Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Laird crisis a fresh blow for Nesbitt

It is difficult not to like Lord Laird. He is engaging, witty and flamboyant in expression and dress – often seen in a kilt in a nod to his Ulster-Scots heritage.

He will need to draw on all these attributes to help him through his present political crisis, having been accused of agreeing to carry out parliamentary work for payment.

The Ulster Unionist peer was the subject of two sting operations by journalists and has relinquished the party whip until the matter is resolved.

He claims to have done nothing wrong and a friend who formerly worked on the Sunday Times Insight team, which carried out one of the stings, says Lord Laird knew he was being set up and simply played along.

Also in his favour is the fact that he reported himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commission and asked that body to adjudicate on his actions. Yet, as his party leader, Mike Nesbitt, said after viewing a video of one of the stings, it was not an edifying episode.

Lord Laird may have a working defence, but he also knows that such allegations have a habit of casting a long shadow and causing political, maybe even personal, damage whether they are proven or not. Since the expenses scandal, many voters have a jaundiced view of politicians and are very ready to believe the worse.

The peer will certainly need all his public relations skills in dealing with these allegations. But one thing is for certain, he will defend his reputation robustly.

Nevertheless this is another crisis that the Ulster Unionist Party could have done without.

Mike Nesbitt must wonder what he has done in life to deserve the succession of blows he has received since taking up the reins.

With Lord Laird temporarily relinquishing the whip, the party has only one peer in the House of Lords and no MPs. Its voice is getting weaker and weaker.

Mr Nesbitt will be desperately hoping that Lord Laird survives these allegations, for he just cannot afford to lose any more high-profile members.

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