Belfast Telegraph

Colum Eastwood: Vote for Sinn Fein is a vote wasted - only SDLP can challenge Tory cuts

Colum Eastwood says his party will not stand idly by and watch others rubber-stamp Conservatives' crippling austerity policies

All elections are important. In the face of real instability, budget pressures and economic turbulence, this election is critical. Your vote will decide who gives voice to your interests at one of the most testing times to face these islands.

A vote for the SDLP gives you a voice at Westminster. It gives you influence at the Brexit table. It gives you the opportunity to stand up against borders, division and cruel, crippling cuts.

We are not prepared to just sit at home and abdicate responsibility. With Brexit, but also welfare decisions and major budgetary powers held at Westminster, we will not duck and dive our responsibilities.

This started as the election that no one wanted. The mood in communities across Northern Ireland has been a toxic mix of anger and apathy. And who could blame you?

You came out to restore the institutions, you gave us a mandate to form a cross-community Executive. And still, three months later, we have no government.

Let me be clear: our priority is to make Northern Ireland work - and we will utilise every opportunity to restore, reform and re-imagine a system that will deliver for all our people here.

But this is a Westminster election. And make no mistake about it: Theresa May called this election because she wants a strong hand to enforce a hard Brexit and a hard border. But she also wants a free hand for more cuts to public services, public spending and welfare.

We will not let others rubber-stamp Tory plans to cripple our economy. The Tory Government doesn't care about this place. But we do.

We care about the future of our health service - that's why we will take our seats in Westminster to protect our public sector budgets.

We care about the impact of Tory cuts on our children - that's why we will oppose the regressive two-child limit on tax credits.

We care about the rights and investment the European Union has given our communities - that is why we will be there standing up for your interests during this time of political turmoil.

SDLP MPs will continue to take our seats and take on the Tories.

Along with representatives from the SNP, Labour, Plaid Cyrmu and the Greens, our MPs were an integral part of the progressive alliance that forced a U-turn on devastating cuts to tax credits.

Our MPs took a stand against Tory proposals to launch air strikes on Syria with no plan, compounding an already fraught situation in the Middle East. Our MPs have made a difference. They have improved lives at home and saved lives in other countries.

When we say we'll stand against something, we do it, which is more than can be said for others. And we continue to make a difference on the critical issue of Brexit.

The path chosen by people here and in Scotland diverges from that chosen by those in England and Wales. It is no mere misunderstanding. It has left a constitutional cavern between the people of these islands.

And while Theresa May has made the English electorate's decision her priority, it is our duty to protect and enforce the will of our people.

What we have, we must hold. While others waved placards and shouted slogans, we went to work.

We made proposals in the Assembly. We placed pressure on British Government ministers at Westminster. We used our positive relationships with our partners in the south. We travelled across Europe, meeting and convincing heads of state and EU leaders.

The direct outworking of that intense dialogue is that the European Union has made Ireland a priority in the first phase of Brexit talks.

When you vote for an SDLP MP, you get someone who goes to work and does the job. And with the polls growing tighter in Britain, a stronger team of SDLP MPs can make a substantial difference after this election.

After seven years of austerity, crippling cuts and an all-out assault on the most vulnerable, the public has had enough of this Government.

These years have been characterised by an unrelenting attack on the vulnerable and less well-off. Cuts to welfare, cuts to school budgets, the introduction of the bedroom tax, the threat of the dementia tax - no one is off-limits to the anti-poor prerogative at the heart of this Government.

But there's now a chance to fight back. Key polls predict a hung parliament following the election. Every vote and every seat is now critical. This is an opportunity not just to take on Theresa May, but to take down the Tory Government.

The electoral math of the election is now crystal clear. A vote for the DUP is a vote for Theresa May's cheerleaders. A vote for Sinn Fein won't count, as they won't even bother to show up.

The only way to oppose the Tories is to vote for the strongest team of pro-Europe, pro-equality and anti-austerity SDLP MPs possible.

This is a moment to stand up, not stand aside. We speak with the authority of every vote cast in the name of an SDLP candidate in this election. And we amplify that voice through the progressive alliance of MPs prepared to stand against the Tories.

That's what you get when you vote SDLP. Only the SDLP can fight a hard Brexit and a hard border after this election.

Only the SDLP can stand against harsher Tory austerity. Only the SDLP will take our seats to take on the Tories.

On June 8, vote SDLP.

  • Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP

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