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Tories and Alliance in East Belfast row over 'negative' flyer

By Rebecca Black

Published 04/04/2016

Tory candidate Neil Wilson
Tory candidate Neil Wilson

A war of words has broken out between the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Conservatives in East Belfast.

Tory candidate Neil Wilson has accused Alliance of engaging in a style of politics it once rejected by distributing a leaflet claiming "only Alliance is capable of challenging the DUP in East Belfast".

Mr Wilson also took exception to Alliance councillor David Armitage boasting on Twitter about having convinced Conservative and Green Party voters that opting for those parties was a "wasted vote" and that they should choose Alliance instead.

At the 2015 general election the Tories attracted 1,121 votes; the Greens 1,058 and Alliance 16,978. The DUP won with 19,575 votes as Gavin Robinson was elected MP ahead of Naomi Long, who had taken the seat from then DUP leader Peter Robinson in 2010.

Before the Assembly was dissolved last week the DUP had three MLAs in the constituency, Alliance two and UUP one.

Mr Wilson accused Alliance of taking a "divide and conquer" approach. "In 2015 Naomi Long told the Belfast Telegraph that 'other parties continue to employ the politics of divide and conquer' and that 'elections shouldn't be about the politics of fear'," he said.

"Politicians should inspire people to vote for their vision and policies rather than playing the 'them' or 'us' card.

"The question must be asked: what has changed since then for them to behave like this? The politics of divide and conquer, as Alliance correctly labelled it last year, was a blight on Northern Irish life then and a blight on it now. For Alliance to attempt to scare people into voting against the DUP, rather than for what they really want, seems far removed from the positive vision for our politics they profess to hold.

"Elections using the single transferable vote system remove any of the logic for tactical voting at any rate. They're deliberately not comparing like for like and are playing on fear - the sort of campaigning they previously rejected. It's rank hypocrisy."

An Alliance Party spokesman said: "The tweet states how an Alliance councillor persuaded potential voters to back Alliance ahead of other parties, as we are best positioned to take a seat and challenge the status quo.

"Alliance is clearly the better choice for the people of East Belfast and beyond. At no point have we used the politics of fear with our literature, and more importantly our record, showing people why they should vote for us.

"We have and will continue to give people many reasons to vote Alliance, as indeed have the Conservative Party. This is the latest poor attempt from them to deflect from their universally unpopular policies and make themselves electable in NI, something they have repeatedly failed to do."

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