Well, almost. This week saw a concerted effort by the Party to woo voters in Northern Ireland.
Although it largely went under the media’s radar, David Cameron was in Northern Ireland again on Monday – the third time since becoming leader. Apart from a 1997 flying election visit by John Major, I believe this is the first time a Conservative leader has actively campaigned for Conservative candidates in NI.
Speaking in support of the nine candidates, Cameron called for less sectarian politics and asked voters to consider the wider options that a UK-based party can offer:
"One of the
reasons we are standing is to say to people in Northern Ireland
politics doesn’t have to be like this. It should be about the quality
of your school, the quality of your hospitals, the choice you get in
public services, supporting the rule of law, backing the free
Cameron was accompanied by David Lidington and James Leslie – a high profile Ulster Unionist defector seen as the most likely candidate to win. Before Cameron arrived, Sir Reg Empey of the UUP had challenged him to say whether the Conservatives would be classed as Unionists or Non-Aligned. He made it clear it would be as Unionists.
Cameron also gave a cautious welcome to Sinn Fein’s endorsement of the Police, applauding the vote but challenging it to be realised on the ground.
NI politics is very narrowly focused on domestic division, there is clearly a lot of frustration that public services and other major issues barely get a look in. Whether it can be "normalised" remains to be seen, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Northern Ireland isn’t the only unfamiliar territory the Conservatives are venturing into at the moment. Conservatives Abroad have recently launched Don’tLeaveYourVoteAtHome.com. Francis Maude has been in Australia this week courting the not insubstantial number of expatriates living there (up to 1.3million).
Like campaigning in "no hope" constituencies these initiatives may not reap swift rewards, but the Party has to start these long-term projects at some point!