Alliance MP Naomi Long went on Nolan to explain her opposition to the Coalition Government’s tuition fees proposals. In the end, however, she spent most of the interview explaining that she wasn’t a Liberal Democrat.
She did it quite well too. She did indeed stand as Alliance and nothing else, she has voted largely against the LibDems since election, and she was right in pointing out that in any case the LibDems (and indeed Conservatives) were scarcely united on the issue themselves.
However, questions over this relationship will remain, and the confusion will only be added to by the UUP’s relationship with the Conservatives. People will come to assume the Alliance Party has a similar relationship with the Liberal Democrats.
Quite evidently to those of us in the political world, that is not so, although only in the sense that the nature of the relationship is different. The UUP MEP takes the Conservative whip, the Alliance MP does not take the LibDem whip; Conservatives may compete against the UUP at local level, the LibDems do not compete at all against Alliance; UUP members may not be members of the Conservative Party (although I suspect a few are), Alliance members may be members of the LibDems. The truth is that neither party is truly defined by its position along the ideological spectrum.
However, most people live (indeed most voters) outside the political world. There is an assumption that the Alliance Party may be equated with the LibDems in the same way the UUP is equated with the Conservatives. This may or may not be a positive thing, but for the sake of clarity of choice to the electorate it does need to be clarified beyond dispute.
Most particularly, given that the Conservatives are now not seriously competing at NI elections and seemingly the Labour Party has opted not to at all, is there any reason a member of the Alliance Party should not also be a member of the Conservative or Labour Party, in the same way they may be members of the Liberal Democrats currently?