Steve Aiken came forward to be leader of the Ulster Unionist Party when no-one else did

News Letter editorial of Monday May 10 2021:

Monday, 10th May 2021, 8:30 am
News Letter editorial

It has always been hard to find successful political leaders because politics is such a challenging business.

Politicians have to deal with a vast array of societal problems, they have to deal with their own political party, to navigate the media and they have to handle the ever changing nature of events.

Some people have the intelligence but not the personality. Some have the resilience but not the skill. Some people have the knowledge but not the instinct for politics. Some have the instinct but not the ability to express it. And so on.

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Politics has never been easy but has become harder in recent decades. Public opinion is more unstable than before. The digital age means that the scrutiny is greater than it has ever been. And many people from backgrounds that often went into politics such as the professions now shun it.

This is a problem for politics even in America, a society of 300 million people, so it is inevitably also one in Northern Ireland, which has two million people and multiple parties.

Steve Aiken has become the latest leadership casualty, standing down from the helm of the UUP only weeks after Arlene Foster was ousted from the DUP.

Mr Aiken is a man of public duty. His past careers include being a senior military officer. When no-one else stood to be UUP leader, he let his own name go forward.

If Mrs Foster’s leadership perhaps at times seemed too stern in style, Mr Aiken’s at times seemed too soft. But both deserve our deep gratitude in accepting the mantle of leadership — roles that colleagues saw as a poisoned chalice. The outgoing leaders bravely put themselves in the front line.

The DUP and UUP replacements will face an uphill task, including the matter of how — if at all — it will be possible to bring unity or co-operation to unionism when the Union faces many threats, such as the latest big SNP vote in Scotland.

We thank both Mrs Foster and Mr Aiken for the sacrifices they have made and wish both their parties well in their attempt to find replacements who help secure NI’s place in UK.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor