Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Why Ken Maginnis will prove the biggest headache for UUPs Mike Nesbitt

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass isn’t the first veteran Ulster Unionist to put it up to his party’s new leader — but he could present Mike Nesbitt with a bigger headache than rebel MLA David McNarry ever did.

By the time the issue of disciplining Mr McNarry had passed to Mr Nesbitt, the Strangford MLA was an isolated figure in the UUP Assembly group.

But Lord Maginnis is in a very different position. He is a popular and respected old warhorse, even among those close to Nesbitt, whose authority is being challenged yet again.

Despite how Lord Maginnis’ comments over gay marriage may go down in liberal circles, there will be some ‘family values’ traditionalists in the party who will nod quietly in agreement.

Others may not approve of his views, but champion his right to articulate them.

Another difficulty for the UUP leader may be in the fact that the former UDR man has strong links to Fermanagh.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone is a formidable internal party power base with perhaps a quarter of all members.

Alienating members there is not something a new leader will want to do. As a peer Lord Maginnis has no reason to concern himself with how voters will view his opinions.

He argued that as a cross-bench peer the party whip could not be withdrawn from him, and Mr Nesbitt’s move was a “meaningless gesture”. But Parliament’s own website lists him as a UUP peer.

While Nesbitt’s decision to grasp the nettle firmly puts him ahead of his predecessors, resolving the issue is likely to see the UUP involve itself in yet more public self-flagellation.

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