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Fast-tracked Emma Pengelly is best candidate on paper, but will voters choose her?

Published 04/11/2015

Rising star: Emma Pengelly is now a junior minister
Rising star: Emma Pengelly is now a junior minister

Vrooom. There she goes…Emma Pengelly. Scorching faster up the track than Lewis Hamilton at Circuit of the Americas in Texas. A mere few weeks ago who, outside of her immediate Stormont circle, had even heard of Ms Pengelly?

She was just another lowly - if not lowly paid - Spad. A special adviser. On spectacular wages (as they all are.)

Then suddenly, swiftly, Emma was everywhere. An MLA co-opted into the seat in South Belfast vacated by the retiring Jimmy Spratt. Then a starring role on the Finance committee for its Nama investigation.

And now, with hardly time to change gear, she's a Junior Minister. (At the time of writing anyway. Given the rate Emma's going at, by the time you read this she could well be First Minister.)

For those of us who'd like to see more women promoted faster and further in local politics, it should be heartening stuff.

Should be …

Except that it's all just a wee bit baffling as to how and why Ms Pengelly in particular has ascended the DUP career ladder faster than a flag hoisted at a new building development.

Okay, if you were a party boss it would be fair to say she has many obvious attributes that would mark her out as someone with considerable potential who should be fast-tracked through the ranks.

She's extremely intelligent, articulate, on top of her brief, competent, youthful and self-assured.

And it doesn't hurt that she's also very attractive.

Whatever we might think or say, this does matter in public life today.

Yet despite all this, there are rumblings from within the DUP - and among DUP voters - that unelected Emma is being fast-tracked just that bit too turbo for some people's liking.

Political commentators have dubbed her rapid ascent "meteoric" and "stratospheric." DUP councillor Ruth Patterson just calls it: "Wrong, wrong, wrong." Some would say veteran flag protester Ms Patterson has an obvious axe to grind (although she denies this is the case) since having been a DUP Assembly candidate in the last election (she polled almost 4,000 votes) she might have expected to have been co-opted herself to the vacant seat.

Some might even say there's just no contest between the two women - Emma Pengelly is by far the best candidate on paper. She's way cleverer, more likely to be diplomatic and discerning with her public utterances. An all-round savvier candidate.

Ruth Patterson may pride herself in shooting from the lip (and, in the past, Facebook) but that hasn't done her - and more importantly her party - any favours.

Some might even use the word "liability".

But all that said, here's the big question. Will those who have voted for Ruth in the past now happily, automatically transfer their votes to the younger, glossier, more impressive Ms Pengelly?

Politics doesn't always work that way. If it did Yvette Cooper would probably now be Labour Party leader. Not oddball Mr Corbyn.

People, voters, don't like to feel their views aren't being taken into account or that they're being disregarded and dictated to by the same party bosses who depend upon their allegiance.

Party sources maintain it was necessary to promote Ms Pengelly quickly to position her for a South Belfast seat. Yet her profile, after only a couple of weeks, was already high.

So who could blame other equally ambitious, equally hard-working players within the party if they now feel a bit peeved that Emma has seemingly been singled out for junior ministerial glory?

And who could blame them for wondering what's driving this sudden push to put Pengelly in pole position?

Stereotyped by a bit of facial fuzz

Beardy boys are, according to research, more likely to cheat, steal and get into fights than those who are clean shaven. Really?

There goes half the male population, stereotyped by a bit of facial fuzz. According to surveys in India and America, men who didn't have facial hair were less likely to agree with what's described as "hostile sexist statements" than their beardy brothers.

These "statements" ranged from outright aggression to old-fashioned stuff about a woman's place. The latter might explain why beardy Santa always left us girls boring Barbie while the boys got all the interesting toys.

A prescription for wasting money?

It's hard to argue with charities supporting people with long-term illnesses who argue that a return to prescription charges could cause enormous hardship to these patients.

But what about the rest of us? Would it really be a hardship to pay a nominal fee for what is not a regular prescription?

And isn't it time we acknowledged the awful abuse of the system by some?

A friend of mine who currently works in the Health Service describes patients demanding free prescriptions for the likes of cotton wool balls.

Madness. Shameful, wasteful madness.

Belfast Telegraph

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