It was great to read a blog post by Harry Phibbs about the local government campaign in Northern Ireland. Prompted by his article, I’d like to update you on what’s happening among Conservatives here.
As Harry notes, the Conservative party recently opened a campaign HQ in Bangor, Co Down and I‘m the new, full-time manager for that office. My challenge is to generate interest in the party and help nourish mainstream UK politics in Northern Ireland. It’s a task which we believe is best achieved from the grassroots up.
With this in mind the Conservative party is running eight council candidates, from across Northern Ireland, in the local elections . In North Down, where Conservatism has a strong base, we’re contesting all four electoral areas.
Conservative candidates will also battle for seats in the Ards, Castlereagh, Belfast City and Lisburn City councils. They’re an enthusiastic and knowledgeable team, with a good grasp of the issues on the ground and, most importantly, they share the conviction that local Conservatives are best placed to provide local solutions to local problems.
These candidates have been pounding the streets on their own behalf over the past few weeks, but they‘re also working hard for No2AV. Yesterday Bill McKendry, the council candidate for Ards West, was joined by Owen Paterson on a canvass in Newtownards and Comber.
Northern Ireland is an important front in the battle against AV. With Assembly and local elections taking place alongside the referendum, turn-out here could be higher than in any other UK region. The more people know about AV the more likely they are to vote against it, so generating awareness of the issue is a high priority for local Conservatives.
Owen and Bill got a very encouraging response in Newtownards town and in Comber, which is in the heart of Bill’s Ards West constituency. People here are receptive to the message that AV infringes the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and, in general, they agree that the system is unfair.
They’re also delighted to have an opportunity to vote for a Conservative in their local government elections. The notion of building from the grassroots up, with local people and local knowledge, resonates with voters.
In Northern Ireland the local parties are still in the ascendancy, but people are weary of what they have to offer. We believe that there’s an appetite for centre-right, issue based politics, plugged into the UK mainstream.
The new Conservative Campaign HQ in Bangor is a statement of intent. The hard work of local candidates and the backing they’re receiving from Owen Paterson is another statement of intent.
The message that AV is a constitutional tweak too far is going out loud and clear. So too the message that local Conservatives are on the ground in Northern Ireland, working hard for local people with the backing of a national party.