Basil McCrea made a lot of enemies in his early Assembly career, mostly by being reasonable, collegiate and friendly; this is rarely the way anyone seeking to be elected UUP leader would like to be introduced to the casual onlooker, but so it was that he fought and lost the fight for the heart of moderate unionism last month; between Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea, moderate unionism decided to go with the less ‘liberal’ of the two, even if that meant electing a man apparently incapable of welcoming Northern Ireland achievements if they were from ‘the other side of the fence’.
So the people had to choose between the genuinely folksy Elliott and the somewhat more politically sophisticated McCrea; they had to choose between someone who was prepared to extend a hand of friendship to the sporting heroes of thousands by hypothetically accepting an opportunity to see Co. Down’s Gaelic Football team in the latter stages of the GAA All-Ireland Championship, and someone who saw it as a badge of honour that he would do no such thing.
Really? Is this all there is? Even sodding Gerry Adams did better than this, way back in the last millennium, when he attended Ulster’s rugby victory in the 1999 European Cup against Colomiers. One churlish reporter asked him ‘who will you be supporting’ to be sternly rebuffed by the bearded brother of beelzebub.
Clearly, this is mere trivia in the grand scheme of things; whether Tom Elliott would pass out from hearing the Presidential Salute at Pairc an Chrocaigh or whether he wouldn’t is essentially irrelevant, but what that decision says about the way in which he seems likely to deal with the section of the community with ‘nationalisty’ or ‘catholicy’ interests is stark for unionism. Either we’re about creating a Northern Ireland people of all interests don’t desperately want to leave, or we’re about making the UUP the bitterest little political party in the world.
Playing to the core is all very good and clever politics, if you have a core to play to which shares your stance; the UUP isn’t the party of the ascendancy anymore, and, mostly, isn’t the party of sectarianism and bigotry, under-the breath paddywhackery aside. The ‘you’d never see me at a GAA match’ bullshit is best left to the DUP or TUV, from where we accept it as part of their schtick, while as a repoliticisation of sport it’s piss-weak and unintelligent in the extreme.
The death throes of the UUP have begun.