Enda Kenny attended this year’s Alliance Party conference, but both his own party and his hosts at the Dunadry in March have gone much the same way since, following a reasonably successful election with an inability to build fully on it.
The Alliance Party was the only Assembly party to gain overall votes at the Assembly Election and became the second largest party in local government across the nine Greater Belfast constituencies. “Lead change, vote Alliance” seemed to work – and yet it is hard to escape the view that the winds of change seem, at least partially, to have gone out of the sails (a point demonstrated to FG south of the border by a disastrous Presidental Election result only months after it became the largest party in the Dáil for the first time ever).
A glance at the party website would suggest more a “think tank” passively commenting on the status quo. With support (explicit or implicit) for maintaining libraries, health pensions and such like, there is very little in the way of “leading” or “change”.
It is as if the party didn’t realise the good will that existed towards it in May. Never had it been more popular to profess to campaigning for the Alliance Party, even among those who didn’t vote for it. Yet in too many constituencies, far from getting out and hitting the doorstep with thank you leaflets (with some notable exceptions, such as South Belfast), it went straight out of campaigning mode. It is hard to recall a single thing the party has done which has earned significant coverage since May – even its Minister’s decision on tuition fees was seen as an overall Executive win (if it was seen as a win at all). The only leaflet I’ve had through my door since May was from the DUP, even though Alliance more than doubled its representation on my local Council!
This is not because the party hasn’t done good things. It has re-structured staffing and brought in excellent new blood both centrally as Party Manager and in constituency offices (the fact it is often young and/or female should not be remarkable, but it still is in comparison to other parties); it has opened new (and sensibly named) information centres; most notably, perhaps, its MP Naomi Long was the most prominent campaigner for the reduction in air tax on international flights from Belfast – a highly successful intervention, as it turned out. Yet few outside politics would know anything about any of this.
For all the talk, there is little sense of a party which has any real ideas about what it could do (and, particularly, do differently) to promote a more shared society, to re-balance the economy, and to build a sustainable future. For example, it is a long time since we heard anything about the costs of segregation – surely a fundamental issue in these economically charged and financially challenging times?
Momentum is a crucial thing in politics, and there is a real danger that having built from 25,000 to 36,000 to 50,000 votes that the Alliance Party is about to lose it, just as FG has south of the border. “Leading change” is a very good idea – one I and 50,000 more were proud to vote for and campaign for in May. It’s just a pity no one appears to be doing it…!