Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Some pre-election thoughts

If the readers of ‘Three Thousand Versts’ are suffering a little election fatigue, believe me, I am not immune from its symptoms either. I admit that I am looking forward to having time to turn my attention towards various other topics. Dmitry Medvedev’s ‘history commission’ is one subject which I had intended to examine, but somehow I haven’t yet managed to galvanise myself sufficiently to write anything about it. Perhaps I might manage some thoughts on Gordon Brown and his creaking leadership of the Labour party a little later. But the European election is undoubtedly an important event for the nascent Conservatives and Unionists force, and as a strong proponent of national politics for Northern Ireland, this blog has naturally become rather preoccupied with the poll.

To be entirely honest, if I were to say that I thought Jim Nicholson makes an ideal figurehead to sell to the electorate an exciting new future for Northern Ireland’s politics, I would be lying. The Conservatives and Unionists candidate appears somewhat ponderous during the cut and thrust of televised debate. He has attempted, to a degree, to articulate the pan-UK vision which underpins the Tory / UUP alliance, but frequently those campaigning at his side, Sir Reg Empey, William Hague, David Cameron, have been more forceful and fluent advocates of the ideas supposedly animating Nicholson’s candidacy. And his style appeals more to rural and older voters as opposed to young urbanites. The Ulster Unionist MEP is not Nick Clegg, never mind David Cameron.

None of which is to imply that Jim Nicholson doesn’t make a fine representative of Northern Ireland in the European parliament or to suggest that he should not continue to do so. He is held in high esteem by his fellow MEPs, to the extent that he was elected as one of six Quaestors, charged with looking after the financial and administrative interests of the institution. He is the candidate for agriculture and small business and his skills are precisely suited to European politics. Rather than soaring rhetoric or combative debating, getting things done in Europe requires quiet diplomacy and experience. That is where Nicholson’s strengths lie.

I suppose that I might have preferred to hear the actual candidate, whose task it is to introduce a new idea to the electorate in Northern Ireland, taking every opportunity to promote its underlying philosophies. Certainly I would have chosen not to hear him invoking the ‘unionist people’ during a televised debate, when, certainly by my understanding, part of the central purpose of the ‘new force’ is to appeal beyond any perceived ‘people’, defined by religion or supposed community, as opposed to political belief. But, whilst there are more skilful communicators of pan UK unionism than Mr Nicholson, most of those communicators are backing his candidacy, and a vote for Conservatives and Unionists is still the best means to pursue the vision which they articulate.

The professed ambition of most people that call themselves unionists, however casually, is that Northern Ireland should be accorded as full a role in the United Kingdom as possible. Indeed unionist complaints are often defined by the very ‘semi detached’ status which David Cameron has stated it is his purpose to bring to an end. ‘They’ve forgotten about Northern Ireland’, we cry, when some purportedly national project is undermined by the exclusion of our region. But on this occasion the prevailing political movement in the country does not want to exclude Northern Ireland. On the contrary the next Prime Minister and his government in waiting are actively seeking full political participation from this part of the United Kingdom. For those of us for whom unionism consists in a genuine adherence to British institutions, British politics and their continued relevance to the life of the nation, it is a wonderful opportunity to contribute properly to the governance of our country.

When I vote tomorrow, I will be voting for Jim Nicholson to continue the work he has been doing in the European parliament, but more importantly, I will be signalling my desire to participate fully in the politics of the United Kingdom, as one of its citizens, who just happens to live in Northern Ireland. Equally, I will be endorsing the Conservatives’ contention that Europe should be about a common market, trade, green issues and combating world poverty; rather than centralism, integration and unaccountable bureaucracy. And finally I will be sending a message to the Labour government that I deplore its mismanagement of the country and I want a change at Westminster.

None of the other parties offers me a menu of political expression which so neatly matches my inclinations. I will be inscribing my number 2 (so to speak) against a very distant second preference. It will reflect my inclination as to which candidate would comprise a better advocate for Northern Ireland in Europe and it will not be any of the hopefuls whom I judge to represent ethno-nationalist parties, of either hue.

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