Victims Commissioner Mike Nesbitt will not face a Conservative challenger to become a joint Ulster Unionist/Tory candidate in the General Election, the UUP has confirmed.
The former television news anchorman is expected to be automatically endorsed by a joint UUP/Conservative selection committee tomorrow and ratified by the UUP executive on Saturday.
Mr Nesbitt (52) aims to win back the Strangford seat for the UUP, which held it for 17 years until former party deputy leader Lord Kilclooney stood down.
The previous UUP candidate David McNarry, who lost the seat to the DUP’s Iris Robinson, said he was convinced Nesbitt would carry the day.
“This will be a cockpit contest. It will take a tremendous swing, but I am convinced Mike Nesbitt is up to the challenge,” he added.
The Strangford MLA admitted there would be some rumblings within the party over a “Johnny come lately” being selected over veteran party members.
“You are always going to get people who will be narked, but I think Mike Nesbitt will get a very warm welcome,” Mr McNarry said.
“From the point of view of the party I have been saying for two years that we are turning things round and producing winnable candidates. When you have someone like Mike Nesbitt prepared to embrace the party and stand for the UUP, it also shows how all-embracing we can be.”
Mr McNarry said the prospective new candidate was not facing a Conservative challenger. “There are a number of constituencies where Conservatives have not come forward,” he added.
As his resignation from the four-strong Commission was confirmed, Mr Nesbitt was already facing controversy from across the political spectrum yesterday.
Sinn Féin victims spokesperson Francie Molloy said Mr |Nesbitt should have resigned long before being selected to stand for the UUP.
“It was a clear conflict of interest and whether he was selected or not, given the political nature of the position that Mr Nesbitt’s was seeking, he should have respected the integrity of the office of the Victims Commission and stood down long before now,” the MLA added.
“Sinn Féin has stated before that Mike Nesbitt could not ride two horses. His position, as one of the four Victims Commissioners, needed to be totally separate from any party political affiliation.”
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister called on Mr Nesbitt to “come clean” over his attitude towards the £12,000 ‘recognition’ payment recommended in the Eames/Bradley report.
“In its formal response, the Commission welcomed the suggestion of an ‘acknowledgement payment'. If Mike Nesbitt, as one of those Commissioners, was a party to that encouragement to this dire insult to innocent victims then it demonstrates a flawed judgment unsuitable to any MP for Strangford,” he said.
Strangford Alliance Party Westminster candidate Deborah Girvan questioned whether the local UUP association will unite behind Mr Nesbitt “given the turmoil in the party over the UCUNF link-up and the DUP pact talks”.
Mr Nesbitt said he believed it was not a bad time to stand down from the Commission which has just completed its three-year Corporate Plan and work programme for the next year.
“I had one motivation as a |Victim’s Commissioner (and that) stays with me in seeking to become an MP and that is to make a positive difference,” he said.
“I have interviewed so many politicians over so many years. At a certain point you have to give it a go yourself.”