“Well when the votes were counted one parochial, backward looking, regressive who is 50 something and from Lagan Valley beat another one,” tweeted Alliance councillor Michael Long after the DUP leadership election.

Published: 25 March 2021

“What is clear is that Alliance is the credible alternative who want to demand better and offer a real chance for change.”

This cringe-making tweet is an excellent example of a cast of Alliance mind that is giving Doug Beattie an open goal to aim at electorally.

Now my major disputes as a commentator are, above all, with Sinn Fein which I regard as a cancer threatening democracy and peace on the island of Ireland. Nor do I like dyed-in-the-wool bigots, and I have not softened my long-time view that Ian Paisley Senior was a malign force throughout his adult life until seduced by the trappings of power and the flattery of Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and Martin McGuinness.

But I also have a problem with self-styled progressives, as they have with me, because they are offended that I defend some people they despise.

My first major sin was that in the 1990s I came to like and admire and in some cases become very close friends with members of the Orange Order and write a book about what they are rather than what they are being accused of being. That made me many enemies.

My second big sin made me many more. I know well what it is like to offend liberals in these two islands who claim to believe in reason and kindness but are in fact intellectually utterly intolerant.

I had a memorable encounter at a classy literary party in London the Christmas after the Brexit referendum when a publisher I’d had an amicable relationship with for 25 years and who had been my editor on two books, learning that I had (hesitantly) voted Leave, glared at me venomously and stomped off saying: “I would rather spend the evening with a child molester.”

I became a non-person in some circles. Those pro-Brexit were classified as old, stupid, ill-educated and, yes, backward.

Naomi Long was one of those who had a low opinion of me. We had a falling out a few years ago which became heated over several unfair and, I thought, atrociously bigoted attacks by her and some of her followers on people whose major faults were resisting the progressive agenda, being believing Christians and using old-fashioned language.

This also, I felt, particularly with the younger elements, make them see their natural allies as Sinn Fein, who much less than a decade ago adopted the progressive narrative to entice young people into their web.

I also thought Naomi absurdly thin-skinned about criticism. I am not, so I just laughed at her borrowed insult that I was “just another Pound shop Katie Hopkins” (a commentator so extreme she makes Donald Trump by comparison resemble a member of the Alliance Party) .

However, we dialled down, as did her supporters, and I was grateful for a kind message she sent me two years ago after the murder of my dear friend Lyra McKee.

But back to Michael Long’s tweet, to which there were 184 responses mostly, it seemed, from people with no party allegiances. The critical words that came up most were “sneering”, “condescending”, “arrogant” and “snobbish”.

Here are a few samples:

• “I grew up in east Belfast, always gave Alliance a vote but I’ve had enough. There’s a nastiness and disdain in that party, seemingly always directed at unionists and working class Prods. They’re the party of smug snobs.”

• “They pretend to sit on the fence but their sneering, mockery and arrogance is reserved for only one community.”

• “The arrogance and snobbery of the modern Alliance party knows no limits.”

• “If ever a tweet has backfired, this has to be up there”.

• “Distinct lack of support from fellow @ Allianceparty members. A serious own goal but hardly surprising from the nasty party.”

• “Just lost yourself another potential vote with that tweet. No need. We want to hear the positive thoughts, not sneering, divisive ones.”

 “You need to take a long hard look at yourselves, because mocking other people, their religion and political persuasion doesn’t make you any better. It does, however, show your true colours.”

• “ I have a feeling they would sneer at Jesus if he was around today.”

Some had complained specifically about ageism, which allowed Naomi to intervene with: “How’s it ageist? Michael is a 50 something himself? He also has a mind and opinion of his own. The point is the two candidates were virtually identical. Stop seeing things that aren’t there.”

Michael then contributed: “I know I am one of them. The obvious point of the tweet was the distinct lack of difference between the 2 candidates and pointing out that there is a positive alternative.”

If the Longs can’t recognise the real reason why people were upset, their party is in trouble.

“Sneering superior tweets like that show you are no alternative at all,” was a devasting judgement. “There is not any political party I really like, but you lot are pure horrible.”

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