Fancy that, an Alliance Party member focusing on Naomi Long during election week…
However, I think the re-election of Naomi Long is far more important than merely the election of one Alliance Party representative in one constituency. It is about the absolute requirement, in a democracy, to elect someone who will competently, diligently and inclusively represent the interests of the area she (or he) represents.
Among Northern Ireland’s MPs during the 2010-15 term, some were no doubt competent (say, Jeffrey Donaldson); some were no doubt diligent (say, Margaret Ritchie); some were no doubt inclusive (say, Lady Hermon). Ask for one who is all three, however, and an obvious candidate leaps off the page – Naomi Long.
I was in Dublin in January for a panel on the European Union with representation from the Irish Republic (Ruairi Quinn, Labour TD and former Finance Minister), Great Britain (Kenneth Clarke, Conservative MP and former Chancellor), and Northern Ireland. The Northern Irish representative was the star of the show, wowing the audience not only with this superb speech, but also detailed and thoughtful answers during the Q&A sessions. That representative, of course, was Naomi Long.
Of course, she would never have been there in the first place, were it not for her diligence at a Councillor and subsequently MLA before the 2010 election. I have delivered some of the target literature during this campaign and it is marked that, on some streets in East Belfast, the majority of houses have a record of past successful casework from Naomi Long’s office since 2003.
It is merely the icing on the cake, therefore, that she also happens to be the first ever MP elected from Northern Ireland on a clearly and openly cross-community basis. From Short Strand to the Ice Bowl, every street will have been trodden without favour by ‘community’, without favour by class, without favour by creed.
This is not only about one constituency or one person, therefore, but about how we in Northern Ireland see ourselves and our democracy. Re-elect Naomi, and we send a clear message that if you work competently, diligently and inclusively you will be rewarded – and more than once; reject her, and we send a clear message that really all we want is people wrapping themselves up in a flag – even if they have demonstrated no competence, no diligence, and no appetite for inclusiveness (quite the contrary, if we elect people content to legalise homophobia, for example).
We may all wish Naomi well on Thursday – not for her sake (she’ll be fine!), but for ours.