NI Conservatives – (not)Sponsored by FlyBe

NI Conservatives

In the 2010 General Election the Conservatives in NI party allied with the UUP and ran under the “Ulster Conservatives & Unionists – New Force” banner. It wasn’t successful, UUP lost their only sitting MP, no candidates were elected, and despite a couple of candidates coming a respectable second, such as Reg Empey losing by just over 1000 votes to William McCrea…it was a failure. The unionist alliance disbanded afterwards which has brought us to now…

The Conservatives in NI have rebranded as NI Conservatives and are standing 16 candidates across the province, which is 16 more than Labour or the Lib Dems…so at least we’re being remembered by mainstream UK politics. Let’s take a look at the candidates, because the fly-in nature of many of their representatives raises questions.

FROM Northern Ireland we have:

  • Neil Wilson running in East Belfast, living in Moira
  • Ben Manton running in Belfast South, living in Belfast West
  • Mark Brotherston running in North Down, living in Bangor (NI)
  • Alan Dunlop running in South Antrim, living in Foyle
  • Johnny Andrews running in Strangford, living in Strangford

Which is commendable, 5 candidates put forward for election that are from the province. With a potential candidate pool of well over 1 million, could they not find any more people who are actually living in Northern Ireland to stand under their banner? 11 Candidates are resident in the UK, some of whom are actually elected representatives in councils in their locality.

  • Belfast West – Paul Shea is running here, he ran in the 2010 General Election for the constituency of East Ham, he lost to Stephen Timms of Labour, who was elected with the largest numerical majority of any UK seat that election (27,826). I do wonder why, when Ben Manton lives in Belfast West, he wouldn’t stand for the constituency he lives in and instead a fly-in candidate from London is required to stand here…
  • East Antrim – Alex Wilson is the NI Conservatives candidate for East Antrim, he served as a Conservative councillor in Blackheath Westcombe ward, in Greenwich from 2006 to 2014, including a spell as deputy leader of the opposition.
  • East Londonderry – Elizabeth St Clair-Legge, residing in Hammersmith.
  • Foyle – Hamish Badenoch, currently an elected councillor in Merton, South London and living in Wimbledon, Mr. Badenoch is running for Foyle despite Alan Dunlop, who is running in South Antrim, living in the constituency.
  • Lagan Valley – Helen Osborne is currently a Conservative party councillor in Winchester for the St Barnabas ward, even though Neil Wilson, who is running in Belfast East, lives in Moira which is within the Lagan Valley catchment area.
  • Mid Ulster – Lucille Nicholson ran in the Durham county council elections in 2013, coming 4th of 4 candidates with a 4.4% vote share (50 votes).
  • Newry & Armagh – Robert Rigby is a high flying marketing executive, currently living in London and represents the Regents Park ward in Westminster council.
  • North Antrim – Carol Freeman is currently a director for the South African chamber of commerce and lives in Lewisham, SE London, however she has relatives from Northern Ireland on her maternal side.
  • South Down – Felicity Buchan lives in Chelsea & Fulham
  • Upper Bann – Amandeep Singh Bhogal has garnered media attention as he is the first sikh candidate to run in a general election in Northern Ireland, he lives in Erith & Thamesmead and previously ran, unsuccessfully, for the London Assembly in 2012
  • West Tyrone – Claire-Louise Leyland is the Conservative group leader on Camden Council and represents the Belsize ward.

I spoke to Claire-Louise Leyland and asked her some questions about how she feels she will be able to represent the people of West Tyrone despite her provincial non-dom status. She said:

Many people seem to agree that West Tyrone needs a change and I think that the Conservatives offer just that. We’ve got a fanastic group of people standing at this election and I know that people in Northern Ireland would have strong, effective representative if Conservative candidates are elected. We are standing as a national party and offer local people the opportunity to move beyond familiar, sectarian choices and to work towards building a better future for themselves and their families.  I’m surprised that Labour have not come forward, but they are struggling on many fronts and perhaps don’t feel they can do well here either.
What local people need is someone who can bring about positive change by influencing debates about issues that affect the area. They need someone who can work on their behalf to encourage investment in West Tyrone.
As I’ve said, I haven’t got longstanding links to West Tyrone, but I have been through the selection process to be an approved candidate. We have candidates from Northern Ireland standing across the United Kingdom, so it’s not that unusual for a national party to pick someone with the right skill set to engage well with people and a track record of delivering results for communities. I can assure you though that I’m passionate about public service and would work very hard for West Tyrone if I was fortunate enough to be elected.
Quite how those candidates who are already elected members of their respective councils feel they could also carry out constituency work if elected is unclear, Lewisham to North Antrim is quite a commute. Double Jobbing is already a contested issue by Northern Irish parties, as far as I understand, MLA/MP double jobbing will cease to be permitted when the current assembly is dissolved before the 2016 election (or sooner..) but there is no legislation on being an MP and a member of a local council, Ken Livingstone remained MP for Brent East for a time whilst simultaneously holding the post of Mayor of London. Those who are currently holding 2 posts, such as Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell both of the DUP at least represent the same areas, where ground work would overlap… how much overlap is there between being MP for West Tyrone and being on Camden council. I asked Barry Brown of the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol party, a West Tyrone resident and also parliamentary candidate for the area how he felt about double jobbing and how he would feel if his local MP lived in mainland UK and was also a councillor in their home area.

I think double jobbing would inevitable lead to a conflict of representation as the two roles are different. Having lived under direct rule and an abstentionist MP for as long as I was politically aware, I probably wouldn’t notice much difference – Barry Brown – CISTA PPC West Tyrone

But would a candidate even have the time for this? I asked a number of elected representatives their opinions on what time commitment is required.

“I think it’s hard to quantify [how many hours an MP needs to put in per week], I’m not sure I’m ever off duty to be honest. I regularly clock up 90+ hours although it may not be advisable..”

-Naomi Long – PPC Belfast East – Alliance Party


“It depends how much time you have to be honest. I spend probably 20-25 hours per week on it [councillor work] but it can be a bit up and down. Preparing, reading papers, researching topics, learning briefs, dealing with constituency work”

-Emmet McDonough-Brown – Belfast City Councillor – Alliance Party


“I feel “council” (ie official meetings) is only a small part of my job which is more community work and advice (grant, job, benefit) focused, but I would say at a minimum 20 hours not including actual council and committee meetings which can last hours by themselves. Also it depends on how large your party is as many hands make light work and for many, council is a second job so time is an issue”

– James Shiels – Mid Ulster Councillor – DUP


So is it mere tokenism, the Conservative party wanting to appease their members in NI by propping up a few candidates, paying some flights for PR opportunities and hoping it isn’t too embarrassing? Should local NI Conservative members feel hard done by that this is how their mother-party treats their local issues? Admittedly the chance of any of their candidates winning is so remote as to not really warrant consideration, but there is a strong principle to running for public office, one which might lose some of it’s integrity if a candidate who perhaps couldn’t point to Lagan Valley on a map was to even receive a share of votes. Whether or not the NI Conservatives will poll well enough to be considered to have “split the unionist vote” remains to be seen, but considering the pact with the UUP last time around there will be some unionists who will vote for a “mainland party” as a protest against the kind of incestuous tribal politics presented by some of the unionist parties since the last General Election. On that note, perhaps having an MP who has never had a full soda or vegetable roll wouldn’t be the worst thing to have ever happened.




Disclaimer: I (the author) undertook a work placement during college education with a Conservative MP. This has not in any way influenced my article.

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