Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Union's safe, so let's talk about the real issues

There is a clear need for change in politics here. But another 'unionist-lite' party will not provide the solutions we require, writes Trevor Ringland

Trevor Ringland:Former Rugby Player

A couple of years ago, the Belfast Telegraph conducted its True Colours online survey, with the aim of establishing whether the average voter in Northern Ireland lies to the right, left, or centre of the traditional political spectrum.

Not surprisingly, it found that, as a rule, our opinions on society and economics are moderate and a little to the right of centre.

That suggests most of us believe in things like rewarding hard work and responsibility, protecting the vulnerable, encouraging strong families and building a strong, integrated community.

These are the key values of a centre-right party and they underpin all the NI Conservatives's policies. While we think that they're values which most people in Northern Ireland share, they're not being reflected at Stormont by the current set of political parties.

There's clearly a need for change in Northern Ireland politics. The constitutional issue has been settled for the foreseeable future and there is an appetite to leave behind wrangles about the border and address day-to-day issues.

The old Orange and Green parties have proved they can't deliver normal politics. Indeed, they can't even deliver on their stated constitutional objectives.

A united Ireland has never been less likely, while so-called 'unionist' parties have managed to edge politics in Northern Ireland ever further from the UK mainstream.

That's why another variation of the same old thing will not work. Another Ulster-only, 'unionist-lite' party, whether more moderate or not, cannot make the changes we need. It can't represent the right-of-centre values of people here.

NI Conservatives believe that we need an entirely fresh, centre-right approach. We're a proud, distinctive and autonomous Northern Irish party which is passionate about our place in the United Kingdom and remains a full part of the UK Conservative Party family.

When we say we're pro-Union, it's not about 'us' and 'them', or asserting the identity of one part of the community over another. It's about a real commitment to offering voters here a meaningful voice in UK-wide politics.

We want to make sure that voters' voices are heard, get the most out of being in the UK and make a contribution to this great country.

It's about building the best Northern Ireland possible, inside a United Kingdom which is good for all its citizens and cementing good relationships across the island of Ireland.

A key to achieving that is to create jobs and grow the economy. NI Conservatives believe that enterprise and entrepreneurship are the way to achieve this.

We're the only genuinely centre-right party locally, because we emphasise that sustainable jobs and lasting wealth can only be produced by a vibrant private sector.

We recognise that companies are unlikely to invest here, unless they believe there is a peaceful and harmonious society.

The Executive has failed to tackle division, because the various ministers who make it up do what they think best for one part of the community, rather than all of it.

Too often, the result is they let everyone down. That's why we believe the debate needs to focus on tackling problems faced by all of us, rather than looking out for the perceived interests of Orange and Green. Next year, NI Conservatives will field candidates at the European election and in the local government elections. Our representatives will take a new, centre-right, common sense attitude to local issues, whether they're decided in the council chamber, or in the European Parliament.

At the next Stormont elections, we'll offer voters the chance to transform politics at Assembly level, too.

So, there is a party which is committed to creating jobs, rewarding hard work and providing Northern Ireland with an effective voice at Westminster and there is a party which is committed to the centre-right values which Northern Irish people espoused when they were asked about their 'True Colours'. That party is the NI Conservatives.

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