Real governance is about competence and community
The Alliance Party offers a lone voice to those excluded from politics, says Paula Bradshaw
The media headlines — ‘UUP member joins Alliance Party’ — summed it up; really, my move from being a rank-and-file party member from one party to another was not a story.
Yet there was something about it which captured the public interest. That something was more about the Alliance Party than it was about me.
So many people now feel completely excluded from politics in Northern Ireland — the old four parties simply do not speak to them, or for them.
Politics is seen as being about politicians, not about people. Standing out from the crowd, however, are the likes of Anna Lo and Naomi Long — politicians who were instantly attractive to many people because of their ability to throw away the shackles of a single community's interest and speak up |for everyone.
Yet there is more to it even than that. For it is fast becoming apparent that people are also looking for politicians with competence.
People have looked on with disgust as local government reform was halted because of a parochial boundary dispute and as educational gridlock sent teachers, parents and not least children into uncertainty and despair.
Standing out from the crowd again is David Ford as Justice Minister, who has brought forward new Northern Ireland-specific legislation within months of appointment. There are others too — for example, Trevor Lunn has been quietly effective in trying to resolve the educational gridlock without resorting to petty party-political sniping. This is the type of thing people want — politicians trying to get things done, not just appearing to.
There is also, of course, the elephant in the room. Our political system does not work because it is founded on the very division we should be trying to overcome.
Northern Ireland is deeply riven by segregation — not just along religious grounds, but also in terms of educational background, social class and so on.
Central to my own work in south Belfast’s Village area has been the notion that you cannot just regenerate housing stock; you have to regenerate communities, ensuring a degree of economic potential and social unity.
What kind of example is Stormont setting there? Instead of trying to break down barriers, too many politicians try to excuse them and use them as the single reason for their mandate.
What has been most noticeable for me, above all, has been the positive response I have received to my move in the marginalised communities I know best.
Where once Alliance canvassers might have feared to tread, there is now the real sense that Alliance is the only party really listening. I am not sure the Alliance Party itself has even grasped the immense goodwill that exists for it in areas where people feel excluded from politics, but wish to be included.
Those people feel that Alliance is the only vehicle to move away from the politics of the narrow personal interest and on to the politics of the betterment of the whole |community.
It could be argued that the Conservatives and Unionists project, in principle, did offer a route towards more relevant, more competent and more responsible politics and, with its commitment to social justice, it offered a potential route into the communities in which I have spent my working life.
However, its delivery left much to be desired. The Conservatives and Unionists talked about ‘change’, but when it came to delivering it, they walked away.
Yet people do want change.
It is the Alliance Party that is offering that change — and, as it does so, it offers not just the intention, but also the capacity to deliver it.