The European and Local Council election campaigns have started in earnest now that Easter is over.
This should be apparent to anyone who is taking any notice at all to the plethora of election posters which have appeared along main roads (though not the route of the Giro d’ Italia I hope!).
This street clutter is an essential part of any election in Northern Ireland though it is an exercise I would gladly welcome an end to, if only we could get agreement from all parties.
At this point I must congratulate the good citizen of Islandmagee who used her Facebook page to alert the populace of that area that she suspected the “pikeys” were about the other night, looking for opportunities to thieve from the good people of the district. She informed her Facebook followers that she had seen a number of men with a white van and a lorry with ladders strapped to the back of it acting suspiciously around a business in Islandmagee.
Then as she furtively parked her car in a laneway, the van moved on and stopped outside another business, leaving the back door open so that the registration number was hidden.
However the intrepid sleuth was not to be defeated, she persisted until she obtained the registration number of both vehicles and then published my registration and my friend’s registration number so that all the inhabitants of that part of my constituency might be alerted should there be another incursion by those suspicious characters!
She had spotted a number of us transferring posters from my van to another poster team’s lorry and concluded that we were stealing material from the business. She informed everyone that she had alerted the police, however they have yet to come and arrest me!
When someone drew it to my attention very late that night I had a good laugh. One wag commented that no self- respecting “pikey” would be seen dead in a vehicle as dilapidated as mine (it is a bit bashed up)!
However full marks to someone who, seeing activity which looked suspicious, took time to report it. With rural crime soaring it is essential to remain watchful, and thanks for giving us all a good laugh as well. “Pikeys” indeed — has she no respect for her MP?!
Anyhow, back to the subject of posters. They epitomise the problem and the danger facing unionism. The unionist electorate have a multitude of parties chasing their vote.
The DUP, the UUP, the TUV, the PUP, the Conservatives, UKIP, NI21 and until this election the Alliance Party sneaked in there as well, but since their vote to take down the Union Flag in Belfast and Anna Lo’s declaration in favour of a United Ireland, that republican cuckoo in the unionist nest has been caught on.
While some may argue that competition in political life is as important as competition in business life, the sad reality is that this self-indulgence by unionist political parties shreds the unionist vote and damages our common cause.
On the nationalist side there is no similar shredding of the vote and transfers between the two nationalist parties are fairly solid.
On the unionist side, in order to justify forming yet another party, differences are emphasised and the highlighting of these differences is often done in such a vitriolic way, aka Jim Allister and Basil McCrea, that votes don’t transfer.
In PR elections where the final seat in a constituency can often be decided by a couple of transfers, this reduces the final tally of unionist seats.
The other impact of the multitude of small unionist breakaway parties is that in order to justify their existence, they have to direct attacks against each other and more especially the biggest unionist party, painting as black a picture as possible about the Union, the economy and politics generally, because only by breeding discontent can they hope to win over some support from the established party.
This produces a unionism which is in a constant state of despair instead of a confident unionism which should be rejoicing in the fact that we have won the constitutional argument, we have won the military battle against terrorism and are building an economy, which although still requiring improvement, is stronger at this point in the economic cycle than would have been the case in the past.
Of course we will always have areas of genuine disagreement between shades of unionist opinion. That is bound to be the case in a society where freedom of thought is encouraged, but there are ways of facilitating that without forming a new party every year.
As the candidates present themselves at your door, they should be challenged on this issue. Why is another party needed? What impact can yet another splinter party have?
And most importantly of all, how does their existence aid in the securing of the Union and making Northern Ireland a better place to live in?
The sad reality is that while republicans watch helplessly as over one-third of their own supporters turn their back on a united Ireland, unionists damage themselves with their bickering, vote shredding and messages of defeat.