This evening and Tuesday night will be the last real opportunity for the European candidates to address voters and make their case for election to the European parliament. The debates are scheduled to take place on Monday 10:35pm, UTV with all ten candidates, followed by another on Tuesday evening on BBC One also at 10:35pm. I am not sure whether all the candidates have been invited to the Spotlight debate or whether it is just the five main parties.
I thought it would be interesting to get a debate going on Slugger on what each of the candidates need to do in the last few days to garner some momentum going into Thursdays contest. If you were their campaign manager/press officer what would you be advising each of them to do in order to stop mistakes or land a killer blow on their main opponents?
I have attended all but one of the hustings, seeing each of the candidates (apart from Allister) debating up close there are a few things that I think each of them have to keep in mind as they talk to a wider audience.
- Able to quote facts and figures about our membership of the European Union with ease and very few notes.
- Very polished and disciplined, which works for her in delivering a clear message.
- She also deals with well criticism over issues like victims when it is put in front of her. Going up against someone like Allister, I would be very surprised if the SPAD bill or victim’s issues did not emerge at some point. If Anderson can keep her cool and respond calmly to any charge put to her then she should have a good night.
- Has gotten a lot better from poor performance in the 2009 TV debates.
- Like Anderson, she is able to quote figures and facts about Northern Ireland and Europe with relative ease which adds to the sense that she is in control of her brief.
- One problem that I can see is that when she is put under pressure she tends to fall back into teacher mode and ends up lecturing the audience and the person who is attacking her. If I was advising her, I would stay away from quoting any surveys that show ‘Oh I was the best MEP etc,’ this does not really impress anyone and actually comes across a bit sad.
- Arguably has the most to lose from this debate. This will be his last chance to really get people out to vote for him and convince possible voters who are planning to stay at home that he is deserving of another five years in Brussels.
- The only real card he can play is his experience and his contact book in Europe. There will need to be some focus on Attwood as he tries to convince Unionist voters to come out and vote for him or at the very least preference him high enough on Election Day.
- Likewise, this will be an important set of appearances for Attwood as he tries to convince people that he is in striking distance of that third seat. He doesn’t do badly on TV and this could be a critical moment for him to win over more support.
- Attwood needs to find some way of moving closer to Sinn Fein in order to give them a reason to transfer to him in sufficient numbers. If he can stress common positions on Europe, Irish unity and economic issues I think that could do him some good in improving his chances of election.
- One negative is for him not to fall into the trap of stressing the European Socialist membership too much. I have canvassed in Euro elections and been at a variety of events and I am yet to hear anybody actually really care what affiliation you have once you get to Brussels. These debates don’t give you much time; don’t waste it continuously stressing irrelevant points to your audience.
- These debates will crucial for Anna as her campaign has struggled to get back on track on following her Irish unity interview in March.
- If it comes up she needs to own the Irish unity comments that she made. I have often felt the kind of downplaying and attempts to bury what she said just adds fuel to the fire. The simple fact is, she supports Irish unity and she just needs to be open about it and not attempt to back track or downplay it.
- Finally, out of all the candidates, she just needs to leave it all out there and stop holding back-she is a liberal, Euro loving, shared future enthusiast, who is sympathetic to Irish nationalism, for better or worse that is where she is on the political spectrum.
- This really is Allister’s forte and is something that he has likely been preparing for with great enthusiasm. He did really well in the 2009 Euro debates and easily took apart most of the opposition.
- Allister needs give reasons for his voters to come to the polls and vote for him. To really achieve this, he needs to take the issue of splitting the Unionist vote head on and really bring home to people that a vote for the TUV is not going to be wasted.
- Tina’s main job is to ensure that she is relevant and that she has some concrete proposals to actually bring to Europe. At some of the debates, she has a habit of bringing everything back to issues like opposition and DUP/Sinn Fein, but this has little to do with CAP or our membership of the European Union.
- Tina should stress her knowledge of working within the single market and what somebody like her could bring to this role. In addition to this, Tina at the hustings has come across as very aggressive when she critiques some of the other candidates, it really doesn’t work for her and she is at her best when she holds back and sells a positive policy message.
- Reilly will need to use this opportunity to illustrate how UKIP is relevant to life in Northern Ireland. Unlike Farage, Reilly is competing against other parties who have an equally hostile view of the European Union and in this debate it will be harder for him to gain traction.
- Reilly has to stop making ‘colourful’ references on issues such as Climate Change and the intentions of politicians within the European Union. There are other ways to make a critical argument and if Reilly can take a disciplined approach he might be able to win over some supporters.
- Brown’s main task will be to get his voice heard in the debate.
- His best strategy will be to use his positive demeanour and energy to get the viewers’ attention. The reality is that he has got very little to lose, so he should just be himself, talk about the issues he cares about (trade, energy and climate change) and give people who are that way inclined a reason to vote for him.
- Likewise, Brotherston will struggle to get his voice heard.
- At a time when the Conservative government is unpopular in Westminster and locally the NI Secretary is not well liked it will not be easy for him to sell the party message. Brotherston, has got very little to lose in these debates, he should just be himself and talk about the issues he cares about. This is an opportunity for him to sell a positive local Conservative message and I would urge him to focus on how this fits in with our local politics.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs