There’s an article headed ‘Alex Kane interviews Mike Nesbitt: Confident UUP leader offers olive branch to nationalism’ in yesterday’s News Letter. Well now, you say. An olive branch from Mike? I thought he’d gone all right-wing and big on unionist solidarity, not pacts with the SDLP? Well if you read the article you can judge for yourself. My own view is that the interview was an exercise in doing the splits, which at Mike’s age could prove both painful and unwise.
For example? Well, at a time when links between the Ku Klux Klan and organisations here are deepening – they do have a fair amount in common, Virginia – Mike points out in one breath that there are 4,000 or maybe 8,000 Muslims in this state. “ Is it too much to say that that number of people should have one appropriate place of worship? I don’t think so’. Immediately afterwards he tells us that he got hate mail claiming “there is going to be a bell and the call to prayer at 5 a m. But if you go and talk to the Islamic people from Belfast they tell you that that will not happen”. A good strong liberal stand, then – but with a bit of reassurance to the haters that the Muslims won’t be too obvious in practising their religion. Left-wing, right-wing.
When Alex asks him what’s the difference between the UUP and the DUP, he replies: “There’s a fundamental, radical, blinkered, it’s-our-way-or-the-highway approach about them [The DUP] which I can’t live with”. Clearly then, more liberal, to the left. Except that last summer when I did a panel discussion with the young Ulster Unionists, Mike was there and he joined with them in a narrative of our Troubles that put the blame squarely and totally on the IRA, full stop. No give. No reaching out. Most definitely “our-way-or-the-highway”. Maybe my mere presence brings out the backwoodsman in unionism.
What about the Parades Commission, Mike? “The Parades Commission is reacting primarily to the threat of violence from those who are against certain parades.” No question of examining the nature of those parades/marches, what they contribute to healing community wounds with their 2000 + marches each year, if the cost of policing those marches should come from the public purse, how those marches deal with the past. The very distant past, the triumph-of-Orangeism-over-its-enemies past, the listen to the drum-thump-thump-thump-THUMP past.
So is Mike a thinker – a man with a vision of the future? Indeed he is. “What I’m also encouraging unionists to think about is what they are going to do when the day comes – and it might be sooner rather than later – when you look at the benches downstairs and there isn’t a single member of Sinn Fein who was in the IRA or had any connection with the IRA. So in a few years it will just be the younger ones, who have no blood on their hands and are only there because they have a mandate.”
Wow. One small paragraph for an interview, one giant leap right-wards by leader Mike. You get the sub-text there. Quite a few of the present Sinn Féin people were in the IRA, have blood on their hands and really have a phoney mandate. When younger Shinners succeed them, then we’ll have sensible politics. The men of blood will have died off. Nice one, Mike. Right. Very right.
But having made that leap to the right, Mike promptly leaps back to the left: “I am very sympathetic to the fact that we have a statue of Carson and Craigavon here, but we don’t have any statues that would represent Irish nationalism here, never mind Irish republicanism. And I think that is something which is not fair and should be addressed. We cannot pretend that Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism does not have a past.” You know, Mike, a man could do a hamstring serious damage, with such sudden leps.
The good thing about Mike is that, in person, he comes across as a civilised, outward-looking human being. But when you look at his policy and political beliefs, they’re all over the place. That ‘understanding’ with the SDLP that’s flagged in the interview title – Mike raises it and then shoves it under the table again, emphasising the plans for unionist unity. One minute he’s liberal and left, next he’s unionist and right.
I sometimes get the feeling that Mike in his heart would like to ride the unionist horse towards fresh and more productive pastures, but the beast is accustomed to the corral marked “Not An Inch” and instinctively heads there. Mike knows if he isn’t very careful, the creature could throw him into the nearest cactus patch. Remember, Mike was the man who told us the Haass talks were 80% agreed, then within hours was saying how there was no way unionism was going to buy into this deal. See what I mean? Left, right, left, right. Now, follow that horse.