Though you’d barely know it from the media coverage, the much feted (elsewhere at least) leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was campaigning in Bangor yesterday for his party’s North Down candidate James Leslie. Clearly Reg Empey’s focus on whether the Conservatives were Unionist or not, obliterated the kind of upbeat attention the party had hoped would gain them leverage with the mainstream press and media. However in this least dogmatic of all Northern Irish constituencies, they are not failing back on the defensive:
Sir Reg’s focus is on past – a past where everyone has to ‘label’ themselves Unionist or Nationalist. In 2003 the Conservatives decided they would not play the designation game – and in doing so have successfully drawn attention to the limits of the current arrangements.
Does Sir Reg want designation to last for ever? Does he always want politics to be about Nationalism and Unionism? Does he not want Northern Ireland politics to focus on real issues? Does he want Northern Ireland to be excluded from the politics of the UK for ever?
We believe it is time that Northern Ireland comes in from the political cold – why should people in Northern Ireland not play their full part in the politics of the Union? Why must they be constrained in their political choices? It doesn’t make sense in Scotland; it doesn’t make sense in Wales. Increasingly it doesn’t make sense in Northern Ireland.
Jonathan Isaby from the Daily Telegraph was with David Cameron, and gives a reasonable outline of the party’s challenge on his blog last night:
It is the most middle class of the Ulster constituencies, and Bangor – with its own marina – could easily be mistaken for a prosperous seaside town in the south east of England. What the Northern Irish Tories seem to be hoping for is that as politics in the province normalises, there will be a serious market for a non-sectarian, unionist party, which is rooted in the centre-Right of politics. Furthermore, they reckon that they have far more electoral potential with the new generation of voters who did not live through the worst of the Troubles.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty