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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  • Robin Keogh

    Its a joke !

  • Ernekid

    [comment removed for being in poor taste – next time, blacklisted]

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    An interesting thing is, if they’re already standing in 16 out of 18 constituencies, why not Belfast North and FST? The former doesn’t make a lot of sense as they aren’t going to affect the outcome with the small number of votes they get so why not go for it? They’re standing in Belfast West after all!

    As for FST, is it possible that the Tories are conniving at the electoral pact and are worried that they’ll take enough votes away from Tom Elliott to give Sinn Fein an easier run? Makes me wonder how clean the breakup of UCU-NF was.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Three things…

    1. It is perfectly normal for the big UK parties to place candidates in different jurisdictions. In England, the Labour Party will win St Helens South with Northern Irishman Conor McGinn; the Liberal Democrats have Northern Irishmen in neighbouring seats in/around Liverpool; last time the Conservatives selected high-profile Northern Irish candidates in two key marginals (Joanne Cash in Westminster North and Gareth McKeever in Westmorland/Lonsdale; both lost, as it happens). Of course, Kate Hoey represents Vauxhall a little to the south of Belfast; and Brian Mawhinney represented Peterborough somewhat to the east! Scots are, of course, particularly commonplace in English seats – Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Iain Duncan Smith, et al. There is no reason it should not happen in reverse – as indeed it has done; North Belfast post-war was represented by an Englishman with no particular Irish connection, as was South Down (somewhat notoriously) for a period.

    2. UCUNF was a failure in the sense that it didn’t win any seats, but I bet the combined UUP and Conservative vote this time is considerably lower than the UCUNF vote then (with the same outcome in terms of seats most likely)… surely rendering them each a failure too?!

    3. The Conservatives did intend to run in FST but there was some late problem with the candidate. Implicitly, however, that means they never intended to contest Belfast North – I wonder if there was indeed something in those “Dodds for Speaker” negotiation rumours…?!

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Re: your first point Ian, do those candidates you’re talking about live on this side of the sea or the mainland? Also they, I expect, aren’t potentially going to be representing 2 different constituencies at 2 different levels of government at either side of the Irish sea. I personally wouldn’t advocate “local seats for local people” although there is a lot to be said for local knowledge when representing your constituents…I would though feel it slightly more acceptable to be at least a resident in the vicinity or the region.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Additionally, 2005 where UUP and conservatives ran separately, they receieved 3% higher vote share than the ucunf 2010 election suggesting ucunf was worse than separate representation

  • John Gorman

    It is a bit of a joke. Most of them will have no connections at all to the constituencies they are hoping to be elected in. Quite clearly they are looking for something to put on their cv so they can be nominated for a ‘proper’ constituency next time. I would guess that the combined Conservative vote will be 2 or 3 thousand with the majority of those votes coming from North Down, East Belfast and South Belfast the rest will be doing well to get into 3 digits! As erne kid said a massive waste of money.

  • Gingray

    On point 2 do you mean % of total votes cast or number of votes cast? And last time you guys made a sectarian pact in FST, how do you count pacts in the figures?

    On point 3, given that the tories happily played the sectarian card in 2010 in fst,and are doing so in North Belfast this time, you really expect us to believe they would run a candidate in a seat which could cost them? Lol your party are telling you porkies!

  • Gingray

    Can’t fault the tories for their willingness to spend that massive warchest tho! In upper Castlereagh road conservative posters are everywhere, and we’ve had 5 leaflets from them, 3 alliance and 1 dup

  • Reader

    Belfast Barman: 11 Candidates are resident in the UK, some of whom are actually elected representatives in councils in their locality.
    16 candidates are resident in the UK.

  • chrisjones2

    Surely SF standing for Westminster is the biggest joke. But then they do pull in £500k in expenses!!

    Time for no attendance / no money?

  • Ian James Parsley

    Re the vote share, the 2005-10 decline was 3 points as you say – yet the equivalent Assembly decline was 8 points. There is no doubt UCUNF did comparatively better than the parties separately for me – hence my contention that this election will prove it 🙂

  • Ian James Parsley

    On point 2, I’ll stick my neck out and say both. I’d go further and suggest that even if you only take the 14 constituencies that are directly comparable, that will still be the case…

    On point 3, I was appalled by what you rightly refer to as the sectarian card, so they are clearly not averse to playing it. I happen to think that standing aside for a potential Speaker from the DUP makes it even worse, which was why I raised it.

    And by the way, the Conservatives, having turned away from Liberalism and One Nation (and played sectarian cards), are in absolutely no way my party!

  • David J Timson

    I assume that if any of the non-NI candidates were elected then they would resign any council seats etc…A lot of candidates for Westminster (all across the UK) are currently councillors and there is normally a flurry of council by-elections a couple of months after a general election.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    A matter for their voters.

    I’d add that quite a few of these SF MPs are in place because of first past the post electoral system – which both the UUP and DUP argued to maintain. Ironically, having fought against AV, it is Unionists who are being punished hardest by it.

  • in the Conservative Party, and probably with the other big parties too, the first step towards a ‘safe’ seat candidacy is to run in a no-hoper. That often means running in a seat a long way from home. It looks good on a CV for the next seat. And there is huge competition for seats. So an NI seat is a good first step for an aspiring candidate. And as a UK party it would be churlish to suggest that because you are not able to stand in NI because you need to take a flight – particularly as many (all parties) travel quite a distance around the country on their first seat endeavour.

  • Gingray

    I will take a piece of that action 🙂 UUP have had a good ground war this time round, building on the success from last year. I think they will be down votes but up %. If its like for like, need to rule out FST, NB, ND, NSA and EB (I do not think UUP are running a candidate against Hermon, dont think they did great there last time round tho so maybe count it in?)

    Is it just the NI Conservatives you think have turned away and went sectarian, or all of them? I thought you was a Tory (or UUP?) at last election.

  • Chingford Man

    I personally don’t have a problem with a party selecting candidates from another part of the UK. However, if I was a voter in any of the 11 seats where the Tories are effectively running paper candidates (those with addresses outside Northern Ireland) I would find what the Tories are doing pretty cynical.

    I’ve been looking at the websites and Twitter accounts of the “non-dom” runners (where they have them) and none of the runners are posting anything very specific to the constituencies they are contesting. I suspect that, with 3 weeks until polling, none of them are present in NI and knocking doors in their constituencies. Yet the Conservatives are trying to pretend that all their candidates would make excellent representatives for local people.

    For example, Amandeep Singh Bhogal (Upper Bann) spent last weekend campaigning against Nigel Farage in Thanet South (about as far from Craigavon and Banbridge as you can go in the UK), with other appearance in Thurrock and the SE London seat of Erith and Thamesmead, plus a You Tube ambush of Ed Miliband on a train.

    When the Tories stood several “non-doms” at their first NI election in 1992, like Tim Coleridge in Lagan Valley (a future Tory Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea) and Stephen Eyre in Strangford, they were selected some months in advance and made some effort in what were obviously unwinnable seats.

    At least all of UKIP’s candidates seem to be NI people who are active on the ground.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Enough of this, if there’s an election rerun this year … I think one of the Irish parties or indeed all of the should stand a in Liverpool next year on TP O’Connell’s 100th anniversary of election. Probably might outdo the Conservatives.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    There’s no expectation to though, it isn’t ruled upon.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Valid, oops

  • Dec

    Immigrants, eh?

  • Practically_Family

    I suppose they can afford to lose a few deposits…

  • Dec

    ‘The Conservatives did intend to run in FST but there was some late problem with the candidate.’

    How convenient.

    ‘ Implicitly, however, that means they never intended to contest Belfast North – I wonder if there was indeed something in those “Dodds for Speaker” negotiation rumours…?!’

    Just remember, we’re moving ‘beyond familiar, sectarian choices’…

  • Chingford Man

    I’m talking about the Tories, not people like Caitriona Ruane or Bairbre de Brun from a foreign country.

  • OneNI

    Ian Paisley Junior lives in Lagan Valley and has never lived in North Antrim.
    Pat Doherty has never lived in West Tyrone. Marty never lived in Mid Ulster. Gerry never lived in the Republic let alone Louth.
    Nigel dodds lives in Dromore and did so when he was a City Cllr let alone MP.
    This idea that you have to come from and be reared and live and work in the constituency is infantile

  • tmitch57

    Well considering the use of the UK tab on this site to mean Britain, his confusion is understandable.

  • tmitch57

    Well at least they are running a local candidate in North Down, which is the only seat in the province that they have ever been viable in as a party.

  • Dec

    Oh, like your party leader’s wife then?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    But at least they probably live some of the same issues that the constituents face, at least Ian Paisley could probably have pointed to Cullybacky on a map before he was elected.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)


  • Framer

    Tay Pay O’Connor

  • John Gorman

    No one is saying you need to be born and bred in a constituency to represent it but a little local knowledge helps. The 3 Northern Irish guys in the Tory party who are not representing their ‘own’ constituency have quite blatantly picked the areas where they are likely to get some more votes and good luck to them leaving most of the English blow ins the embarrassment of getting a hundred odd votes. As for your comparisons to the other local politicians your point falls flat considering most of them can get to their parachuted constituency in under an hour from their house oh and they may have a little bit of an understanding of their adopted area I mean Ian Jr whose dad represented North Antrim for 40 odd years might be a bit clued up dont you think?. So are these guys really concerned with the likes of West Tyrone and Upper Bann or are they just looking for a bit of experience for a possible future run in a more competitive area?

  • Chingford Man

    Is she or has she been a candidate? Gosh, the standard of debate in the liberal-la-la land of Slugger isn’t up to much.

  • Gary

    Will there be further blog posts focusing on the party’s policies? The manifesto lunch is tomorrow at the party’s new HQ on Great Victoria Street. I trust Slugger will be represented.

    There is a certain irony that the new NI Conservatives were constituted so as to be more autonomous within the party structure and yet so few of the candidates are born and bred here but I would salute any candidate who puts themselves forward from any party whether or not I would vote for them.

  • Chingford Man

    I suspect the Tories can do the Math as well as anyone. When you’re in a race with Labour in an ultra close election, who wins in FST could be very important for the Tories. I think it is an attempt to help Elliott.

  • Robin Keogh

    Their voters know they will not take their seats but they are still the biggest party in the country so i guess they are doing something right

  • Garrison

    then what is the point of a constituency in the first place? Residency requirements should be in place… otherwise end the myth of representative democracy.

  • Gingray


    I was thinking about your prediction earlier – how do you think you did?

    In the 13 seats where the UUP/Tory alliance stood in both 2010 and 2015, votes went like this:

    Seats: East Antrim, North Antrim, South Antrim, Belfast South, Belfast
    West, South Down, Foyle, Lagan Valley, East Derry, Mid Ulster, Strangford, Upper Bann, West Tyrone

    UCUNF 2010 – 76,844 (0 seats)

    UUP 2015 – 75,015 (1 seat)
    Cons 2015 – 6,131 (0 seats)

    An increase of 4302 votes, 3.5% vote and 1 MP. Not a bad return!

    In terms of seats with sectarian pacts, one could argue the UUP did even better, increasing the pan unionist vote in FST and N&A

    Pan Unionist Vote 2010 – 35,622 (0 seats)

    UUP Vote 2015 – 39,920 (1 seat)