As a North Down born Liberal Democrat who is on the approved candidates list for Westminster elections one phrase grated at me from Ian Parsley’s defection statement yesterday.
“With a heavy heart, today I left the Alliance Party. I was, however, delighted to join David Camerons Conservative Party, and to become involved in politics at a UK level.”
Ok there two things there that grate a Lib Dem, there’s also how can it be a delight to join anyone’s Conservative party. However, the main thing that got my goat was that what seems to be the prime reason is to be involved in politics at a UK wide level. To hear that coming from a former member of the Alliance Party seems odd in light of the fact that the Lib Dems do have a branch in Northern Ireland, indeed have had one long before Labour allowed Northern Irish people to join, or the Conservatives not only decided to recognise their Northern Irish brethern and merge with the Ulster Unionists, but even before the Northern Irish Conservative Party first formed. That branch has also been working with the Alliance party whilst themselves remaining electorally inactive.
Earlier this year when Labour began to actively organise in Northern Ireland I blogged about the possibility of that relationship between Alliance and Northern Ireland being formalised. After all if the Tories and Labour are up to it why shouldn’t the Lib Dems. Lord Alderdice does take the Lib Dem whip in the House of Lords, the Alliance Party always send delegates to the Liberal Democrat conference and some of us, myself included, have been affiliated and able to vote for both during our adult lives.
It’s an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while and the longer normality returns to Northern Irish the stronger its appeal. Indeed I’ve had discussions with other Northern Irish born Liberal Democrats about it, most notably Lembit Öpik just before the 2005 General Election. So if Parsley thinks joining the Labour is the right thing to get involved with politics at the UK level, is Northern Ireland really ready for it? Could the UNUNF alligning to Cameron, a Labour Party led by Brown, or sucessor (possibly incorporating the SDLP, Workers Party and whoever else wishes to align), the Lib Dems, Sinn Féin matching the nationalist SNP and Plaid Cymru in the other UK Countries, plus of course the DUP and any other party that wishes to really appear on the next Westminster ballots across Northern Ireland?
I know Slugger readers will have a lot of opinion on this, so let’s hear it.