All of Northern Ireland’s main candidates for the European election in June have now handed in their nomination papers and placed their deposits with the Electoral Commission. Each of their sultry mugs now adorns various lamp-posts throughout the country and the first party literature began to arrive in households curiously early. Thirty days remain until the polls open, so the voting public will be subject to appeals for their support for some weeks to come.
The Conservatives and Unionists candidate, Jim Nicholson, has adopted the slogan ‘Vote for Change’ as his motif for the campaign ahead. One sceptical friend, at the weekend expressed the view that the logo was not without irony, given that Nicholson has been an MEP since 1989. I can see his point. But whilst Jim may not offer its freshest face, the electoral force, which his candidature represents, does promise an exciting departure for unionist politics in Northern Ireland, as well as a change of course for the United Kingdom and a new vision for Europe.
As I have previously observed, the idea that access to national politics provides a more authentic political citizenship than that which can be offered by purely regional groups, is not especially novel. In Northern Ireland, and internationally, the notion that ‘equal citizenship’ involves rolling out entitlement to vote for national parties has been articulated before. UCUNF, however, is the first credible electoral entity, at least for a long time, to offer local voters a full participatory role in national U.K. politics. Conservatives and Unionists are offering change in the politics of Northern Ireland.
June’s election will return three MEPs to the European Parliament. European issues will, however, fulfil a very tangential role in the campaigns of both the DUP and Sinn Féin. The Democratic Unionists have already, effectively, attacked the UCUNF candidate for involving himself too fully in European politics. In contrast, the Conservatives and Unionists stand for a very clear view of what the European Union should represent. Jim Nicholson, upon re-election, will enter a new group within the Parliament. It will stand for vibrant, energetic involvement in a cooperative Europe, defined by a single market, and a set of common values, rather than defending a bureaucratic behemoth, driven by an anti-democratic urge towards federalism. Conservatives and Unionists are promoting change in Europe.
Self-evidently, June’s election will allow voters across the UK to record their dissatisfaction with the Labour government. Northern Ireland is no longer an exception. It is important to send a clear signal to Gordon Brown that his leadership has failed and that there is an appetite for a new approach at Westminster. Over many weeks and months I have been persuaded that David Cameron’s Conservatives, instigating policies defined by communitarian, ‘One Nation’ conservatism, will deliver the fresh perspective which is needed. The Conservatives and Unionists will give voters a chance to change the government of the United Kingdom.
So, although voting for Jim Nicholson might not literally effect a change in personnel, he is certainly standing on the basis of a mandate for change. A change for Northern Ireland. A change for unionism. A change for Europe. And a change for the United Kingdom. That, in my book, fully entitles him to use the ‘Vote for Change’ label, without any accusations of misrepresentation.