Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

UUP dinner speech hard to swallow

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

The organisers of the annual dinner of the Castlereagh branch of the Ulster Unionist Party must have felt quite chuffed when they secured the services of Eoghan Harris as speaker at their 'do'.

What they will have felt when he told them in his speech that it was time for their party to take a hike may have been something else entirely.

Charismatic, mercurial, brilliant, prophetic ... Harris is all the words that normally get applied to people who are genius at their game. Harris's game is political analysis. But the television producer, commentator and more recently Irish senator also qualifies for a more telling, pertinent description.

He's a brave man.

Harris has, in the past, commented on causes which were deeply unpopular. He has said unfashionable things. He has been subject to vilification by his enemies - and since these include the Provies - at times, to real threat.

But again and again he has been proved right about where political groups and individuals have been going wrong. A corrector of error, if you like, running rings round the directors of terror.

Eoghan Harris not only has political nous but he knows what it is to be sneered at, to be unpopular with the media and to be on the side of David (the slayer of Goliath or Trimble - either is relevant here.)

And all this is why when he stood up at that UUP dinner, those listening will have known that what he had to say wasn't something they should lightly dismiss. That's because Eoghan Harris is ? well ? Eoghan Harris.

What he had to say was that it was time they sought what, in the language of peace processing, would be called a new accommodation with the DUP Goliath that smote them at the last election.

"There is," he told them, "no longer a real foundation for the continued existence of two unionist parties and, from a position of relative strength, you should approach the DUP about the creation of a new united unionist party." So what will the UUP make of that?

On many levels what Harris says makes sound sense - not least for the wider electoral prospects of unionism.

But there would be many in the UUP who would fear that in a new united unionist party they would be quickly subsumed.

Yet Harris is right on another point. That the UUP - as it is - does not have a whole lot of alternatives right now.

As it is, that is. For before the stricken damsel that the UUP has become begins fluttering her eyelashes at the DUP, might she not make one last tilt at regaining at least some of her former standing?

The UUP was crushed by the DUP because the DUP applied one of the oldest political tricks in the book - it became the UUP in different packaging.

But this simple, if accurate, analysis does not take into account other factors which also played a part in the Unionist Party's demise. Notably that UUP bosses seemed oblivious to the party haemorrhaging from both ends - to the Alliance party as well as to the DUP.

And that after that disastrous election it was as if all heart went out of the UUP. It was as if it accepted that going down the tubes was inevitable.

But with a dynamic new leader, a more vocal presence, a joined up strategy, a new passion ? ?

It's a lot to imagine, true.

But there must be many, many people thinking - hoping even - that with a re-fired sense of self-belief, the party could even at this late, late stage rediscover its pride and its place.

That what was once the grand old lady of the UUP would gather her skirts from the political gutter and signal that while she would be happy come election time to step out with the DUP, she wouldn't be jumping in to bed with Big Ian and the boys just yet.

Not until they're ready to treat her with respect.



Why Anne's heading for bother ...

John Penrose, the soon to be ex-husband of Anne Robinson, will have known enough about the media to have copped that, immediately news of their split was revealed, it was more or less inevitable his picture would appear under the hardly original headline You Are the Weakest Link, Goodbye.

That's the problem with catchlines. They have a tendency to return and haunt you.

It's not just the Penrose/Robinsons who have been bitten in this way.

There's also Chris Tarrant. All that talk about whether in his divorce settlement he'd let Ingrid have 50-50.

Or would it be a case of we don't want to give you that ? ?

And then there was Paul McCartney whose troubled marriage to Heather Mills prompted endless speculation about who would still love him when he's 64.

Never mind the legendary Curse of Hello!

Celebrity unions these days also have to vie with the Curse of the Catchline.



Is spy-in-the-sky a Maddy case?

The Investigation Into The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann - Intriguing Suggestion Number 3467.

Use the spy-in-the sky satellite system to show what exactly happened at the apartment block on the evening the child vanished.

This is not merely the latest flaky idea to be thrown into the mix by the tabloids. This one comes from an intelligence expert who has been closely involved in the working of the satellite system. He maintains it would be possible.

But would it be probable? If the system was used in this case would it not set a precedent for it to be used in other cases?

And here's a question that fascinates me even more.

Given that, as the man says, the aerial footage could be used to tell who came and went and did what around that Portuguese apartment block that May evening, is it not likely that someone in spying circles has already taken a look?

That someone who operates the system has already rewound the tape on this celestial CCTV and already knows at least some of the answers to this, the most baffling case of our times?



Tory boy'`s tricky task

This week is regarded as make-or-break time for Dave Cameron and his leadership of the Tories. Is he really about more than just hug-a-hoodie and silly stunts?

There's no doubt that the Oxbridge elite of the metropolitan media took an enormous initial shine to Dave boy. He was non-traditional Tory, eco-friendly and reassuringly posh. Lately they've seemed to be coming round to the idea that he's not actually Posh. He's Chantelle. In other words, like the Big Brother star he's a not-entirely convincing copy of his hero, the original Spice Boy, Tony Blair.

Convincing the media he's more than just a tribute act is the trick he needs to pull off this week. That, and convincing the voters that whether or not he's once again media flavour of the month, he's got something substantial to offer them too.



Beating the bullies

Everybody's got their own thoughts on how to cope with school bullies. But Coleen Nolan's, while obviously not from the handbook of politically correct guidance, bears examination because it comes from experience.

She says that she was targeted by yobs at school who taunted her with nasty comments about her singing sisters. "All I used to do was agree with them," she says cheerily, "and once you do that there's nowhere (for them) to go."

She has recommended the tactic to her own children.

If the bullies call you ugly, she tells them, just say: " I know. I'm going to have surgery when I'm older."

I expect she also has a strategy on how to bolster a kid's self esteem ?

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