Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Party may suffer for politician's honesty

Speaking out: Anna Lo

IS it possible to build a successful political party in Northern Ireland without taking a firm stance on the border?

Alliance is about to find that out the hard way. Since its inception it has always had members who were both nationalist and unionist in underlying allegiance. In 1970 its founders included three sitting MPs, two unionists and a nationalist, which roughly represented the population balance.

Another former leader, John Cushnahan, went on to join Fine Gael in the Republic, nominally a nationalist party.

Yet, since it didn't campaign against partition and worked within the system, it got a reputation as a "unionist lite" sort of organisation. When members were asked about the border they tended to say, like David Ford, that it wasn't a current political issue and they would go with the will of the majority. It was a case of "don't ask, don't tell".

Anna Lo followed his lead, and then went several steps further.

When she was asked she did tell; in fact she nailed her colours to the mast, declaring that she would personally vote for a united Ireland.

Her party leader praises her honesty. "Part of Anna's virtue is that she says it as she sees it. She is not one of these cloned politicians who is regulated by party Press officers. That is the beauty of her," he said.

But that is putting the best face on a risky situation.

It may or may not hit Ms Lo's own European vote, but the local government elections, which are being held on the same day, are another matter.

Ms Lo's comments will be like a stone in the shoe of Alliance candidates in areas like east Belfast, where the party is emerging from the trauma of being attacked during the flag protests and is hoping to make further gains.

Now that Ms Lo has aired her views, councillors, and indeed Naomi Long, the MP, will be under pressure to be equally forthright.

They could do without such complications on the doorsteps and that sort of debate within the party.

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