At a time like this I'm not sure that I could really use the phrase at the top of this post and not think of David McClarty.
His conduct over this past week or so should appear in Wikipedia under "what happens when people start to believe their own publicity". McClarty has for many years been a second (or possibly third) division politician in Northern Ireland. Many years I remember attending a conference which addressed just outside Coleraine. He was the local warm-up act for the more substantial speakers who would follow and he performed adequately. Indeed, warm-up act is just the phrase. There was little of important in his remarks to an overtly political crowd. His address consisted mostly of jokes about the variable fortunes of Coleraine Football Club. As recall, we were told that they were going "all seater", through the purchase of a three piece suite. We laughed. We chuckled. We applauded warmly and noted that he could place words in roughly the right order whilst being aimiable. These are traits frequently lacking in the Ulster politician.
When he left, we forgot about him.
At the time of writing, McClarty's Assembly biography page records him as an Ulster Unionist member and his own vanity site at www.davidmcclarty.co.uk still bears the "Ulster Unionists" branding which seems to have been abandoned by the party shortly after he appears to have abandoned the site in around 2006. Notwithstanding his now oft-stated fondness for Twitter, his web-updating-skills clearly left him some time ago and we are told that:
he is one of two Ulster Unionist members of the Northern Ireland Assembly representing East Londonderry. He also sits on Coleraine Borough Council
His biography reads as a tale of mid table mediocrity. He neither disgraces nor distinguishes himself. It is highlighted that he was, at one time, the Ulster Unionist Party's Chief Whip in the Assembly. This was a Party Man. Capital P.
So, what went wrong? He lost a selection meeting. He wasn't the first to do that. He won't be the last. The reasons for de-selection can be varied. I neither know nor care what they were in this case. It can be personality clash. It can be petty jealousy. It just doesn't matter. I doubt there will ever be a truly definitive account of the reason for his failure to make the ticket, but fail he did.
What we have then, is a situation where a politician of a fair vintage, placed his name in the hat for selection. He wanted to run for his Party. The Party he had served for many years. The Party which had used his services to whip other members into line. He was content with their manifesto and direction. So content that he felt he wanted to associate himself with it publicly and seek election on that ticket.
But his colleagues didn't feel the same.
They wanted someone else, so they selected someone else.
Of course, this little drama was played out in the public arena. Local media, starved of much intrigue in the election campaign, were only too happy to run with the account of an MLA getting dumped by his local Association. And thus the standard "period of reflection" began. After the reflection, McClarty took the (admittedly brave) step to go to the electorate alone.
So, what manifesto did he run on? What did people expect to get if they voted McClarty 1?
Well, logic dictates that they expected to get an Ulster unionist - but not an Ulster Unionist. After all, a few weeks before he had felt sufficiently ad idem with the UUP that he had been willing to sign up to their policies. Unless his enforced-conversion to independence also divested himself of his principles, one could presume that he remain a Party man at heart, local difficulties excepted. I have little doubt that many of his former supporters loyally followed him, thinking themselves no less unionist for doing so. Who could blame them? They knew that this was just a situation where a fundamentally decent man seemed to have been "done over" by his former mates, didn't they?
And so it unfolded. The Ulster Unionist Party had a pretty poor showing across the country. McClarty clearly retained a lot of his local support and was duly returned, doubtless to the chagrin of the local UUP members who had wanted to see the back of him. As the results trickled in, commentators eyes started to turn towards the Coleraine area when it became apparent that the d'Hondt formula was likely to relegate the UUP to the lowly position of one ministerial seat.
Sickeningly, the Alliance party, with half the electoral support of the UUP started to bleat that if the UUP could entice McClarty back into the fold, then democracy would be subverted and the will of the people thwarted. Alliance would be "deprived" of its second seat in the Executive. For those not following the plot, I should pause to reinforce the fact that Alliance believes that they ought to have twice the Executive representation of the UUP which has twice the support. Yes, I can spot the subversion of democracy too - but it happened when Policing and Justice was handed out, not at this election.
Eyes were on McClarty. Would he or wouldn't he?
I have to admit that I called it wrong. I heard his remarks about Tom Elliott and that acceptance speech. I heard him talk of the calls, texts and Tweets he was receiving (which seemed clearly to be coming from Alliance supporters, anxious to queer the pitch). Despite that, I thought that he would look at the mathematics of the Executive and realise that his movement back to the UUP (and the policies he had wanted to stand on) would seal an additional unionist (small "u") seat in government. I thought he would realise that his electors were unionist and that this was what they would want. I was utterly wrong. And so is he.
By running as an independent, he didn't suddenly become a member of the Alliance Party and the only consequence of his decision has been to bolster that supercilious and unpleasant little group. He secured for them an unrepresentative second seat at the Stormont Top Table. When a McClarty voter expressed his or her preference on the ballot paper, did they think that was what they would get? Vote McClarty, Get Ford (or maybe Farry)? Surely not.
Shame on him.
The press (and a good proportion of unionist politicians) seem to recognise that there is a feeling in the unionist electorate that they would prefer to see greater unity on this side of the house. Yet here we have one man, and one ego, who simply cannot put aside his own personal squabbles for the benefit of the cause. The petty nonsense of his position seems all the more ridiculous when I can't shake the feeling that McClarty will await the seemingly inevitable fall of the House of Elliott and then slink back into the Party under new management. And they will have no option but to take him back.
Love or loathe Jim Allister, I suspect that McClarty has done more damage to unionism in the last few days than Jim will manage to do to the DUP in a whole term.