On Monday morning, the TUV held their campaign launch for May’s Assembly and local government elections. They’re running 12 candidates across 11 (of the 18) constituencies, and 41 council candidates across 19 (out of the 26) councils.
In the press conference, Jim Allister apologised to voters in constituencies in which they were not able to offer a TUV candidate. He explained that as a party with no public funding (ie, no Assembly, Westminster or European elected representatives), they had to manage within a budget.
To be honest, while some of the branding in the TUV’s East Belfast office and printed manifesto is clichéd – particular the posters spelling out F A I L U R E and R O A D M A P – the launch and press conference had a pretty professional backdrop for a self-funding party.
On the face of it, the TUV come across as anti-agreement, anti-DUP, very traditional in their definition and practice of unionism. Jim Allister still nearly always prefixes or suffixes the words “Sinn Fein” with “IRA”. So what does the party stand for? And why are they now willing to participate in the Stormont institution they’ve fought against for so long?
The sound bite from the launch seemed to be:
TUV is the catalyst for change. In the upcoming assembly we will be that catalyst for change.
The big pitch is that while voters will be able to change the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales in May’s elections, Northern Ireland voters will still end up with a cross-community coalition.
With no party commanding a majority, TUV believes that the foundation stone of any good government is voluntary power-sharing with a vigorous Opposition to hold the Executive to account. This is the gold standard for a properly accountable government which effectively works on your behalf rather than simply pursuing the narrow and selfish interests of those within it.
Speaking after the launch, Jim Allister explained:
My ultimate vision is that every party goes to an election, they all get their mandate whatever it is, no party is big enough to be able to form a government on their own, so they all sit down and they seek to negotiate what to do about health, about education, about the economy. Those who can agree – whoever they might be – form the government if they can command the requisite majority in the Assembly. Those who can’t agree – whoever they might be – form the opposition.
That’s basic fundamental democracy in action. The absurd situation at Stormont is that you don’t have to agree anything to be in government, so little wonder that when they are in government they can’t agree about anything and they’ll go on with more of the same.
The TUV’s full manifest is available to read and download online. While some subjects are covered in depth – eg, model of government, economy, education, water – there is a definite lack of obvious mention of anything about the environment or shared future.
It’s notable that there’s been a bit of churn in terms of their candidates since May 2010. David Vance is no longer fighting for East Belfast but is back on home turf in Upper Bann. Lagan Valley’s Keith Harbinson has been replaced with Lyle Rea. Council by-election candidate Ann Cooper – “Ann who?” as Jim Allister said – is running for the BNP at this election. Jim Allister counted:
We have quite a choice within our party … We have a number of faces who are back, and we have some new faces. That’s good, that’s positive.
Asked about his targets for the election, he refused to put exact figures on it.
I’ve never forecast an election yet but I believe we will be in Stormont. I believe we’ll be in all the councils that we’re standing in and Im looking forward to a good result on the 5th of May.
So you can translate that to a minimum of 1 MLA and at least 1 councillor in each of 11 councils!
Asked during the press conference whether he would ever see Sinn Fein as fit for government, Jim Allister answered:
I don’t see a situation arising in which TUV would go into government with Sinn Fein.
But he did go on to say that it wasn’t just a matter of their baggage, but that issues like their Marxist economic policies would need to change before the TUV could re-evaluate its position.
Other than his repeated ability to interrupt a question half way through, answer it very briefly, and then launch into an explanation about some other area of policy, possibly the most bizarre moments of the launch were when Jim Allister labelled Eamonn Mallie a “tweeting freak” and suggested that UTV were “sycophantic”. Modern media management extends to deliberately offending those in the room covering your event. Who knows what insult will be stored up for bloggers next time!