Belfast Telegraph

Empey counts on old friends and new faces

The UUP's electoral pact with the Conservatives is one that is good for the Union and will also help the province's economy, argues Mark Cosgrove

Sinn Fein, the DUP and the SDLP have one thing in common when it comes to national politics: they have no ability to deliver policy on non-devolved issues and the best they can do is to lobby Labour or the Conservatives to support whatever issue they are seeking assistance with.

Their manifestos are a non-deliverable wish-list normally nothing to do with the election/ campaign they are fighting.

For example, Diane Dodds' 'vote for me to stop Sinn Fein being the largest party' appeal at the European election had nothing to do with what she would deliver better than Barbara de Bruin if elected. The Ulster Unionist Party's agreement with the Conservative Party seeks to end this democratic deficit.

The most important recent example of regional parties trying to effect policy at national level was the wide-ranging lobby by all Northern Ireland's political parties, the CBI and the IOD on the issue of the benefits of a reduced Corporation Tax rate for Northern Ireland.

We all lobbied and the then Chancellor - a certain Gordon Brown - appointed Sir David Varney to examine the possibilities and came back with a resounding 'No'!

I am the trade and tourism spokesperson of the UUP. Working with UUP and Conservative colleagues, we are seriously pursuing a strategy about how to transform the Northern Ireland economy and its over-reliance on the public sector by doing what Varney and Brown refused to do: create the possibility of one of the most competitive Corporation Tax rates in Europe and turn the whole of Northern Ireland into an Enterprise Zone.

The Northern Ireland Economic Reform Group recently published a report spelling out the economic case for this, which concluded that a minimum of 90,000 new, high-skilled, well-paid jobs could be created.

This policy has the potential to transform Northern Ireland's future and impacts on the quality of life and opportunity we are able to offer our young people and the renewed hope we could bring to the tens of thousands of people who have been made redundant in the recession.

Working within the fiscal governance of the United Kingdom, with a highly motivated, highly trained, well-educated workforce, backed up by a world-class further education set-up, we would be the envy of the world.

That is an example of the potential of Conservatives and Unionists working together in Westminster to create the opportunities for the Ulster Unionist Party and our coalition partners in the Assembly to deliver fundamental change for the benefit of all of our people.

Some commentators have tried to examine who our core target voters are. Let us be completely clear.

The Conservative and Ulster Unionist project is one that puts Northern Ireland at the heart of the Union. David Cameron made one of the most poignant speeches ever heard on a unionist platform when he declared he "would never be neutral on the Union".

The Ulster Unionist Party has long believed that the only way to strengthen the Union is not on the basis of sectarian head-counts, but by developing the pro-Union vote well outside its traditional core base.

We recognise that we are unlikely to change generational voting habits overnight. But this is intended to appeal to the entire pro-Union family regardless of religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. We are seeking to bring the values of the United Kingdom into the mainstream of Ulster politics.

Another key component of our offer is that none of our MPs will be MLAs, councillors or Stormont ministers. Every UUP MLA standing for election will stand down from the Assembly straight after they are elected.

Furthermore, in the absence of an agreement with the other parties, we are committed to legislating in Westminster against this practice.

Northern Ireland is an integral part of our great country and our MPs will take the Conservative whip and have the same rights and responsibilities as all other members of the Conservative parliamentary team.

Another reason for ending multiple mandates is that Northern Ireland politics needs new people who traditionally might have been turned off by the nature of politics here.

The UUP has recently attracted many of Northern Ireland's brightest people from right across society. Businessmen, solicitors, media personalities and people from the voluntary sector - many of whom have passed our assessment board and are now on our central candidates list from which full-time elected representatives are selected. This election will see many of them standing under the Conservative and Unionist banner.

The UUP has a proud record of doing what is best for Northern Ireland and of promoting and strengthening our Union with Great Britain.

Our core values are non-sectarian and non-threatening to anyone. However, we will never make any apologies for advocating that Northern Ireland's future lies right at the centre of British life.

Our alliance with the Conservatives offers the public two of the oldest political parties in the Kingdom working together in Westminster and Brussels to bring real change and real benefits to people's lives.

From the polling we have done, it is a proposition that we are confident the people of Northern Ireland will vote for in large numbers.

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