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Fionola Meredith: No need to kick a man when he's down - but Mike Nesbitt could help his case by explaining weird image

By Fionola Meredith

Well, that was a sight I never expected to see. Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt spreadeagled on a Belfast hotel floor, pinned down by two women. When people talk about a politician being brought low, they usually don't mean literally.

It's a bizarre picture, whichever way you look at it.

All that's visible is Nesbitt's venerable grey head and the back of his neck, which is exposed as one of the women holds his collar in both hands, while the other woman can be seen in the background, her hand on his back.

It's difficult to tell from a still image, but he doesn't appear to be struggling or resisting. These ladies seem to have him well and truly licked. And that's it, no further information is (so far) forthcoming. Of the mystery women - clearly proficient in advanced restraint techniques, if this picture is anything to go by - we know nothing.

And whatever Nesbitt knows, he isn't saying. His one gnomic comment was "things happened" after he went to the hotel for a drink with friends and a political argument with other guests ensued.

"When you have a profile and you go out in public, you can't expect people to fully respect your privacy," Nesbitt said.

True. A politician out and about among the people is never really off duty. But then again, we don't expect to encounter our senior representatives being physically apprehended by members of the public. I think that in this particular situation it's a bit much to expect us all to look the other way.

It's one of those stories that only gets weirder the more you think about it. An unnamed source told The Sun newspaper - where the report first appeared - that the encounter "started out good-natured and the discussion got heated and he ended up on the floor and one of them sat on him".

I've had many public discussions with people, political and otherwise, but it's never ended with me literally flooring my opponent - or being floored myself.

In my experience it's best to do your fighting with words, no matter how irritating the other person may be.

I do wonder what was going through Nesbitt's head as he lay there, nose buried in the fusty hotel carpet, pinioned by two female ninjas.

"Please God let there be no photographs?"

No chance of that, everyone has a camera on their phone these days, and the urge to snap a pic of the former UUP leader laid out like a trussed turkey would be almost impossible to resist. And someone clearly did.

"Thank God I'm not UUP leader any more?" Bad as the situation is, it would have been worse if Nesbitt was still in charge of the party. The public face of the Ulster Unionists (or any other party), face-planted in a Belfast hotel - no, that's never a happy picture.

"What will Lynda say?"

Best to draw a veil over that particular marital discussion, perhaps.

There's no getting away from the embarrassment, of course, especially because Nesbitt cultivates an image of urbane dignity - suave, smart and authoritative.

He looks like what he is - an ex-UTV anchorman, assured and comfortable in the public eye. There are other politicians (both male and female) that I can quite easily imagine rolling around on the floor in some kind of undignified fracas, but I'd never say that Nesbitt was one of them.

The temptation for Nesbitt's political enemies to make capital out of this humiliation will be mighty. But in the absence of the full facts, it wouldn't be right to use this unfortunate image against him.

Being pinioned by a random pair of women may be highly embarrassing - and I bet Mr Nesbitt is currently experiencing extreme levels of cringe - but it bears no relationship to his ability to do his job.

To humiliate him further, at this point, would be the very definition of kicking a man when he's down.

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