By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Lyndon Johnson, the US president in the 1960s, was a ferocious political animal. Before he reached the White House he was Democratic senator for Texas for 12 years. Once, a rival tried to challenge him for the Democratic nomination.
Johnson told his campaign manager to circulate a scurrilous accusation in the press. “You can’t accuse him of that,” his manager objected. “‘I wanna hear him deny it,” Johnson said.
In the case of Tom Elliott he supplied the denial headline without even the public accusation. He’s so hopeless he accused himself. “Elliott denies he’s a political dinosaur,”
One interviewer even asked him gently if he thought it was a good idea to plant the image in people’s minds. He didn’t think he had.
The reality is that he’s in a long line of political dinosaurs from Fermanagh who led the UUP. Think Basil Brooke, unreconstructed bigot, small-minded, backward looking, who kept the north in a deep freeze until it cracked apart.
Think Harry West. Who, you might ask? Who indeed? A reactionary figure with not a single political achievement to his name who got himself sacked from the Stormont cabinet. Some going.
In those days it was easy for political dinosaurs to become leader of the UUP because there only was one party.
All you had to do was wrap a Union jack around a donkey and Bob’s your uncle. It’s different now. The DUP must have been hugging themselves at Elliott’s awful performance at the Ramada hotel last Saturday. The only problem they have now is complacency. Still, a couple of slices of Elliott’s wooden monologue before the May election will be enough to remind voters just how bad he is.
The mystery is why the media take him seriously. He doesn’t even look the part. Why did no one in the UUP bother to give Elliott some form of makeover?
Reporters use words like ‘decent’, ‘honest’, ‘steady’ because reporters here are so nice. The proper words are dull, uninspiring, lacking in imagination, pedestrian, devoid of political nous.
Look folks, there’s no evidence this guy is up to the job of leading a political party. You begin to wonder if he’s a DUP plant.
Plodding through his sentences to a one third empty room in the Ramada it was hard to pay any attention to what passed for content. It was all about the successes of the UUP in the 1990s until the insolent DUP stole their clothes. Who cares? Not the voters. Reminiscent of the poor SDLP bewailing the cheek of Sinn Fein.
Like the SDLP leader’s equally uninspiring speech Elliott droned on to blame Sinn Fein and the DUP for all the ills at Stormont. Listen, there’s a basic rule in political speeches.
You tell people what you’re going to do, not what your opponents are doing. At the end of the instantly forgettable remarks there was a pause.There had to be because the audience was so ancient they couldn’t jump to their feet in the compulsory false ovation after a political leader’s speech.
Instead there was a mass crackling of kneeand hip joints as the members bent to their feet to applaud. It was such hilarious TV that it makes Monty Python’s Flying Circus look like a documentary.
They only performance missing was Terry Jones in a Fair Isle jumper and braces.
It’s has got nothing to do with politics, however.
Those in the Protestant middle class who still bother to vote will avert their gaze in pity and rush towards the DUP hoping Robinson will make good on his fine words about the new Northern Ireland.
Those like Trevor Ringland, Alan McFarland , Paula Bradshaw, Sylvia Hermon and, yes, Flash Harry and others unnamed will be delighted they did not have to sit through the embarrassment, delighted to be confirmed in the view that they took at least one correct decision in their lives. On Saturday’s evidence the UUP is about to self-destruct.