Earlier I complained that a lack of Wifi prevented me covering Cameron Direct, live from the Braid Centre in Ballymena. Alas there was no mobile phone reception in the building either, so even the tweeting option was not possible. Perhaps the Conservatives and Unionists leader should have conducted the event in my parents’ house, where they do extend to a broadband connection, which I am taking advantage of. Although given that the town hall was full to capacity, a marquee might’ve been required.
Neill Armstrong, one of Ballymena Borough Council’s Ulster Unionist team, and a strong supporter of the Conservative link, introduced Mr Cameron to an audience of nearly two hundred. It appeared, to begin with, that a group of hardcore types was going to dominate proceedings by crying treachery for the entire meeting. But various pre-prepared histories of the troubles could not occlude the genuine concerns of local people, who quizzed Mr Cameron on education, the prospect of an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland, eating disorders, cerebral palsy and the Presbyterian Mutual building society.
The Conservative leader spoke eloquently again about his desire to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of the United Kingdom’s politics. Generally his message was received well by the Ballymena public. When he suggested that, with the constitutional issue settled, politics should focus on business, hospitals, education and so forth, there was a sustained burst of applause. Cameron batted the inevitable ‘UDA brigadier’ question away with a straight bat, he was ‘assured’ that no such incident had occurred.
Turning to victims, prompted by the ubiquitous Willie Frazer, Cameron rejected the notion of equality of victimhood. There should be a distinction, he intimated, between those whose loved ones had died whilst engaged in illegal activity and relatives of innocent people, killed and maimed in terrorist attacks. The Conservative leader also came tantalising close to criticising his predecessors for signing the Anglo Irish Agreement.
To take an hour of questions, unscripted, is an enviable feat of political dexterity. What is entirely clear from Mr Cameron’s second Cameron Direct in the province is that, not only does he intend to become Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom, he intends to act like he‘s the Prime Minister of the entire United Kingdom. He is prepared to face people throughout the country, regardless of the local niceties, and face their questions, unprepared. It is an admirable approach.