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As Arlene Foster approaches 50th birthday, she has some unexpected political reasons to celebrate


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Party Leader Arlene Foster

Party Leader Arlene Foster

Party Leader Arlene Foster

When Arlene Foster was elected to the position of honorary secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council in 1996 (she was just 26), a veteran party officer told me: "Watch her, Alex, and mark my words, she is going to be the first woman leader of this party. She has learned a lot from the likes of Thatcher when it comes to dealing with men in politics."

The reason I remember it is that we had a bet, wrote it down and each kept a copy. We both lost when she left the UUP at the end of 2003.

When I asked her, in May 2015, if she would ever have become leader had she stayed in the party, she gave me a one-word answer: no.