Yesterday, Belfast Telegraph Political Editor David Gordon suggested some questions to put to party canvassers on the doorsteps. The UUP/Conservatives have since replied - see below for their responses
1 What about the many unionist minded people in Northern Ireland who are left of centre or liberal and would hate to see Conservative leader David Cameron as the next Prime Minister? How can those people possibly vote for a Tory/UUP alliance?
The Conservatives and Unionists are a modern, progressive, moderate, centre-right force committed to economic prosperity and social justice. At this election we are the only people putting forward serious and detailed proposals to tackle deep-seated social problems such as inequalities between rich and poor that have increased under Labour. In addition to backing the NHS, defending our education system and restoring the link between pensions and earnings we have a raft of proposals to energise charities, churches and the voluntary sector as we are all in this together. We believe that our policies can appeal across society including to those who do not see themselves as natural Tories or have never voted Conservative before.
2 How did the UUP, the party that has supported the Belfast Agreement, end up voting against the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly?
Ulster Unionists have always backed in principle the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly. We did, however, have a number of concerns about the dysfunctional nature of the Executive and its failure to deal with the vital issue of education under the DUP/Sinn Fein carve-up that led us to vote against on 9 March. Our Conservative colleagues fully understood and respected that decision. Devolution has now, though, taken place and it is the responsibility of us all to make sure that it delivers effective law and order for all the people of Northern Ireland.
3 If a Tory Government gets in and starts imposing savage cuts here, will you be supporting David Cameron or supporting Northern Ireland?
We want David Cameron – who has made clear that he will never be neutral on the Union – to win a decisive majority for change at this election. Any other result would be disastrous for our country. But the first priority of whoever wins the election will be to deal with the biggest peacetime debt in our history. One in every four pounds spent is borrowed at a rate of £277,000 a minute. We can’t go on like this. As a United Kingdom, we are all in this together. Any party claiming that Northern Ireland can be immune from some of the difficult decisions that will need to be taken is simply taking the electorate for fools. Tackling the deficit is the only way we can keep interest rates and mortgages lower for longer, create wealth and protect the recovery. At the same time Conservatives and Unionists have pledged to maintain frontline services – like the NHS – while cutting out government waste and promoting public sector efficiency. All of that is in the interests of Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom.
4 Why are you in favour of a unionist unity pact in Fermanagh South Tyrone and not in South Belfast?
Our candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, stood aside in favour of an independent – who is committed to taking the Conservative whip at Westminster – as the best means of securing democratic representation for people who would otherwise have another five years of an abstentionist MP. Of course we all want to see a unionist representing South Belfast in Parliament. But the person who has the best chance of doing that, with genuine cross-community appeal, is Paula Bradshaw who has a first class record of work in the constituency including in some of its most disadvantaged areas. Paula is the candidate that all unionists should be uniting behind at this election.
5 How can you convince voters to support you when you couldn’t keep your only MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, on board?
We believe that when faced with a choice between a Conservative and Unionist Government led by David Cameron, who has made clear that he will never be neutral on the Union and five more years of Gordon Brown, who is neutral on the Union, pro-union people in Northern Ireland will support us. We also believe that when it comes to a choice between the Conservatives and Unionists committed to bringing Northern Ireland into the mainstream of UK politics and ending our semi-detached status, and the DUP – whose ‘ourselves alone’ approach has more in common with the anti-Union Scottish Nationalists – then voters will back us. Five more years of Labour would be a disaster for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
6 The UUP keeps stating the Stormont Executive is ‘dysfunctional’. So why does it stay in it?
The UUP has a responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland to try and make it Stormont work. Without us there would be no devolution. Remember we did the heavy lifting while others shouted slogans from the sidelines before signing up to power-sharing with Sinn Fein. People have had enough of the DUP/Sinn Fein carve up failing to deliver. We need to get back to a proper inclusive and fully functioning Executive and the UUP will work within Stormont to achieve that. Ultimately we need to deliver positive results for all the people of Northern Ireland.