Belfast Telegraph

No Gimmicks, just an honest desire to make a difference

Former Victims' Commissioner Mike Nesbitt is standing for Iris Robinson's old westminster seat. Here he explains what prompted him to enter the political arena

The first thing to say is that I am not there yet. The joint UUP/Conservative panel has yet to meet and its decisions will need to be ratified by the UUP Executive.

So, in one sense, this is a bit premature - but then again, it's been a long time coming.

My interest goes back a long way, to the 1980s, when I first began interviewing politicians as a broadcast journalist on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster. So, it's not opportunism;I was arrogant enough to tell the UUP I thought I could defeat the sitting MP.

And a word about the erstwhile member. Whatever Iris Robinson did or did not do, I wish her a swift and full return to good mental health. We all should, because it diminishes us personally and as a society if we do not.

Promoting and advancing mental well-being is just one of the challenges for our politicians. I speak with a little experience, as my wife, Lynda Bryans, is no stranger to clinical depression. She speaks about her experience publicly and that gives people the confidence to admit to their own problems and do something about them.

Which is pretty much my definition of being a good politician - going out of your way to make a positive difference in people's day-to-day lives. There has not been much sign of politicians being credited with doing that recently and, if history is not to write off 2009 as a disaster for British democracy, 2010 must see positive change.

Take education for example, because this is an area I feel passionate about, and it is the area UUP leader Sir Reg Empey has chosen as the litmus test of the devolved government. When it comes to post-primary transfer, what politicians have done is make matters worse, by adding uncertainty to unfairness.

We need to start again, putting the focus back where it belongs, on our children.

Inside every child there is a spark of ability, creativity and talent and it is our duty to find that spark and foster it so that young people can discover who they are and what they are supposed to become.

How do we do that? By giving them opportunities to find out if they are academic, sporting, musical, or a glorious mix of all three - because these things are not mutually exclusive. But they do lead to people making choices, which is another way of saying, there will be selection.

Does St Michael's College, Enniskillen, pick its MacRory Cup-winning team by sticking a pin in the school roll? Does Methodist College Belfast win School Choir of the Year by rounding up the first 50 pupils to turn up on a Monday?

One of our great contemporary inspirational teachers is Andy McMorran, the principal of Ashfield Boys' High School in east Belfast. He runs a secondary school, yet he believes in selection.

The problem is our false value judgments: academic is success, non-academic is failure. What nonsense! As a society, we need doers as well as thinkers - without that balance, we cannot function. The challenge is to celebrate both.

The immediate challenge for me is to persuade people I am not a gimmicky candidate, that I do care, that I can make a positive difference.

After the last two years, I know how difficult it is to make quick changes which impact on the ground. But if I have learnt anything as a victims' commissioner, it is this: you begin by listening, because if you do not listen, you cannot understand, and if you do not understand, you cannot react appropriately.

And what is appropriate is to be truthful. If you do not think you can help, say so. If it is going to take longer than people want, tell them. If there is something you can do, just get on with it. In my experience, people appreciate a little honesty.

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