McCrea leadership chaotic: NI21’s former party secretary

Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister of NI21
Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister of NI21

After a day of unparalleled turmoil within NI21, the party’s former secretary last night spoke out to say that he left over the disorganisation and conduct of leader Basil McCrea.

Alan Patterson, who was appointed secretary by Mr McCrea last summer, said: “I left the party thinking the party was going to implode around Basil.”

But last night Mr McCrea hit back, claiming that in fact it had been Mr Patterson who staff found difficult.

Yesterday the new party tore itself apart in public after Tuesday night’s sudden decision to redesignate as ‘other’ rather than ‘unionist’ was condemned as “crazy” by deputy leader John McCallister.

Mr Patterson who was in post from last May, prior to its launch, until August, joined because he believed in the need for “a party that isn’t tribal” but was unimpressed by Alliance.

Mr Patterson, who was a principal clerk at the Assembly, first in overseeing bills going through the Assembly and then as principal clerk of six Stormont committees before retiring two years ago, told the News Letter: “I saw a party that had enthusiastic people but also a party that lacked a little bit of coherence, which never really got beyond the mantra of ‘we don’t want to be tribal’...I also saw a party that was very driven by a personality in Basil.

“I have to say that although he appointed me as party secretary in June of last year, I quite quickly became disillusioned really around Basil’s management and dealings with people and also around a lack of substance in the party .”

He added: “If you want to be successful, you need to be organised. I found in Basil a man who was disorganised, who brought young people ... into the party without any notice and would dump them on us and the rest of the staff without any awareness or instruction as to what we were actually supposed to do. You spent an awful lot of your time running around, sorting out problems.”

He went on to say: “In terms of why I left, I had a growing perception in terms of Basil’s conduct that his behaviour towards staff was not at a level that I would expect from ... the leader of a party. I broached that subject with him on a number of occasions. I was also concerned about his approach to politics, which was very much focused on social media, rather than substance. I really got the impression that he was a bit of an empty vessel; there wasn’t anything of substance in there.”

Mr Patterson said that Mr McCallister’s claim that Monday’s executive meeting was chaotic, without an agenda or any prior consultation did not shock him.

“The idea that he would have an executive without an agenda, without minutes being taken, with a limited amount of people being invited seems to be fairly what I would expect from Basil and what I would expect from the party.”

But last night Mr McCrea released sections of emails which he said he was sent by Mr Patterson last August, one of which said he was “happy” to take on a new role.

Mr McCrea said that an email from Mr Patterson last September actually showed that some staff had problems with Mr Patterson’s management style. “While I can understand why the malicious and wholly incorrect information provided might have caused you concerns I am not prepared to work under a cloud of mischief making,” Mr Patterson had said.

“I have decided to withdraw from further active participation in NI21 but will be voting for the party at elections.”