Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Only a party of substance will gather support

It was inevitable that Basil McCrea and John McCallister would launch a new party to try to break from the stultified image of the UUP, and it was only a question as to when this would happen.

The name of the new party is the trendy NI21 and the choice of the Mac for the launch indicated the extent to which the new leaders are keen to break with the past.

The widely ranging audience included a significant number of young people and women, and it was certainly not the traditional mix for the rank and file of the more stereotyped UUP.

The NI21 underlined its clear commitment "to building a future together for all in Northern Ireland" and moving beyond "sterile sectarianism" to promote an inclusive society.

So far, so good, but McCrea and McCallister must find the right balance between creating a vibrant image and of actually having something meaningful to say.

In some ways the new leaders were right not to get bogged down in the tortuous details of unionist politics, but it will not take long for the public to ask exactly what the new party stands for.

Unfortunately the initial foray by Basil McCrea on the BBC's Nolan Show was not particularly impressive.

He is a seasoned communicator but curiously he gave the impression that he favours polygamy, a subject which will not inspire the women in his new party.

This may have been a prolonged slip of the tongue but when some images have been created, they tend to lodge in the minds of the listeners. The old maxim still applies that when you are in a hole stop digging, but Basil McCrea may still have some explaining to do.

The new party will soon find that style is no substitute for substance and the leaders need to be on the front foot to deal with tough questioning from the media and the public.

The launch was by no means disastrous, but lessons need to be learned, and both McCrea and McAllister should quickly learn to avoid the bear traps.

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