Belfast Telegraph

It's steady as you go in UUP reshuffle, but for how long?

Mike Nesbitt's reshuffle of the Ulster Unionist party's team at Stormont was a bit of tweaking rather than an upheaval, says Alan Murray

It's more 'keep her lit' than 'fasten your seatbelts for take off', as far as Mike Nesbitt's Assembly team reshuffle goes.

A bit of tweaking rather than upheaval is his preferred policy as, not surprisingly, he replaces his predecessor Tom Elliott as the chair of the Committee that scrutinises the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Elliott remains on board that committee, for now, while Mike's rival for the party leadership last Saturday, John McCallister, retains the title of deputy leader of the Assembly party.

McCallister's close ally Basil McCrea retains the chair of the Department of Employment and Learning Committee so the liberal, vehemently 'anti-DUP merger' wing of the party remains in situ at Stormont.

Elsewhere, Danny Kinahan is rewarded with the vice-chair of the Education Committee for deserting Danny Kennedy and giving his allegiance to Mike in the leadership contest and Kennedy is given some, perhaps many, months' leeway to gracefully conclude his tenure as Minister for Regional Development, or maybe not - watch this space.

Robin Swann becomes the party's Chief Whip at Stormont and Jo-Anne Dobson stands prettily in the wings awaiting her cue to take centre stage beside the former UTV anchorman or so it is predicted.

It's not an astonishing set of changes that Nesbitt has made but then he hasn't much ammunition to play with to bag big headlines from an Assembly team reshuffle.

His headline-grabbing came on Monday when he elected to offer himself as a 24-hour lodger with a family on the breadline to experience how the other half lived.

Then he tossed a grenade at David McNarry and got one back that may have lingering resonances over financial arrangements he allegedly enjoyed from the Unionist Party to tide him over the period after he resigned as a Victims' Commissioner to contest the Westminster election in 2010.

Substance is what Nesbitt needs to provide now after the live-in gimmick and the bashing of McNarry; and if he doesn't get the substance right he could, as one prominent party member predicted, go down in history as the old party's last leader.

Taking over from Danny Kennedy a year before the next Assembly election will allow Mike to avail of the ministerial photo opportunities provided through the £400,000 contract for publicity pics.

After that, it could be all downhill.

For now John McCallister should be content with his lot. Defeated but not banished to the foothills, his task is to head up a grand-sounding "commission" to deal with constitutional issues on how best to advance the benefits of remaining in the UK. Was that not what the 1998 referendum was about?

The other bit about the "next phase for the devolved administration" sounds a bit more 'substantial'.

It means, in other words, how do you make a cash-gobbling bloated administration appear more relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

With newcomers beckoned with promises of 'fast track' promotions, those anointed yesterday by the new party leader might be looking over their shoulders in six months' time if a poll shows Mike's leadership has not given the party the Cape Canaveral lift-off it needs.

He does have that one last card to play in the shape of Jo-Anne Dobson. The mum-of-two offers that fresh 'yummy mummy' image that Mike's wife Lynda also exudes.

What if Jim Nicholson decided that, approaching three score years and 10, he should not contest the 2014 European elections - wouldn't Jo-Anne be a shoo-in for that job, or Lynda for that matter.

Don't rule it out. If the polls dump on Mike, his last resort could be the cover girl, all glamour and style option.


From Belfast Telegraph