Analysis: UUP leader Doug Beattie survives tweets storm as party has no one else

When Belfast Live on Monday approached the Ulster Unionist Party about Doug Beattie’s old tweets, an apology was posted on his Twitter profile.

In issuing the statement publicly, it was an attempt to pre-empt a news story. More an act of damage limitation than remorse.

However, it massively backfired.

It simply led to Twitter users searching and unearthing even more offensive and derogatory tweets that the UUP had not even been aware of.

If it was one or two tweets, this would be a one-day controversy that Mr Beattie could easily ride out.

But what emerged was a torrent of derogatory messages and offensive language on multiple fronts.

Misogynistic and sexualised comments. Using offensive terms for the Travelling community, Chinese and transgender people.

A disparaging remark about the Pope, accusing Muslims of playing the victim – and repeating the N-word.

While the majority of these tweets date from 2011 to 2014 before Mr Beattie was elected, his critics will say it exposes a pattern of behaviour.

As the UUP seeks to portray itself as inclusive and progressive, it is incredibly damaging.

On Tuesday Mr Beattie toured the morning radio phone-in shows expressing his shame and offering profuse and repeated apologies.

He strongly denied being racist or a misogynist.

Apologies are a well-worn approach to defuse media crises, but many will respect Mr Beattie for fronting up when other political leaders would go into hiding.

And while he said this was not an “excuse”, some voters may take into account his suggestion that “dark and black humour” was a “coping mechanism” from his time in the military.

Other Stormont parties criticised his conduct but pulled their punches. They will have all experienced how past online comments can come back to haunt them.

Mr Beattie placed his future in the hands of his party and received their backing to continue as UUP leader.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the controversy, they will point to his record in the party and Assembly.

Mr Beattie has been credited with encouraging more women and people from different backgrounds to join the UUP.

The MLA is seen by many as the Ulster Unionist Party’s last great hope to revive its fortunes.

At the weekend a poll of voting intentions showed the UUP in joint-third place and Mr Beatte was ranked as the most popular Stormont leader.

With just three months to go until the Assembly election, a leadership contest would be counterproductive.

Many of the UUP’s senior figures have already had a go at being party leader.

And when Mr Beattie took on the job last May, there were no other contenders in the race.

In some ways his survival as UUP leader is because the party simply has no-one else waiting in the wings.

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