The British Prime Minister has finally called the Westminster election. It
will be on Thursday May 6 th . The date comes as no great surprise. It has been widely expected for months now.
This blog likes elections. Except for canvassing in shopping centres,
which I hate, they are great craic. You get out of the office; you meet
people on their doorsteps and on the streets. You get a chance to connect directly with punters for a short but very intense period of weeks.
It’s an opportunity to listen. To engage with citizens directly about our
hopes, fears and plans for the future. But equally importantly it’s a chance to talk.
This year the election and the annual series of Townhall Meetings held by
Sinn Féin dovetail together. We first started these in January 2007 in the weeks leading up to the Sinn Fein special Ard Fheis on policing and justice. That was an intense time! And we have done it each year since because it’s a democratic exercise.
The party has been preparing for this election for some time now. Apart
from the organisational work that is the necessary backbone of every election campaign, and the PR preparation around posters and leaflets and the like, most areas across the North have already been involved in canvassing.
So, we have a good idea of what the main issues are at this time; the
political institutions, job losses, job security, the state of the health service, the economy, education, Irish language rights, housing, policing, public services and so on.
Sinn Féin is also, as all regular readers of this blog know, a republican
party. That means Irish reunification will be at the top of our political agenda.
Most people aren’t born nationalist or republican. Yes, family and
environment play a big part but it is possible to persuade someone to adopt a different view of the world.
So, this blog will be asking all of you who are unionist to consider your
future; to consider what the union has meant and now means for you and your family; what it offers you in the future? If you live in the lower Shankill or Springmartin,or Ballymena or in Fermanagh South Tyrone; what has the union delivered for you? How have your unionist politicians represented you? Can Sinn Féin do better? Would Irish unity give you greater control over your own destiny and deliver a better quality of life for you and your children?
Think about these questions and let’s talk about them on the campaign
trail over the next few weeks.
Think also about the peace process and the political institutions and the
recent agreement at Hillsborough. This process and the improvement it has ushered in are proof that slowly but surely, Sinn Féin is creating a better society. And we need your support to keep going and to finish the job.
Every election the media latch on to some issue. An angle. Sometimes they
get it right. Sometimes they zero in on nonsense.
There is already some nonsense about a hung parliament. Well, not so much about a hung parliament. That could be an outcome, how likely no one can say. No, the nonsense is that that a party from here could be in a very pivotal position in a hung parliament at Westminster. Wishful thinking!
Your man reckons I should return to this issue. And I will. Particularly
about the Irish experience in that institution.
In the meantime best wishes to the other parties in the election. All the
parties will go to the electorate with our different opinions but let’s have a good debate. And a message to the media – don’t reduce it to two debates - to what’s happening within unionism or what’s happening within nationalism. Let’s have a cross cutting debate on the issues that are important to citizens.
Three years ago in the last Assembly election it was noticeable that bread
and butter issues, and jobs and the environment and policing and other issues were what citizens were focused on. I think that this election is likely to follow that pattern.
People are worried about the recession. We have all heard the predictions
of worse to come. So what are the local parties and politicians going to do to protect jobs and create new ones? What are we going to do about the public services?
This election will be about Leadership. The Shinners have that in abundance. The story of the peace process is evidence of that. How often did others give up and the Shinners persevered and found a way through? The recent agreement at Hillsborough is a clear example of this. So Sinn Féin has the leadership, the right ideas, the right policies and the right political strategy for the future.
I have been convinced for a very long time that the institutions are
popular and that people want them to work. So, May 6th is the electorate’s opportunity to make a judgement on these. This may be a Westminster election. But all politics are local. And it’s what happens here that’s important.
See you all on the campaign trail!