By Philip Gomm
I first met Doug Beattie a decade ago. Battered and bruised, he was sitting quietly beside a make-shift airstrip in the Afghan desert.
I was in the depths of Helmand as a television reporter.
Doug was there carrying out his duty. His face was battered and bruised. He was far from family and friends, far from most of his colleagues in the Royal Irish Regiment, just an old soldier dispatched to do his nation’s bidding; trying to ensure the security of his own country and protect the innocent people of the country he had been sent to.
Sat there under camouflage netting, and in the face of my persistent questioning, he told me his story. It was not hard to get a measure of the man. He spoke openly but modestly, emotionally but not angrily. He recounted his recent bloody exploits against the Taliban and a more distant past encapsulating service across the globe in the interests of those who needed help.
We have been friends ever since.
It came as no surprise to me when, years later, after returning to Northern Ireland for good, he entered the political arena on his doorstep. As a unionist councillor, as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and now as a candidate in the Westminster election.
Today politics is, for many of us, a dirty word. Its participants viewed with disdain. Yet my opinion is that there are still those attracted to politics for the right reasons rather than the wrong; because they want to make a positive difference, not put their snouts in the trough. My personal view is that Doug Beattie is one of those good men.
To my mind politics requires participants – the public and the politicians – to go beyond the partisan. UUP, DUP, SDLP or no bloody P at all, there are times when choosing which candidate to vote for is as much about the type of person they are as it is the party they represent.
You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to always agree with them. But you do have to believe that they will stand up for your rights and those of everyone else in the community; that they will champion their constituency and fight to make it prosper.
They must act with integrity and honesty, not vanity or boast. They should wear their hearts on their sleeve but make decisions with their head.
In my experience Doug Beattie tries to do all these things. He is not perfect. Far from it. He is not always right. But he strives to be both.
I won’t have the opportunity to vote for Doug Beattie. I only wish I did.
Philip Gomm is a former ITV journalist. He is now Head of External Communications for the RAC Foundation. This is a personal view.