Mike Nesbitt 'has been made to look like a small boy'
John McCallister, one of the contenders for the UUP leadership, has said his rival Mike Nesbitt was “treated like a small boy” by the DUP and UUP.
He added that he would like to see a TV or radio debate between the two men on policy issues.
In the first sign that the gloves are coming off in the contest, Mr McCallister said: “There is a distinct choice between Mike and I.
“I would regard him as offering more of the same in slightly better packaging than before. I am offering real change.”
He accused Mr Nesbitt, who has been in Stormont for a year, of still being “policy-light”, cautious and inexperienced.
The two men differ over the question of a Stormont opposition. Mr McCallister pledged that, if elected, he would immediately leave the Executive and form an opposition. Mr Nesbitt said he would like a referendum first.
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness both promptly ruled out Mr Nesbitt’s proposal as it emerged he would need the support of other parties to progress it.
“It highlighted Mike’s lack of experience,” Mr McCallister said.
“It shows what happens when you float ideas off the cuff.
“Robinson put him down like a small boy. Mike was told he was not allowed, and that was the end of it. Unfortunately, it made him look weak,” Mr McCallister said.
“If I am elected I can deliver opposition, but Mike can’t deliver a referendum.”
Mr Nesbitt feared that opposition parties might not get as much access to information as Governing parties and said that his party would have more power in Government than out of it.
“This was a perfect example of how little power we have in Government,” Mr McCallister said.
“We are tied into what bigger parties want.
“Politics is about getting to a position where you can make a difference to the whole direction of Government. Instead, even in the one department we have, Sinn Fein and the DUP can tell us ‘if you don’t like what we have decided, that is too bad’.”
He claimed the DUP and Sinn Fein were engaged in a “sectarian carve-up” while the UUP “was reduced to waiting for a few crumbs to be tossed from the table”.
Mr McCallister said he would welcome an open debate on these issues and would like the party to allow one.
“We have been instructed by the leadership not to go head to head on the media but I would like the party to change that. Both Mike and I could handle a debate constructively. I can understand why people are a bit nervous, but we need to go out there and win the argument,” he said.