However, four years have elapsed and Northern Ireland’s electoral landscape looks rather different. Conservatives and Unionists will hope to improve their vote share considerably in the constituency. The TUV’s irrelevance to Westminster politics is manifestly obvious, and the Paisleys‘ reputation has been tarnished, even within their traditional heartlands. If voters in North Antrim need any reminder of the venality which caused the family’s downfall, they need only glance at a whopping £500,000 advice centre in Ballymena.
Of course, if UCUNF is to benefit from a fragmented DUP vote and its own particular relevance to a Westminster contest, it is important that the right candidate is selected. The UUP in the area has chosen two hopefuls to appear before the party’s selection committee. Ballymena councillor, Neill Armstrong, and Robin Swann (a defeated candidate at the last Assembly election).
In 2005 Neill had the distinction of increasing his vote in the Ballymena North ward, very much against the predominant trend for Ulster Unionist representatives. In contrast to his opponent, he has a record of election success with an established reputation, particularly in the Ballymena and Cloughmills areas. And, in a climate where the perceived impermeability of the political class can represent a severe handicap, Armstrong is an integral part of a successful family business.
It is my belief that, in order to achieve the results which are needed, UCUNF’s general election candidates should have an innate understanding of the pact’s principles. They should, in other words, be wholeheartedly committed to the Conservative and Unionist project. I know that, from its inception, Neill has been a strong proponent of the New Force and enjoys cordial relations with the local Conservative party.
In the speech which he delivered to the North Antrim selection meeting Neill described, in lucid terms, the particular relevance of the Conservatives and Unionists to North Antrim.
Our society suffers from all the ills of family breakdown, drug misuse and disengagement amongst young people, which Cameron is preoccupied with. Our society is broken just as society on the mainland is broken, and it is that broken society which we can address by becoming part of a Conservative and Ulster Unionist government.
Conservatives and Unionists believe that tackling these problems, realising progressive ends, is best achieved through socially conservative means.
As a husband, and a father with a young family, a government which wishes to make marriage the cornerstone of society is music to my ears. It is a message which will have resonance on the doorsteps, from Ballymoney to Bushmills, from Ahoghill to Aughnacloy.
As a business man, involved in a flourishing family firm, I’m excited by the prospect of a government which will cut red tape, and allow our company to generate employment unfettered. Owners of other small businesses in North Antrim will certainly feel the same.
As a local councillor, I appreciate that excessive government centralisation has taken its toll on communities and on democracy.
The Conservatives and Unionists believe local people should be empowered, and decisions should be made at a local level, in order that solutions can be tailored to a particular area.
It is simple common sense. And the people of North Antrim are renowned for their common sense.
In conclusion, as someone who is proud to be a Briton and a unionist, I am convinced that the Conservatives and Unionists will form a government which is good for Northern Ireland and good for the integrity of the United Kingdom.
The historian, FSL Lyons, coined the phrase ‘we are all Northern Ireland now’. With devolved governments operating throughout the UK, and unionists in Wales and Scotland facing their own separatist threats, it has never been more pertinent.
Our nation’s integrity faces challenges Kingdom wide and it is a Kingdom wide political movement which is best placed to defend the Union.
Unionism, in the sense by which I understand it, involves protecting the constitution of the United Kingdom. Britishness involves playing a full role within that Kingdom and participating in its politics.
Unionists in North Antrim have an ideal opportunity to do just that and I am eager to play my part in offering them that opportunity.
I’m certain that whoever is selected to contest North Antrim for UCUNF will deliver a stark reminder that the constituency is not all about Allister and Paisley. I think Neill would do a particularly good job.