Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

NI21 guilty of poor judgment calls

Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister at the launch of NI21 in June 2013
Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister at the launch of NI21 in June 2013

When NI21 was formed less than a year ago it brought the promise of some fresh thinking into the sterile political arena in Northern Ireland.

Its founding members, former UUP MLAs John McCallister and Basil McCrea, were seen as men with a different vision of how the province should progress politically.

But now it seems that the two men simply cannot get along and the party may well fade away as quickly as it emerged.

The party's European Parliament candidate and former chairman Tina McKenzie has resigned from its executive with a blunt jibe at the two founders to grow up.

She paints a picture of a party in crisis with a dysfunctional leadership and it is difficult to see how it can regain any credibility with the electorate at large given the events of this week.

Politics is a cut-throat profession. Personal differences and strong criticism are all part of the game and those who engage in the cut and thrust of political life have to develop thick skins very quickly.

They also have to learn the skills of the game and those certainly do not include members of a party falling out in spectacular style on the eve of an election as happened with NI21.

While the party had every right to debate if it wanted to retain its unionist designation in the Assembly, it was sheer folly to do so in the middle of an election campaign.

Given the background of some of its members, this was an issue which was bound to cause some division.

A party has to present an united face to the electorate no matter what disputes are simmering in the background. NI21 made a fatal – and somewhat amateurish – mistake by airing its problems in public.

NI21's greatest appeal was its freshness. Its policies have been more difficult to discern and it has not done enough to differentiate itself from other parties.

The question now is whether anyone cares enough if it implodes or not.

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