Belfast Telegraph

'People want change, voting for us will bring that change closer'

By Liam Clarke

'Step Forward' was the slogan of the Alliance Party conference, but at times it might as well have been 'give 'em hell'.

This coming election is going to be a grudge match for Alliance, and nowhere more than in East Belfast.

Naomi Long made history by becoming Alliance's only MP in 2010. She won it off the DUP leader Peter Robinson and she didn't mince her words about the importance of keeping it.

"As we gathered here in this room last year, we were exactly two months away from the European and local council elections and we met at a time when speculation was rife that Alliance faced certain meltdown at the polls," she told delegates.

"Despite those predictions, we went on two months later to secure our place in seven out of 11 of the new councils and with Anna [Lo], achieving our best ever result in a European election."

The unspoken presence was Gavin Robinson, the DUP candidate in East Belfast who, though no relation to Peter, seems to tick all the boxes. Although a prominent Orangeman he has a reputation for being approachable by all sides and had a good year as Lord Mayor.

David Ford, the Alliance leader, was keen to undermine that image of moderation.

"People want change," he said. "Our task is to convince them that voting Alliance will bring that change closer, and voting for the other parties pushes it away. "

"The SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Green Party between them this week put the very future of our political institutions in real jeopardy, and the public services that they claim to defend at risk of further, and frankly dangerous, cuts."

"Don't let them get away with their claims that it's all about protecting the vulnerable, because it's not. It's about protecting their own votes.

"History has left us a legacy of a society with two groups of people with two diametrically opposed views," he said.

"They have maintained those differences while the world has changed beyond recognition. But to suggest that every person here falls into one of two camps is simply nonsense. We are a much more complex society than that."

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