What has been striking about this campaign in Northern Ireland is how little parties have to say in favour of their own candidates, particularly incumbents who should have a record to defend. We are supposed to vote Kinahan to keep out the DUP, vote Elliott to keep out Sinn Féin, vote Simpson to keep out Nationalists, and so on – it’s all about who you don’t want rather than who you do.
It has been strikingly similar in South Belfast. I have a lot of respect for incumbent Alasdair McDonnell, as it happens, but his campaign has mustered only one reason to vote for him – to keep someone else out. That’s it. After 12 years, there is apparently nothing he has done to provide a reason for voting for him – just a reason to vote against someone else.
Such relentless negativity, regardless of its source, deserves to be punished by the electorate.
Put simply, we should vote for someone and something, not against.
The Alliance candidate for South Belfast, whom I happen to know quite well, has instead put forward a positive case for electing a progressive MP more representative of this diverse, mixed and broadly socially liberal constituency.
Paula Bradshaw has pointed to her work with traders going back a generation on improving main arteries such as the Lisburn Road and reinvigorating them as economic locations; to her work on what was at the time Europe’s biggest regeneration project in the community sector in the Greater Village area; and to her knowledge of the day-to-day challenges of life in the inner city from two decades of working in it – all relevant to an MP’s work on welfare, health drugs and treatment availability, and best practice in tackling marginalisation and disadvantage.
She has referred to her work as an MLA – most notably securing commitments to make available key drugs and treatments for certain types of cancer and HIV, but also ensuring a greater role for Allied Health Professionals in the reform programme and greater emphasis on conditions such as ME. At constituency level, she can point to her collection efforts for refugees, and a record of delivery for families in areas such as school places and housing allocations. I remember the last house of one canvass happened to contain a remarkable family caring, against all the odds, for a toddler with a life-limiting condition – they would be the first to agree Paula’s intervention on issues such as transport and care availability has transformed their lives. That is just one example – and all of this has occurred remarkable in just one year! The fact it seems longer is tribute to how much she has accomplished.
She has also taken courageous positions, notably against Loyalist paramilitarism even while working in the communities in which they operate. She has taken a clear pro-choice stance (McDonnell and Pengelly are pro-life in all circumstances even FFA); she has taken a clear and proactive stance declaring political donations voluntarily (the SDLP and DUP hide theirs); and she is in favour of liberalising Sunday shopping hours (which SDLP and DUP Councillors all opposed) and more progressive rates system (unlike McDonnell and Pengelly). In fact, on a raft of issues, it is a matter only of whether you want a Nationalist social conservative or a Unionist social conservative… or Paula, providing a clear progressive cross-community alternative.
Let us also be clear: electing an incumbent or the largest current party will make very little difference. No one will find it remarkable. Electing the clear alternative, however, will send shock waves across Northern Ireland (just as it will in neighbouring East Belfast).
That clear progressive alternative was just two and a half percentage points behind the DUP in March, a gap much less than the sixteen points versus the equivalent election overturned by Naomi Long in East Belfast when she came from third to win in 2010.
So be in no doubt, Paula can win!
So if you believe is positive rather than negative, progressive rather than regressive, and a record of real delivery and full-time representation over scarcely turning up or not turning up at all, then Paula should win.
It’s time for some shock waves…