.
Stephen Goss was until this summer vice-chairman of the Young Unionists. He is now a member of the Conservative Party