Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Is the UUP really set to become the Stumbling and Mumbling Party?

“When I think - I’m a genius, when I write - I’m a distinguished man of letters, when I speak - I’m a fool”, a quote - heavily paraphrased - which is attributed to the Russian émigré writer, Vladimir Nabakov.

I’m sure most of us understand the sentiment.   I certainly do (setting aside the ‘distinguished man of letters’ part).

It’s easy to think of stonking, relevant, insurmountable truisms in private.  It’s a little harder to put them down on paper accurately and concisely.  But it is hardest by far to compose an argument on the hoof and articulate it clearly, under pressure and under the glare of publicity.

That’s why the ability to do so is a rare and sought after talent.  It’s also why, contrary to popular belief, not everyone has it in them to become a front line politician.

The people doing well in politics, the party leaders for instance, are professionals operating at the top of their game.  Like them or loathe them, their communication skills set them apart.  In the modern political world that’s an absolute necessity.

So when I note that Tom Elliott doesn’t have the necessary skills, it shouldn’t be taken as a personal criticism.  It is simply an inescapable fact, which Ulster Unionists will have to face up to - either now or at a later date.

I’ve just listened to Alban Maginness, Stephen Nolan and several Radio Ulster listeners lead Tom a merry dance on the proposed sale of the Northern Ireland Electricity grid to the Republic’s main energy provider, ESB.

Setting aside the issues involved, and Elliott’s struggle with a ropy phone connection, it was blatantly obvious that he was not on top of his brief, whereas Maginness was.  Nor was he able to think on his feet and improvise a decent argument.

Of course, Elliott’s followers argue that while he is not the most sparkling media performer, his personal attributes and feel for grassroots unionism surmount that difficulty.  They need to get real.    

No doubt Tom’s an amiable and gifted man, and an asset to the UUP.  But the party is picking a figurehead tomorrow night, whose main task will be to communicate a message to voters.  The repercussions are serious.  

Tom declined a TV debate with Basil McCrea on Hearts and Minds last week.  It’s clear why.  In a debate he can be made to appear foolish by even a reasonably nimble opponent.

He sounds like a stuck record, he can’t absorb and respond to unexpected or new information and he coins otherwordly, meaningless phrases like ’integration mechanism’ (an adherence to which apparently distinguishes the UUP from the DUP).

Whether or not Tom has a better strategy for the UUP’s recovery or not could actually become an irrelevance.  If the Ulster Unionist party is perceived as the ’Stumbling and Mumbling’ party, it will lose votes hand over fist, should it promise the moon and the stars to the people of Northern Ireland.

This is not a treasurer for the Fermanagh Young Farmers that the delegates are selecting. There is a serious danger that, from Thursday morning, the UUP’s message, which is already incoherent, will become even more indecipherable to the public at large.

To be perfectly clear, I'm not an out and out proponent of Basil McCrea.  I don't like Stormont particularly and I don't like his emphasis on devolved politics to the exclusion of the national.  If I were a UUP member, voting tomorrow night, I'd like another option.  But, in a two horse race, it's no contest!

The party is famously stubborn and recalcitrant, but is it really set to name as leader someone who is so blatantly lacks the necessary skills?


DR said...

"This is not a treasurer for the Fermanagh Young Farmers"
Dont let the Cultchie get the job is what your saying, you hinted at it before but seem to be making it blatant now.

Chekov said...
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DR said...

Chekov, have listened to the show again, and you post is "Utter bollocks." Tom stated his case and answered every question, there was far more mumbling from "yes umm ah I" Maginniss. In the face of a hostile host who gave Maginniss an easy run and allowed totally of topic questions to sidetrack things, Tom managed the interview very well.
At the end of the day if we want a pretty face who talks well to lead the party we would get Christine Bleakly, but what we need is someone who beleives in the party, can manage the party, can unite the party, and will fight for the partys policy.

Chekov said...

No harm to you DR, but if you really believe that Elliott handled that well you must be deluding yourself.

DR said...

Chek, no-one sounds good on the Nolan show, it is cheap gutter politics, but I cant see much wrong with how he handled it.
Your post is more a sign of desperation that most members will see past the spin and back Tom rather than Basil.
Have you attend any of the party debates? The one I was at Basils speech was woeful, literally, "we face dark times ahead" in the style of jack-a-nory was his intro.
I think most people can see past a country accent, maybe you should too.

Chekov said...

DR - a country accent isn't the issue, although not being able to say Northern Ireland properly isn't exactly wonderful in terms of presentation.

I haven't attended the debates, but I have witnessed the two men's media performances and the gulf in class has been obvious. Anyone I've spoken to who has attended have agreed that Basil won the head to head stuff hands down.

I have no interest in spinning this one. If the UUP makes the decision I suspect it will then it will fully deserve the consequences. If it strikes deals on seats with the DUP in Belfast, and the talks are ongoing, it will fully deserve what it gets when unionists like me take their votes elsewhere.

Consistently I've been prepared to say that neither man is entirely to my liking but I've concluded that McCrea is the better of the two. That's a judgement call. I'm not campaigning.

You, on the other hand, have taken on every criticism of Elliott as if it's a terrible unfair slight. I'm an interested observer, but I'm not in the McCrea camp, while you've made your allegiance clear.

slug said...

They have complementary strengths so the one who is leader should appoint the other as deputy leader.

I see Basil has already offered to do this.

DR said...

Is Basil definately staying in the party if he loses? I strongly hope he does, but he did not state that in todays Newletter interview, I hope he has made that alot clearer elsewhere.

" What would you propose to do if you lost?

BASIL McCREA: Throughout the campaign, I have been encouraged by the positive reaction to many of my ideas. I believe firmly in the need for change. I will continue to make the case for a positive, pluralist and progressive stance. I will assist where best I can in revitalising the electorate and encouraging people to become actively involved in politics. The biggest challenge to democracy is apathy and I hope to do something to counter it.

TOM ELLIOTT: I have always been a loyal Ulster Unionist and it is my full intention to remain so; to ensure that the party is rejuvenated and to build a strong electoral base. However, I am not thinking about losing."

An tSaoi said...
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An tSaoi said...

Tom Elliott follows in the tradition of fellow Fermanagh farmer and political prececessor Harry West whose obituary, I recall, described him as 'bluff and genial' but not 'eloquent'. Having already been ousted for questionable land deals and restored to the Unionist party, he doggedly opposed his leader Brian Faulkner on Sunningdale, the clear precursor of today's constitutional arrangement. Perhaps in the words of Seamus Mallon, Tom is just a 'slow learner'.

Jon Boy said...

Once again Chekhov, your analysis is spot on.

Ther mysterious "DR" has clearly been spending too much time in the Tardis.

If Elliot's great strengths are that he can "believe in the party, manage the party, unite the party and fight for the party" sounds like he'd make a good Party Chairman or Deputy Leader.

But the leader is the representation and embodiment of the party's image.

On that basis, with Tom, and his inability to speak the Queen's English, I fear the UUP would struggle to even hold the farmer's vote.