Thursday, 29 April 2010

One week to go!

Canvassing Lisburn market with Mark Francois, shadow Minister for Europe

By this time next week the polls will have closed, and we will be awaiting the results of the count with bated breath.

And this has been the most fascinating election I have ever been involved with. It is the first election where the key issue on the doorstep has been the economy. That scarcely ever was mentioned in any previous election campaign; and it is our party that has made sure it is mentioned, because it is our party, and only our party that will have the opportunity to influence economic policy in a new parliament.

Yet again we are driving the agenda, and others would like to follow.

I am meeting more and more voters who tell me they voted DUP last time, and will vote for me this time. I am also meeting lots of voters who still have not quite decided who to vote for. Sometimes we take the democratic process too much for granted. I have great respect for all the hundreds and thousands of individual voters across, in my case Lagan Valley, but in total across the whole country, who are taking their right to vote as a serious duty, and giving careful thought and consideration as to who they should vote for.

As we move into the last week of the campaign, I am so grateful to the great network of volunteers who make up my campaign team – you know who you are, and thanks.
Thanks too, to the Conservative part of our partnership for being so supportive.  On Tuesday I was canvassing in Lisburn market with two members of the shadow cabinet, Owen Patterson and Mark Francois, shadow minister for Europe.

People in Lagan Valley have been following the leaders’ debates, and for the first time we are able to offer them the opportunity to vote for one of the national parties, and that is what they want. The challenge is for the other national parties to offer the same opportunity next time round. Then we will truly have normalised politics in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hung Parliament? Be Careful What You Wish For Mr. Robinson

Relishing a hung parliament, as appears to be the case with the DUP's Peter Robinson and Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, is a dangerous position to take. Just imagine for one moment how that political horse trading would look on May 7th, with Salmond, no lover of the UK and the DUP, who we are told are Unionists, working together in some sort of grand coalition? It could not work.
Nobody in their right mind would actively welcome a hung Parliament, the last time the UK electorate returned that sort of result marked a descent into paralysis and indecision economically and politically.

Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole need a clear outcome from this election if we are to see real action on the many issues that need to be addressed. We need a government with a clear mandate to tackle the big questions surrounding the economy, public services and defence. The “those are my principles and if you don't like them I have others” approach to politics, as followed by the DUP and the UK's nationalist parties, does not bring about a strong government with a clear vision for the United Kingdom.

The political uncertainty from hung a Parliament might give Peter Robinson's ego a short lived boost due to the extra influence he thinks it gives him but be under no illusion we would all suffer in the longer term. Be careful what you wish for Peter as it may just come true. Returning a strong national government of Conservatives and Unionists is the only way to ensure we in Northern Ireland have real influence in the next Parliament and help cement our place at the heart of the UK.

Monday, 19 April 2010

An interesting contrast during Saturday afternoon’s canvass in Lisburn

We met two voters who told us that they had always been strong Alliance supporters, but this time they were going to vote for Conservatives and Unionists. They both said that they approved of the link up because it brings Northern Ireland closer to normal politics.

On the other hand we met a voter who said that he had always voted Ulster Unionist in Westminster, but could not do so this time because he was a natural Labour supporter and could not vote Conservative. He told us that in recent PR elections for the Council or Assembly he voted UU and SDLP.

We suggested to him that he might consider a tactical vote.

Despite repeated efforts by Northern Ireland based Labour supporters, Labour still refused to put up candidates here. But if Conservatives do well here in this election then there will be immense pressure in Labour to put up candidates in the next election and so bring us another step closer to normal politics.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Some campaigning pics

Today we went to the Electoral Office in Banbridge to nominate. While forming up for a photo by the local press this snap was taken. There will be no prizes for spotting the prominent member of the Upper Bann Association who happened to be passing and quickly donned a rosette for the occasion.



This was the first outing in campaigning rig of our rather elderly Espace which had spent the previous day being decorated as below.






A couple of days ago we had a visit by Conservative shadow agriculture minister Jim Paice. He was accompanied by our MEP, Jim Nicholson. I happened to have a trailer with my poster handy. This is an informal shot while preparing for the press.


The two Jims then proceeded to the farm of Joanne Dobson, who so convincingly won the Lurgan by election in January. Here they are pictured accompanied on the left by Upper Bann Assembly member George Savage and on the right by Upper Bann Conservative and Unionist candidate Harry Hamilton. Harry’s campaign is going very well. David and I spent some time with him in Portadown last Friday and we are really looking forward to him taking that seat back.


While at Joanne’s a camera crew arrived for an interview.








In between these we have some pictures of a morning spent canvassing in Lisburn market.







Here I being accompanied by an old friend, Councillor Ronnie Crawford, who has just completed his term as Mayor of Lisburn .

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Canvassing in Edenderry

Late home from a very full day's campaigning; starting in Lisburn market this morning. I expected to see other parties there, but we were left the sole political representatives. Where are the other parties?

Then an afternoon in the most southern parts of the constituency, followed by an evening in the most northern part; Edenderry at Shaws Bridge. David remembers canvassing here in 1975 when he stood in South Belfast, and it was then part of South Belfast. Again, responses are positive. I heard rumours of DUP leafleting in the Antrim Road area of Lisburn. Posters aside, this is the first indication I have had that any other local party is working on the ground.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Monday 12 April

So today was ‘P&J’ day – the day so many in the DUP said would never come!

It is not uncommon for a person who has responsibility thrust upon him or her to rise to the challenge. So far we have not seen much sign that Mr Ford has what it takes. That is part of the reason why our Assembly team voted against devolution of policing and justice. Let us hope, for the sake of Northern Ireland that Mr Ford has hidden depths; that he will rise to the challenge.

The Conservatives are putting effort plus into the campaign. I had my third shadow ministerial visit of the week – Jim Paice, shadow Minister of Agriculture. All the hard work of earlier weeks is paying dividends, it is becoming clearer by the day that voters are ‘getting’ the message; and there is no sight of any opposition, except on lampposts.

Jim Paice was bemused by the posters. It would be illegal in England to display posters on lampposts. I am not sure when or why the practice started to diverge – in England people display posters in their gardens or windows. I think this divergence predates the troubles; I don’t recall ever seeing houses with posters, even as a child in the sixties.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

First Saturday of the campaign

A good start to the day with a meeting at HQ of all our candidates; there is a wealth of talent and experience to draw on there, as well as enormous enthusiasm and appetite for the campaign. It is a very different line up from any previous Ulster Unionist group of candidates.

Then on to Lisburn to meet my campaign team in the centre of Lisburn, where we enjoyed the spring weather, and engaged with shoppers, including a lovely encounter with a lady who had been a babysitter for us when our older children were small, over twenty five years ago.

A quick lunch, and on to do some serious door knocking, ending just as the Grand National was starting. My poster team has been out for the last three evenings, but we will never match the quantities of posters put up by the DUP and TUV. In all other respects, we are seeing nothing of them on the ground. I recall from earlier elections how the Workers’ Party always had more and better posters than everyone else – but they didn’t win elections.

Our Conservative colleagues coming to support us find our postering of lampposts a novel experience: they don’t do it at all, but individuals display posters in their windows or gardens to show their support.

This evening was a night off.

The Ulster Youth Orchestra was having their second concert in the new theatre in Mossley Mill, and we went along to join the Mayor of Newtownabbey and a very good audience. They played even better than in Enniskillen, and the new theatre is a superb amenity.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Campaigning today in Lisburn.

The morning started with a quick trip to Campaign HQ for press interviews along with Dominic Grieve, Shadow SoS for Justice. Dominic is no stranger to Northern Ireland, having come here first as a boy as a guest of T E Uttley when holidaying in Co. Down, and he has visited regularly in recent times in his working capacity. Dominic came with me to Lisburn for a walkabout in Bow Street. The sun shone on us and many shoppers were out and about. We were received very positively, and it was good to meet people whose doors I had already been to.

We called in at Green’s Foodfare, a long established and highly successful food retailer in the city centre. I have no doubt that Conservative policies will grow the economy and keep our town centres vibrant more than anything Gordon Brown has to offer, and people are getting the message that a vote for me is a vote for David Cameron.

This evening is an evening away from politics. I am chair of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, and we have been running an Easter course for a chamber orchestra in Enniskillen, culminating in a concert this evening. It is great that we have managed to raise enough money to secure the future of the UYO for this year. The young people gave of their all and played magnificently. The soloist was Ciaran McCabe, now a professional musician, who first joined the UYO age 14 (or younger) in 1998.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Small Businesses and Domestic Violence

What an interesting day!
This morning was a meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses, with a wide ranging discussion covering Gordon’s proposed NI (that is National Insurance, not Northern Ireland) increase, aka a tax on jobs, to the iniquities of our planning system which is in urgent need of reform, to the gap there is in government support for business between the start up businesses and the INI emphasis on particular sectors including export. A lot of ideas were exchanged across the table; this is how formulation of government policies can be responsive to the needs of people, in this case small businesses, some of which can grow. We should not forget that Randox, one of our major pharmaceutical employers grew out of a young student’s PHD thesis.

In the afternoon we brought Theresa May and Owen Paterson to Antrim to meet with Womens Aid, who do great work with victims of domestic abuse. I thought I was well aware of all the facts and figures in this area, after many years of work in the Equality and Human Rights Commissions; but all of us present were chilled by the detailed statistics on domestic abuse of older people. We need joined up government where statutory agencies and the voluntary sector can work together fully and funding can be sorted on a less piecemeal basis.

And then I and my team spent the evening knocking doors in Lagan Valley – some of them were handing out leaflets at railway stations from early morning – and the footmiles are mounting up. One encounter that touched me was a gentleman, not young, but not old, a little careworn, who was at his car in his driveway: he took my leaflet with politeness, but no enthusiasm. He pointed to his jacket lying in his boot and said ‘I’ve been wearing that jacket too long.’ We need a change of government to bring regeneration of the economy and get jobs back for people who want to work.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A good day on the doorsteps in Lisburn.

Today was sunny and warm, and a surprisingly high number of people were at home this afternoon when we called. At both the afternoon and evening canvass sessions, my team was well received. Most people are responding positively to the key message that we are offering change in politics in Northern Ireland, and that for the first time in many years a vote for me is also a vote for David Cameron and a vote to get rid of Gordon Brown.

We are bringing Northern Ireland right into mainstream UK politics, and this is the logical place for any Unionist to be.

Many electors are put off by the stories of sleaze and expenses; and no wonder. I am promising honest politics. I am promising hard work for the people of Lagan Valley, representing them full time at Westminster.

People are disgusted by the attempts of a Sinn Fein minister to wreck our education. I will work with my colleagues in the Assembly to ensure she does not get her way, and to sort out the problems with the transfer procedure.

We are still finding that people are not on the register, and lots need a postal vote. Please do make sure you are registered to vote and if you can't make it to the ballot box on 6 May make sure you get a postal or proxy vote. Phone the electoral office on 0800 4320 712 or visit www.eoni.org.uk. There is still time, but it must be done quickly.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Election under way

And so the starting gun has gone! Gordon really couldn’t put it off any longer. My sense is that Lagan Valley is ready for change. My leaflets have been going through letterboxes, I and my team are knocking doors, and the overwhelming response is that it is time for change.

People are fed up with Gordon’s mishandling of the economy over 13 years as Chancellor and Prime Minister.

People are fed up with local politicians who don’t deliver for the people, fed up with waiting for John Lewis to get planning permission, fed up with no national stadium at the Maze, fed up with a dysfunctional executive, fed up with attempts to destroy our education service.

I want to speak to as many electors as I can before polling day. I want to hear what people say to me. I want to deliver real change for Lagan Valley.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland

This is the text of a 'Platform' article published in the News Letter 2 April 2010

The Human Rights Commission’s remit in regard to a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was fulfilled when it delivered its advice to the Secretary of State. The debate now belongs in the political arena.

We are at the end of the extended Government consultation period on their proposals. The reality is that the election is upon us and nothing will happen before the next parliament. Conservatives and Unionists have pledged to enact a UK wide Bill of Rights with a section for Northern Ireland. No-one should expect that section to be significantly bigger than Labour’s proposals, (though it might address different issues).

We have had over ten years of deliberation by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, we have had the Bill of Rights forum; a foreign philanthropic foundation has invested millions of pounds in lobbying and advertising by non statutory bodies. One might ask why such an organisation should consider the amending of human rights legislation in Northern Ireland in a particular way to be a cause worthy of disbursing so many millions of pounds.

It is appropriate to reflect on where we go from here.

The NIHRC proposals are dead in the water. There can be no doubt about that. But the time is ripe for change in human rights legislation across the UK.

The Human Rights Act is twelve years old. It has put judges in positions of political controversy. It has created a culture of rights without responsibilities. And it has failed to protect traditional freedoms.

Recently a doctor convicted in the UK of sexually assaulting two of his patients had his conviction in a British court overturned at Strasbourg because the Strasbourg court held that his right to a fair trial had been violated. One of his victims had committed suicide after giving a statement to the police. The British court allowed the statement to be given in evidence, in accord with British law. Strasbourg quashed his conviction, because he hadn’t been able to examine one of his accusers.

Many lawyers think that it is time to bring Human Rights home – to stop the confusion that can arise when judges are obliged to take into account two sometimes conflicting bodies of law.

If elected, Conservatives and Unionists will bring forward proposals for a UK Bill of Rights to strengthen and better protect our traditional liberties, with a section dealing with any issues specific to Northern Ireland. We don’t need any other special treatment.