Category Archives: Politics

What the NIO should do now…

What should the Northern Ireland Office do to resolve the current impasse with the Northern Ireland institutions?

Easy, actually. Implement the Smith Commission proposals. Here! Now!

The link gives the details, but we can run down specifically what that would mean:

– Memorandum of Understanding for managing different tax/welfare structures (this enables differentiation if that is the route Northern Ireland chooses);

– devolution of Income Tax (on earned income), Aggregates Levy alongside Air Passenger Duty (if Northern Ireland doesn’t want “austerity”, it now has all the tools to raise taxes to make up the difference itself, and stand or die by these decisions at Assembly Elections);

– assignment of first ten points of VAT to the Northern Ireland budget (this has the effect of promoting policies favourable to value-added economic activity, as much of this will add to the NI budget);

– non-devolution of Corporation Tax (as Northern Ireland has not fulfilled the obligations of the Stormont House Agreement, some penalty should be paid);

– reservation (i.e. un-devolution) of pensions and benefits to do with parenting or low income alongside tax credits (it makes sense to do these across the UK anyway);

– reservation (i.e. un-devolution) of equality laws (it has taken too long for Northern Ireland to tidy up its equality legislation and so makes sense to share best practice across the UK);

– maintenance of devolution of disability benefits with removal of ‘parity’ requirements (this is Nationalists’ key concern apparently, and they now have the aforementioned tools to raise the money themselves from their own voters to pay for any differentiation, including the administration of a different system, without having to pay for the entire system);

– representation of Northern Ireland interests by Northern Ireland ministers directly to European Union (this is particularly important in Northern Ireland given our land border); and

– replacement of cross-community Assembly votes with two thirds super majorities (also now used in Westminster for certain specific votes under the Fixed Terms Act).

The Barnett formula and ‘consequentials’ would of course be maintained, and logically the baseline for welfare payments would be set within it (this would most sensibly be done at the New Year 2012 level, before the Welfare Reform Act, effectively adding £300 million to the NI Executive’s annual budget – a politically feasible amount for the Treasury). This means that Northern Ireland starts from a baseline position of public spending at around £2,000 more per head than the UK average plus an extra welfare subsidy – but if it chooses to move any of that up or down, that is its choice, and it pays for or gains from that as appropriate. The welfare ‘crisis’ would be resolved – some powers would be withdrawn, but others would be maintained and ‘parity’ in effect ended.

So, problem solved – because as a package, I suspect this would find support among the Northern Ireland parties:

– Nationalists can claim victory by securing abolition of parity (with a £300 million welfare subsidy), ‘devolution of economic control’ and ‘more power in Irish hands’ (they could hardly turn down the chance to deliver on ‘no one loses out’ by maintaining DLA as is, having now been handed the fiscal tools to raise taxes to pay for it…);

– Unionists can claim victory also for the welfare subsidy and for ‘protecting the Union’ by securing directly equivalent devolution models (and the DUP would no doubt relish the opportunity directly to pursue its low tax model, albeit with the obvious consequent reductions in public spending…); and

– Progressives would also welcome the effective removal of ‘designations’ (they may remain but would be irrelevant, with protections now offered by super-majority votes) and may then pursue the logical progression of a government/opposition model using that super-majority protection.

Most importantly than any of that, the public would now see the Assembly as much more transparent. It would have to raise money from the public directly if it wished to raise public spending or welfare protections; but it would also have the opportunity to offer reduced taxes if it wished to encourage public sector efficiency, private consumption and tackling of individual/corporate debt. The public would be better informed, civic society would be challenged, and political debate would become meaningful (Scotland would even act as a direct comparison).

Real politics, I believe it is called… that is why I strongly believe the NIO should do this, and do it now!

Follow the lights to economic success…

Just take a quick glance at the below.

Lights

The big bulks of red are all you need to know.

In Europe, in particular, there is a dense red line from London through the Dutch rand (Rotterdam and Amsterdam), the German Ruhrgebiet (Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen etc), Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and over the Alps to Milan.

That is a map of connected devices in the world, but it also shows where economic power is thus concentrated. All Europe’s economic focus is on that corridor – innovation hubs target it, government transport policies prioritise it, people seeking a better life are sucked towards it. These just happens to be the cities and regions where GDP/capita is 50% or more above the EU average. They are the ones to which we need to be connected.

Continue it north west from London and you do indeed get Birmingham, Manchester, and yes the east coast of Ireland. We could join the connection! Arguably, Dublin is already there but Belfast lags.

Yet look at the departures board at either Belfast Airport! You may see Amsterdam but you will see none of the others.

It is time we got to know Frankfurt and Milan as well as we know Fuengirola and Marbella…

Fine day for Ireland; embarrassment for Northern Ireland

“The economy is our Number One priority” said the DUP on coming to power in 2007.

Let’s see what makes an economy flourish. We need spaces where people feel free, where creative people can express themselves, and where people can bring their families (any kind of family). That’s where people invest and create jobs.

Now, just ask yourself, in the light of the referendum in the Republic and the failure to govern in Northern Ireland, where would you invest and create jobs?

Enough said.

UK Election – Why did the polls get it so wrong?

For Labour it was a disappointment, for the Liberal Democrats a disaster – and for the pre-election pollsters a debacle. The UK Election campaign was awful but the results were spectacular, delivering a verdict as markedly different from expectations as 1992.

I would suggest the polls got it wrong for a completely different reason from all those I have hitherto seen suggested.

First, the back story…

The pollsters’ failure was surely even more stunning in 2015 than in 1992, as we had been led to believe (and I was as naive as any in this regard) that the pollsters had sorted it it out since then, and that their projections – the basis also for “forecasts” from the academically minded such as the famous US analyst Nate Silver – were now highly reliable. This point was not seriously questioned – indeed, the BBC even did a Panorama programme based on the assumption of reliability!

It turns out they were no more reliable than they were in 1992.

Indeed, albeit in retrospection, a detailed check through the records shows that pre-election polls have consistently overstated the Labour vote at every single election even since 1992 (and indeed back at least to the 1974) – regardless of incumbency. The same polls generally understate the Conservative vote, but not always. Not so much “Shy Tory” as “Excitable Labour”, then…

To some degree, we have simply missed this. Labour’s 43% in 1997 delivered the expected landslide – but actually the polls, even the exit poll, suggested it would be significantly higher. Polls in 2001 suggested an increased majority even on that landslide, but the result was a slight decrease. Even in 2010, hardly a single poll put Labour below 30% – where they actually were. In other words, the polls have been in error for some time but, due to a combination of one-sidedness and luck, 2015 happened to be the first time since 1992 that this materially affected the implicit prediction about who could command a parliamentary majority.

That said, 2015’s polls (taking the poll-of-polls immediately before the election as the guide) were also the most wrong since 1992, suggesting an absolutely even outcome between the Conservatives and Labour when the former were actually six points ahead. The usual discrepancy is about half of that.

So, why were they so wrong a generation on from the 1992 debacle?

Having taken some time to check these things, I would suggest it is fundamentally to do with methodology.

In the UK, pollsters still get straight to the point. Generally what happens is someone visits your home, or phones, or even contacts you over the Internet (Internet polls were particularly wrong, by the way) and more or less immediately asks you for your voting intention. It does not materially matter how they phrased this question (in fact, interestingly, the “Ashcroft Polls” asking merely for preferred party were more accurate than those which asked the identity of the likely candidates to be borne in mind); what matters is they get straight to it.

I work essentially in market research (I call it “PR”, but increasingly it is more like market research), assessing how campaign messages or new services would be received. In that case, however, the last thing I ask is “What do you think of this?” (or, politically, “How are you going to vote?”).

Let us consider the development of Apple’s iPad. I did not do the market research for this, but I do happen to know those who did. Cast your mind back about ten years, pre-iPad. If someone had immediately shown you an iPad and said “Could you find a use for this?” you would almost certainly have laughed – we already had laptops for desk work and mobiles in our pocket, so what on earth would we need that awkward looking thing for? If they had suggested that you may want to part with a small fortune in order to own one, you may have started to get quite worried about them…

So the researchers for Apple’s iPad did not ask the straight question. Instead, they spent time getting to know people – their lifestyle, their daily routine, how they relaxed, how they worked, how they interacted, and so on. Never once during this work would they ask anything even remotely related to technological equipment, report writing, online reading or whatever. They would spend entire focus groups, entire research days, entire mini-projects without going anywhere near any product (or service) that Apple offered.

Having done that “lifestyle research”, they then designed a device which they felt would fit into people’s daily lives, and that people would pay significant amounts of money for. They developed a marketing plan accordingly, and hey presto – we have an iPad.

I know rather less about polling specifically (I specialise only in exit polling – which came out rather well on 7/8 May, as it happens!), but I am led to understand that polling in North America follows a similar procedure to Apple’s research, albeit of course in a much shorter time frame. Rather than going straight out and demanding to know how someone is going to vote, the pollster asks some general lifestyle questions – designed, essentially, to get the respondent to be in the same frame of mind they will be in when they enter the polling booth.

For example – and, beware, one man’s educated guesswork is another’s ill-informed conjecture – they may find out that the respondent set up a mobile nail bar a few years ago but has just invested in an office to run it from; or that a builder is back to having to turn down work having struggled to find any five years ago; or that a taxi driver is getting significantly more fares of an average Saturday night.

Let us then compare two pollsters. The typical UK pollster does not bother finding out all of that, and instead asks the nail bar owner/builder/taxi driver straight out who they are going to vote for – “Well, I don’t know, I mean, obviously, I’m not exactly one of those bankers, so, you know, I may give Labour a try.” However, a typical US pollster finds out all of that and then asks who they are going to vote for – “Well, you know, as I said things are getting better now so I thought, probably, I’ll just give the Conservatives another try.”

You can instantly see the difference. In the second case, the respondent is much nearer in attitude to where they will be in the privacy of the polling booth, and also feels more willing to declare for the Conservatives given that the reason is self-evident from the discussion they have just had.

If you ask the wrong question or, at least, you omit to ask the right question, then the respondent will probably omit to give you the right answer. I am not a pollster, I emphasise, but I cannot help but think the answer lies in there somewhere.

Lessons from the UK election are far-reaching

I addressed the CIPFA luncheon on the outcome of the General Election and raised three far-reaching consequences of it.

Firstly, the result of the election (and indeed the exit poll) was a shock because the pollsters and pundits got it wrong.

This raises serious issues about polling and punditry generally, particularly the former. What, precisely, is the point of an opinion poll if even a series of them turns out utterly wrong? If this can apply to an election (where the error is demonstrable), how do we know it does not apply to everything else? For government departments carrying out consultations or businesses carrying out market research, how do we know this is in any way meaningful? In fairness to forecasters and pundits, they can only work from the information they have, but if basic indicators such as economic competence or preferred Prime Minister so heavily favoured one side, should someone not have picked it up?

It seems to me that this era of mass information is becoming an era of erroneous information. Pollsters and others crowd around a particular forecast, afraid of being attacked as an outlier, and no one is rewarded for standing clear from this crowd. The crowd, however, sometimes (often, even) gets it wrong.

Punditry also suffers from a lack of judgement in selecting the “expert”. Immediately upon presentation of the exit poll, one pundit on BBC NI said “exit polls in 1992 and 1970″ were “wrong”. In fact, the exit poll in 1992 was not much further out than this year’s; and the exit poll in 1970, taken in a single constituency, was absolutely spot on and the first indication anyone had of the correct result. In fact, exit polls have rarely been far out; yet pre-election polls have quite frequently been. There is a clear distinction, and no “pundit” should miss this. Again, pundits go with the crowd and are too impressed by fables about the past which are in fact untrue (such as that 1992 exit poll) or by social media propaganda – look how many, for example, predicted a Sinn Féin win in Belfast South, where in fact they came a distant fourth (as anyone actually knocking doors there or even with a basic knowledge of electoral trends locally would have known).

We have now to be much more careful, fundamentally, about what information we buy, and choose our suppliers much more carefully.

Secondly, Northern Ireland is now into a period of time where it is vulnerable to external shocks which are predictable, but which it is choosing to ignore.

There will be obvious financial shocks. Already, a ludicrous public discussion has broken out about how to “stop austerity” rather than how to deal with it. Northern Ireland has seen about 14% knocked off its spending in real terms – we complain about this, but it is less than half the equivalent reduction across the border in the Republic and it is not as bad as experienced elsewhere in the UK. The failure of Northern Ireland parties to budget properly (while pretending they do not have to) is already causing considerable grief – the voluntary sector in particular is taking a hit, but so are universities, road construction projects and school buildings, among others. Unless there is a dramatic change at the 2016 Assembly Election to parties prepared to tell it as it is and prepare accordingly, this will only get worse.

Less obviously, there is the issue that “the Union”, the defining issue of Northern Ireland elections supposedly, is no longer actually remotely in our hand. Already, effectively, there is no longer a UK Government, but in effect an English Government which takes additional responsibility over Defence and Foreign Affairs for the wider Union. With Scotland yellow, England blue and London red, the Union is changing dramatically and will surely become federal, including with significant financial powers. Northern Ireland, reliant on tens of billions every year from South East England, has taken no serious steps to reform its public services. remove inefficient segregation and promote export markets – on the contrary, reform processes are blocked, segregation is protected deliberately at great cost, and we do not even have a direct air route to Europe’s largest market. Those demanding “devolution of economic control” will get a hell of a shock when that actually happens and they have to introduce tax hikes which make prescription charges look like pocket change.

Looming large also will be Europe – and, generally, the UK’s place in the world and its global and economic structures. Already, the attempt to remove the Human Rights Act is tampering with the 1998 Agreement. Any hint of exit from the EU will make investors less certain, and thus hinder the prospects of adding jobs immediately to make up for those lost in the voluntary sector. Actual withdrawal from the EU would make all-Ireland networks we take for granted harder; will remove funding upon which farmers and community groups are reliant; and will cause further constitutional upheaval within the UK including a second “Indyref”. As the UK’s role in global influence diminishes, it will lose control of its own security, dependent as this is practically on shared intelligence and military cooperation – something difficult for the whole UK but a particular risk in Northern Ireland. None of this is being seriously debated in Northern Ireland because it has no real leaders prepared to tackle the issues as they are – either political or civic.

Thirdly, there is the challenge of dealing with what the election result shows us – that people across the UK (at least, outside Scotland) view the world fundamentally differently from the way in which it is seen in the media (particularly the social media). That is, perhaps, the biggest shock of all. While discussion on the campaign trail and in the TV studios was of “Tory cuts”, the people actually voted for them – including here in Northern Ireland, where the largest party’s financial policy is defined by low tax (and thus low public spending, even if they omit that bit in public debate). There is a serious breakdown there as, again, a world of manic and constant communication means a lot more is said and written, but a lot less is truly understood.

Which takes us back to the pollsters and pundits, perhaps…

UK Parliamentary electoral system unlikely to change

I did not expect, as I approached 40, to be spending nearly an hour on lunchtime radio discussing electoral systems, but all credit to BBC Talkback presenter William Crawley for keeping a debate (an interesting debate at that) going on the subject on Monday.

Like so many things in England, the electoral system to Parliament is in fact a matter of tradition rather than reason. Not content merely with advice from his closest Barons (the Privy Counsel) or even a wider number of them (the House of Lords), Medieval monarchs also sought advice from people elected from various communes across England and Wales (thus the House of Communes, now Commons). These communes were based on traditional subdivisions – counties and city boroughs as we now know them – and initially could be wildly varying in size and entitlement.

Post-War, each “commune” (officially now a “division” but generally known as a “constituency”) elects one member, and, since 1974, boundaries have been redrawn periodically to make them of roughly the same size population-wise. In each case, formally, what we are doing is electing a Member from our commune (community) to represent us when discussing (Norman French parler, hence parliament).

The big advantage of this is simplicity. We cast one vote for our preferred candidate, and the one with the most votes wins. Easy.

The big disadvantage is that this can appear grossly unfair – in 2010, the Liberal Democrats were the largest party in Oxford but won neither of its parliamentary seats, edged out by the Conservatives in one and Labour in the other. Most obviously, the system is designed to suit two parties who, with a wide breadth of support everywhere, can win every seat between them assuming that other parties’ (smaller) votes are evenly spread (hence in 1983 Labour’s 28% was converted into over 200 seats, but the Liberal/SDP Alliance share of 25% was worth just 23). It also suits regional parties who score highly in a particular area of the country – hence the SNP won 56 seats with less than half UKIP’s vote, while UKIP mustered just one.

Nevertheless, every single election since the War has delivered peculiarities and no one has managed to change it. In 1951, quite simply, the wrong party won – Labour actually received its highest ever vote, more than the Conservatives and their allies, yet lost to a working majority. In 1959, the Unionists (Conservatives) outpolled Labour in Scotland for the last time – yet won fewer seats there. In February 1974 a Liberal surge to nearly 20% of the vote delivered only 14 seats (only eight more than previously). In October 1974 the Nationalists received 30.4% of the vote in Scotland but won only 11 of 71 seats there. Then there was the aforementioned farce of 1983 when the third party was left well back despite pulling almost level with Labour in vote share, and the fact the Conservatives in 2010 received more votes, had a higher vote share, and were further clear of their opposition than Labour in 2005 – yet Labour had a comfortable majority in 2005 and the Conservatives were forced into coalition in 2010. This is to leave aside the SNP now has 95% of the seats in Scotland when half the voters actually chose someone else.

No one has ever come out of a UK election thinking the system worked well! Yet the combination of tradition and the simple fact that a winning party will rarely change the system that elected it means the old system may hang around a while yet.

Reality of an Election Campaign

As candidate, agent, Acting Party General Secretary, constituency organiser, general adviser and (most importantly) spouse, I have fulfilled almost every role there is to fill during an election campaign. The public view of it is perhaps rather different from the reality!

My sense is that the public generally view the candidates as full-time and the campaigns as somehow state-funded. Neither is true. Candidates are normal members of the public with work and family commitments just like anyone else; and they and their parties have to raise almost all money involved through their own fundraising. Inevitably, in fact, this gives incumbents and other full-time politicians (say, MLAs running for MP) an advantage, as non-full-time challengers operating entirely voluntarily have to juggle general work commitments with the campaign.

A good campaign will have started well in advance. Months before polling day some kind of communication should already have gone through doors introducing the candidate. A subsequent communication should, ideally, follow demonstrating some of the candidate’s work “on the ground”. Therefore, when the campaign proper starts (officially usually five weeks before polling day), the candidate should already be identifiable to many householders, even if not an incumbent.

The much maligned posters then appear confirming the candidate. In both Irish jurisdictions, it is usual to use face posters placed on public property to achieve this; this is distinct from Great Britain, where usually the name alone, placed alone on private property, suffices. This may be a quirk of the electoral system and electoral tradition, where in Ireland candidates need to be known and personable, whereas in Great Britain there is (or at least was) greater reliance on pure party loyalty. There is, frankly, no need for so many. Main intersections is what you are aiming for, and you want them commonly branded (different posters of the same party or even the same candidate look indecisive, not a popular trait electorally).

Candidates are entitled to one mailing through Royal Mail. Parties do this in many varying ways. Some are happy simply to fire out leaflets in the hope people read them, usually emphasising key points both about the candidate and the party; others like to personalise them, either paying for a mail sort or labelling themselves to try to ensure the addressee takes an interest – labelling is a highly time-intensive activity but can be a good way of involving less mobile campaigners. Some parties, usually the labellers, go for a second leaflet in some locations at their own expense (both in terms of time and money) to re-emphasise an issue, particularly if one has been picked up early in the campaign.

Then, there is canvassing – an art much misunderstood even by canvassers themselves. The purpose of canvassing is, in principle at least, to identify your own voters (often referred to as “definites”) and any waverers (“potentials” or similar). The purpose is not to pick up lots of queries (you should already have done that before the campaign), and it is absolutely not to spend half an hour trying desperately to persuade one person! Outcomes do vary – naturally optimistic canvassers have to be persuaded that “I’ll give it a wee read and see” is not remotely a “definite”; on the other hand, pessimists can sometimes discount potential supporters by ending the interaction as soon as the leaflet has left the hand. The purpose of the canvass leaflet itself is purely to indicate the candidate (or their team) actually called – some make these unnecessarily complicated so that householders who were actually canvassed while out are left with the impression they were not.

As if this were not time consuming enough, candidates also have the media (in all its forms) and “hustings” to contend with. They may be offered TV slots, invaluable for further recognition (people like to vote for candidates they feel they know, and TV seems to count); or radio slots, to put over a particular message. They will also have to contend with huge amounts of email and social media traffic – growing rapidly in the 2010s – trying to appear personable and vaguely normal while avoiding the inevitable trolls who seek to trip candidates up or engage, sadly, in outright bullying. Email queries are often set up by particular campaigns and the same query can be received many times (these used to come on postcards too, but these have now been largely discarded); then there will be genuine emails about a specific topic or range of topics, and unfortunately less that genuine ones from opponents and admirers (for reasons political or otherwise)! Most time-consuming of all, depending on constituency, can be “hustings” hosted by local groups or communities where candidates are invited to appear on a panel – the highlights of these are now often broadcast on social media in one way or another, and the outcome more often than not takes the form of a misplaced remark rather than a brilliant point, as was in evidence in South Down this year.

The final days are the “Get the Vote Out” operation. This is in fact more advanced in Great Britain, where parties even go the extent of placing polling agents to collect voters’ numbers to determine which pledged voters have and have not voted by different times of day. In Northern Ireland, this tradition has not taken root and parties have wildly varying ways of doing it, which may involve further leaflets or letters aimed at nudging “definites” to the polls and/or persuading “potentials” or “undecideds”.

After all that, votes can even be lost at the count. Parties need to be organised with paperwork throughout the campaign, not least to assign counting agents who check the count proceeds correctly (including that votes are in the correct bundle) and that dubious votes are correctly assigned.

It is all a most remarkable, wearying and (in the case of most challengers) voluntary thing. Yet it is democracy in action – and, as we know better than most in this part of the world, it is a lot better than the alternative.

Polls open – please vote!

Polls have opened in the United Kingdom General Election.

Elections, for all their faults, must serve as a reminder of the things which, as civilised people, we should never forget to cherish:

– we are innocent until proven guilty in an independent court of law;

– we have rights and freedoms established in law; and

– we elect our legislators and they are accountable to us.

These seem remarkably simple things, yet they are unavailable to the vast majority across the world and it is remarkable how we forget about them when they do not suit.

We must never yield to a society where vigilante “justice” rules supreme; we must never restrict rights to the extent that even minor offence is not tolerated; and we must never stop voting to the extent that our legislators can ignore us.

A society without Rule of Law (even when it doesn’t suit), without Freedom of Expression (even when it offends), and without Elected Representatives (even when they cause us to despair) is at once less fair, less free, and less effective. Here in Northern Ireland, of all places, we know that the alternative to democracy is bloody chaos.

So, whatever you do, remember these are hard-won things available only to a minority world-wide – so please vote! Have your say.

In Northern Ireland, remember your passport, driving licence or smart card (or electoral ID card) as you head to the polling station.

Why Paula Bradshaw must be elected

Fancy that, not only does this Alliance member want a member of the same party elected, but even a member of the same household…

Yet it is just as important that Paula Bradshaw be elected in South Belfast as it is that Naomi Long be elected in East. Naomi herself has been consistent in reminding people…

Naomi

It is essential, when the incumbents have let us down, that we replace them. Let us recall that, in the case of the South Belfast, the incumbent has suggested that failure to give them pay rises would “see MLAs living in poverty”; has committed is party to opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest; and has condemned an entire profession by saying GPs never get cases of foetal abnormality right. He is a double-jobbing embarrassment, and he absolutely must not be maintained in office just because we fear someone else may get in!

But let us not be negative. It is also vital that we enable new entries to the political scene to be elected. If we always do what we’ve always done…

Remember, unlike incumbents and other challengers in the political scene, candidates like Paula are full-time mothers and full-time workers. They cannot be expected to knock every door (although Paula has given it a go), attend every hustings (although she has) or be seen at every envelope opening (she hasn’t done that; nor should she, as it’s so obviously insincere when candidates do).

Of course, we should not change for change’s sake. However, when a candidate comes forward who has worked in the constituency for a quarter of a century including as a Charity Chief Executive for half that period; who has worked and got to know people in all sectors (traders, community, agencies, etc); who has a detailed knowledge of how people can work with politicians to deliver change because she has done it herself… well, the case makes itself.

The hustings have offered a clear example. We all know the type of candidate who offers merely vague generalisations about how good things are good, bad things are bad, and therefore we should have more good things and fewer bad things. We have seen it on all the panels. Yet Paula is the precise opposite of such a candidate – offering, from her position, instant advice on how people can work with her to deliver a new cultural centre, or changes to procurement, or new funding channels for their voluntary group.

To make an obvious point, if enough people vote for her, Paula will be elected. She is not the favourite because it is assumed people will vote tactically, out of fear of another candidate winning. In fact, there is no reason for them to do so! In 2011, Anna Lo topped the polls (although, to be fair, the total Alliance vote ended up marginally behind the DUP and SDLP); in 2014, that gap had been closed and the three parties were almost even with each other according to tallies.

After all that has gone on, think of the message which would be sent out from Northern Ireland if two Alliance women were elected in South and East Belfast even in the face of a Unionist pact.

Vote for what you want! And remember, if you vote for it tomorrow, it happens…

Why Naomi Long must be re-elected

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.

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