(Sir) Reg against the machine
Well done, Sir Reg. Quite how the UUP’s rejection of the policing deal will play on doorsteps is an open question. In some ways it seems inconsistent with the party's recent history but whatever ... it's certainly put a very odd-looking cat among the pigeons. (As well as preventing the DUP hiding behind the skirts of the UUP).
But it seems an abiding principle of the UUP leader to do the unexpected. Celeb candidates, the link up with the Tories, a brief flirtation with the PUP and now outflanking the DUP on its old turf, it’s as if Sir Reg has been devouring the message of Susan Jeffers' self-help classic Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
Of course, perhaps the UUP will crash and burn, caught out by one slick move and ideological contortion too many, but Sir Reg’s daring ways have suddenly made politics interesting and unpredictable.
When Sir Reg Empey became leader, the UUP was widely seen as a political dead man walking. Now? Let's just say all bets are off on that one.
And suddenly the election here is turning into — to borrow Donald Rumsfeld's terminology — an ‘unknown unknown'. Strangford? South Belfast? South Antrim? Upper Bann? Even East Belfast? Who knows? Yes, Sir Reg is responsible for the farce that is North Down and the casting out of Sylvia Hermon but it is gripping stuff.
Whether it’s due to a refusal to go quietly into that good night, short-sighted political opportunism or the start of ‘normal' government versus opposition politics, Sir Reg is forcing voters to look again at the UUP. Some may sneer at them, but no one’s ignoring them.
New SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie in her ongoing battle with Sinn Fein may do well to tear a page or two from Sir Reg's book.