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Naomi Long's robust and passionate style of leadership will help Alliance Party


Alliance leadership front-runner Naomi Long

Alliance leadership front-runner Naomi Long

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Alliance leadership front-runner Naomi Long

After years of politics in Northern Ireland being the preserve of grey men in grey suits, another step towards gender equality comes with self-proclaimed 'ginger ninja', Naomi Long, about to become Alliance leader.

From the moment she was elected MLA for East Belfast in May, it was a matter of when, not if, she secured her party's top job.

With Theresa May as British Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish First Minister, and Arlene Foster holding the reins of power at home, this is surely a golden age for female politicians.

But don't be expecting a show of sisterly solidarity between the two female party leaders in Stormont.

Mrs Long has already taken a swipe at Mrs Foster's leadership style, and the two women will be just as capable as any men of ding-dong battles on the Assembly floor.

It's no disrespect to David Ford to say that Mrs Long represents the best chance the party has had to expand its voter base in decades. Mr Ford inherited a party which occupied the centre ground.

It has slowly become more liberal and we can expect this process to accelerate under Mrs Long.

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There is a huge disconnect between young people and politicians, and she will be seeking to bridge that gap by pushing LGBT rights and other social issues.

"At 44 years old, I'm the first Alliance leader to be younger than the party which was founded in 1970," she said. "Many people are weary of the negative and insular politics here.

"I want Alliance to be the vehicle for a liberal and tolerant society, where diversity is not just accepted but celebrated." With the rise of the Greens and People Before Profit (PBP), Alliance is in danger of being overshadowed in Stormont.

Mrs Long correctly argues that PBP's success wasn't in traditional Alliance strongholds, but she is on weaker ground when she claims that the Greens' didn't take votes from her party in May's Assembly election.

In East Belfast, she has been a big vote winner.

Alliance's support increased from 12% in the 2005 Westminster election to 43% a decade later.

"We've been successful recently because we provided a strong alternative, and I hope we can replicate that in other constituencies too," Mrs Long said.

"I dislike when Alliance is presented as anaemic. No one could ever describe me as wishy-washy.

"If I become leader, my style will be robust.

"I want a passionate party full of people with strong opinions."

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