Cllr Ian James Parsley was born in 1977 and set up his own public
relations consultancy in 1999. He will spend the next year working
with the Centre for Social Justice delivering a "Breakthrough Belfast"
report as part of the think tank's "Breakthrough Britain" series. Ian joined the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland in 2002,
was elected to North Down Borough Council in 2005 and was that party's candidate at June's European Election – but defected to the Conservative Party last Friday. Here he explains that decision.
No matter where we live, we cannot afford to stand aside and allow other people to tackle the combined challenges of social breakdown, financial instability and climate change. We need to play our part in delivering social justice, economic turnaround, and sustainable living – and yet those of us in Northern Ireland have to put up with a UK Government which is directionless and a devolved Executive which is rudderless. It is time for change – a change in which we all play our part, nurturing opportunities for a new type of politics, advancing responsibility for the new generation, and protecting our security into a new decade. David Cameron's Conservatives offer that change.
The modernised Conservatives' commitment to tackling social breakdown is demonstrated by the ongoing work of Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice – work I will be joining on Tuesday. The past 12 years have seen the development of a "client state", where people have become dependent on the state not just in times of trial, but at all times. We have left generations to face life with no real opportunities, unable to meet their responsibilities, and devastated by gangsterism and crime. Northern Ireland has its own legacy of conflict, but the basic problem of inter-generational frustration and hopelessness is the same. Earlier intervention in education, better collaboration with local communities, and more effective methods of policing and justice are essential – and that requires a vote for change.
The Conservatives also have the relevant answers on the economy – something about which I am keenly aware after 10 years in small business. Labour's claim to have "abolished boom and bust" has been shattered by recent economic developments, which have seen the UK slip into recession for longer than any other large nation. The country and its people are now in more debt than anywhere else in the developed world, and are faced with the threat of joblessness and falling incomes while the Government resorts merely to populism. Northern Ireland already had an economy hugely dependent on the public sector, and was even more ill-prepared for the downturn. Tax cuts for new jobs, lower business taxes and an entirely new economic approach are needed – and that requires a vote for change.
The Conservatives also recognise the UK's unique potential to be a global leader in developing a low-carbon economy, which will enhance our quality of life and make us less dependent on unreliable energy sources. Labour has dithered, turning the UK from a net exporter to a net importer of energy and leaving us all with the real threat that, some time during the next decade, the lights will simply begin to go out. As the Conservatives develop an energy grid based on renewable energy sources, a 'smart' energy grid and large-scale insulation projects, it is essential that Northern Ireland is not left behind – and that requires a vote for change.
Northern Ireland does have distinct interests and distinct needs. Choices in education, sport and leisure (not to mention politics) often follow sectarian fault lines. The cost of this division continues to be paid in outbreaks of violence, duplication (at expense to the rate payer) of public services, and limited choices of location for people to work and live. Tackling segregation is more important than ever at a time when the devolved political institutions are under pressure with the imminent transfer of justice powers, the local economy is in recession for the first time in nearly 30 years, and there is a renewed threat from dissidents in border areas. Conservatives in Northern Ireland are determined not only to put forward a slate of candidates who think and feel for the whole community in Northern Ireland, but also who can influence government policy at every level – and that requires a vote for change.
I am proud of the work I did with the party I left, the cross-community Alliance Party – serving it on my local Council, boosting its European Election fortunes, re-establishing its youth wing. I retain the utmost respect for the party, its principles, and its Northern Ireland Assembly team. In the end, however, I felt the challenges facing families in Northern Ireland were not just local but also global. I watched, hugely impressed, as David Cameron led the liberalisation and modernisation of the Conservative Party, and as Owen Paterson worked tirelessly to make it a new force in Northern Ireland. I recognised that, to achieve the political objectives I believe in most, what was required was a vote for change.