Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

New dawn fails to break as spark of light is eclipsed by rancour

Basil McCrea and John McCallister with Tina McKenzie
Basil McCrea and John McCallister with Tina McKenzie

When I attended the launch of NI21 the first person I met was Adam Murray, an NI21 candidate in the elections who works for Carafriend, the gay helpline.

The second was John Hamilton, who I last knew as a Troubles-era RUC detective, but who became a reforming Chief Constable in Fife.

That showed the range of people attracted to the party's promise of fresh politics.

"One thing is clear, people are very disillusioned by politics but they are interested and they are looking for something new," the leader Basil McCrea said in his speech, pitching his appeal to those who "reject the sectarian labels of the past".

The problem with allowing NI21 to crash-burn in a welter of scandal and lawsuits is that its failure will fuel disenchantment with the political process. Those who "aspire to better", as NI21's slogan went, will be left cynical and disillusioned.

If that happens McCrea, John McCallister and Tina McKenzie, the party's three most prominent founders, will have left politics poorer than they found it.

It is impossible that, after this period of meltdown and recrimination, all three will ever again be able to work together as a team.

Their collective relationship is now poisoned, and an internal inquiry may lead to Mr McCrea's suspension.

There is damage, and there will be more. If at least one can carry things forward the test will be to establish proper structures.

The party organisation was clearly a shambles. David Rose, its former general secretary, resigned in February because he believed it was run more like a cult around Mr McCrea rather than as a proper democratic movement.

Catchy slogans are good when you are starting a political movement. After a while they do start to sound hollow, cult-like and open to abuse.

NI21's big failure was that it didn't build a democratic organisation where leaders were accountable to members, rather than vice versa.

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