David Cameron: ‘It's time for Northern Ireland to re-enter the mainstream political life’
Jim Nicholson’s election as Conservative and Unionist MEP marks the start of a sea change in Northern Ireland politics, writes David Cameron MP
At the European elections three weeks ago more than 132,000 people in Northern Ireland chose to reject the politics of the past and, by supporting the Conservatives and Unionists, voted for change.
They did so in Northern |Ireland just as voters did across Great Britain including, spectacularly, in Wales where Conservatives topped the poll.
Conservatives are now the only party with representation in every region of the United Kingdom. That is the first time in over a generation that any national political party can make that claim.
Jim Nicholson will now take his place in the European Parliament as a fully-fledged member of a Conservative team with twice as many MEPs as the next-largest groupings from the UK.
Unlike other MEPs from |Northern Ireland, Jim will not be a lone voice.
I hope that Jim Nicholson’s election can be the start of a transformation in Northern Ireland politics by moving away from a narrow focus on the constitution.
The constitutional issue was settled in 1998 when referendums in the North and South gave |the current arrangements |resounding endorsement.
Northern Ireland now has the opportunity to re-enter the mainstream of national politics. That is what the Conservatives and Unionists offer.
Some people have questioned why I am investing time and effort in this project.
They argue that by introducing national politics we risk undermining Stormont or upsetting power-sharing between unionists and nationalists. Let me take this head on.
Why should Northern Ireland effectively be the only part of the United Kingdom excluded from the mainstream of political life?
Why is it that people from here rise to the very top in the arts, in our armed forces and in business, but not in politics? Why should politics be stuck in the past when in so many walks of life Northern Ireland has been making great leaps forward?
The answer is because, for too long, politics here has been |dominated by purely local parties who only stand for election in Northern Ireland.
They cannot form or even be part of the Government of the United Kingdom. That is profoundly undemocratic and it needs to change.
I have said repeatedly that I do not want to be Prime Minister of just England, but of the whole United Kingdom.
It follows that the Government I lead should seek to draw on the talents of people from all parts of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland.
I want Conservative and Unionist MPs elected here to sit in a future Conservative Government.
None of this undermines Stormont. Conservatives and Unionists passionately want devolution to succeed.
We believe that issues like health and education should be decided democratically by locally accountable politicians here in Northern Ireland.
There is no question of me seeking to impose policies or solutions from London, that is simply not how I work.
Yet many of the key decisions affecting people’s lives here continue to be taken at Westminster.
Taxes, pensions, welfare, the broad thrust of social policy, foreign policy are all decided by the United Kingdom Government.
As things stand, MPs from Northern Ireland have little or no say on them. They are permanently in opposition.
In less than a year’s time people across the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to give their verdict on Gordon Brown’s discredited Government and vote for change at Westminster.
People in Northern Ireland can play their part in that by supporting the only candidates that can help to form an alternative Government to Labour — the Conservatives and Unionists.
Our candidates will be campaigning for a Government that believes in progressive ends achieved by Conservative means; they will be committed to fixing our broken economy and society, but with a strong sense of social justice.
We are open to anybody who shares our values, irrespective of their background. I want to gain support from all of Northern Ireland’s diverse communities.
So, if you want to see a real difference to politics in Northern Ireland, come and join us.
Only the Conservatives and Unionists can be the change that Northern Ireland needs.
David Cameron MP is Leader of the Opposition