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Mike must do Right thing: move would rescue party

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Swing her to the Right, Mikey boy, and go green Anna!

What a hard-hitting couple of weeks it's been for Ulster Unionist boss Mike Nesbitt and Alliance Euro runner Anna Lo.

The European and Super Council polls in May have pundits predicting the further demise of both the UUP and Alliance – but I know how to 'save' both parties, and I'm not talking about a Gospel sermon!

Big Mike got his usual round of back patting at the UUP's AGM social shindig at the weekend, while Wee Anna has emerged from the political shadows after her united Ireland spin.

The UUP now stands at the door of the 'Last Chance Saloon' in the North. It can only move in one sensible direction, and that it is to re-position itself as a Centre Right party.

Big Mike has to do a 'Big Paisley' on the DUP. More than a decade ago, Ian senior politically nicked the UUP's clothes from under then boss Davy Trimble's nose.

Previously safe UUP seats fell like dominos to the Paisley camp and within five years, the DUP was snuggled up to the Shinners in Stormont.

The DUP has out-gunned the election-battered UUP by becoming a Fur Coat Brigade party capable of attracting significant middle class Prod voters.

The DUP had rebranded itself as a moderate, liberal Unionist party, leaving the UUP to slowly slide into the dustbin of history.

So it makes common sense: if Big Paisley politically nabbed the UUP's policies, votes and seats, then Big Mike's UUP can steal them back again by appealing to traditional old school Unionist DUP voters.

UUP leaders since Trimble are more akin to the conductor of the Titanic's orchestra – keeping the band in tune while the ship goes down; playful music they may make, but the boat still sank!

Nesbitt has an ace card. Shift to the Right and become the New DUP, but avoid the trap of going to the looney Right where you will find UKIP, TUV and the even more hardline Protestant Coalition.

The loyalist working class largely feel the DUP has abandoned them to get into bed with Sinn Féin at Stormont, so any New Right UUP must also outgun Billy Hutchinson's PUP.

If Nesbitt becomes an avowed Right-winger, the UUP will hold its MEP, and take a good slice of the new super councillors.

But if it tries to go head to head with the liberal DUP, Alliance and Bazza and Wee Jonnie's NI21, by the 2015 General Election the UUP will be nothing more than a social club for pensioner Unionists who recall the 'Gud Auld Dayes' under wee Jimmy Molyneaux.

Let's also give Wee Anna the benefit of the doubt. Alliance used to be a soft 'u' unionist party with most of its transfers coming from the Protestant community.

But with unionist voter apathy and splits, Alliance must look to the nationalist community for those votes. Wee Anna has wisely rebranded Alliance as a soft 'r' republican party.

Wee Anna must surely recognise how the Belfast City Hall Union flag debacle has clobbered Alliance's support in many Unionist heartlands.

Let's get real. The Shinners hate the Stoops and vice versa. But if Wee Anna is beating the Green drum, Sinn Féin and SDLP voters might be tempted to give many of their second preferences to Lo to possibly secure a second Northern nationalist seat.

With Fianna Fáil again talking up its hopes of contesting elections in the North to combat Sinn Féin's all-island agenda, maybe a merger between Fianna Fáil and Alliance could be a viable runner.

Late May will be a tell-tale time for the UUP and Alliance. Wee Anna and Big Mike will either be their parties' darlings, or the first lines in their political obituaries will be penned.

April 1, 2014

This article appeared in the March 31, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.



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