Mary Kelly: Is Mike having a laugh with his cunning unionist Brexit extrication plan?

Mike Nesbitt's 'Vote Mike, get Colum' campaign not only failed to resonate with either unionist or nationalist voters, it also gave him the air of a second-hand car salesman trying to flog a dodgy motor

Northern Ireland journalist-turned-politician Mike Nesbitt. Picture by Mark Marlow
Mary Kelly

I'VE NEVER believed that journalists should enter the world of politics. Maybe it's the classic poacher-turned-gamekeeper idea that makes them seem suspect but they never seem entirely convincing in the role. Just look at Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Perhaps it's because journalists are supposed to be objective, able to see things from different points of view, with an inbred scepticism about what they're being fed – not the usual attributes required of a politician who's expected to follow a party line.

I remember booking a guest who wrote a column in a 'national' newspaper, for a BBC radio programme when I worked as a producer. She went through the points she would make and then breezily added: “I can argue exactly the opposite point of view, if you're stuck for the other side.” I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or appalled.

Johnson famously wrote two newspaper columns about Brexit, one for and one against, before deciding his own political ambitions would be best advanced by the leave option.

As a journalist, it was fine to weigh up the pros and cons. As a politician who then went on to lead a mendacious campaign which denied all the remainers' legitimate arguments, it was the work of a conman.

Over here, our own journalist-turned-politician is Mike Nesbitt. He was a very good journalist both on radio and television. It was a surprise to many when he join the Ulster Unionist ranks but not at all surprising when his smooth articulacy saw him defeat the homespun rural John McCallister to later win the leadership of the party.

His “Vote Mike, get Colum” campaign not only failed to resonate with either unionist or nationalist voters, it also gave him the unfortunate air of a second-hand car salesman trying to flog a dodgy motor with too many miles on the clock.

Subsequent election failure led to him falling on his sword, honourably or perhaps with relief. He did seem to be rather ahead of his party in his liberal thinking.

Now he has come up with a cunning plan to extricate unionism from the hole it has dug itself into over Brexit.

Salesman Mike's modest proposal suggests that since Norn Ireland is being told it can have the best of both worlds by being able to sell to both GB and the EU, then it would be a good idea for the Republic to get cut into the deal as well.

In that way, the border can be moved from the Irish Sea, where it apparently washes off British identity for unionists, and instead move it to what he calls the “Celtic Sea” or one of the Irish ports or airports. Simples.

Well you would need to be very simple indeed to buy into this one. So Mike berates the “angry Tweetistas” who point out the folly of his case. Namely, that nobody in ROI voted for Brexit, so they're happy with the status quo, thanks.

One wonders if Mike is actually pulling our legs and that his proposal is actually a modern reworking of Jonathan Swift's suggestion that the starving Irish should sell their children for food. It makes as much sense.

* * *

SO A week after England announced its way out of lockdown, Stormont finally made its own exit plan clear. Sort of.

It wasn't a blueprint and had no timetable, to the frustration of many who wanted to know when they might start living a more normal life.

Nine pathways with five steps in each and a four-weekly review is still too vague for business, retail and hospitality who still don't know when they can start making plans to reopen.

No-one wants another lockdown because it would probably lead to a public mutiny. And that's why they've overdone the caution, to the understandable frustration of the population.

People want to see a way out, including that listener to BBC's Evening Extra who wanted to know if they could book a B&B in Augher in May.

In GB, despite managing to lose a person who tested positive for the highly infectious Brazilian mutant strain, the vaccination programme has been a rare success for this hapless government.

I'm getting my first vaccination today, which is probably the only time I have rejoiced in being over 60. It might not be a passport to travel yet but when I do I'm hoping to go a bit further than Augher. No offence.

I won't be going to Pontins either, though it was amusing when a Radio Four newsreader said the company's ban on guests with Irish surnames would preclude the former Bank of England boss Mark Carney and actor Cillian Murphy. I somehow doubt it's top of their holiday list.

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