UKIP leader Nigel Farage was in Belfast yesterday and while his politics will not have universal appeal, it is welcome to see the leader of a national political party visiting the Province.
Mr Farage, who visited the News Letter during his time in Northern Ireland, has come to Ulster on several occasions in recent years and his was the only national party to contest – with almost no success – the 2011 Assembly elections.
As a unionist newspaper which over recent years has reported on the breadth of unionist politics without taking sides amongst the parties, we welcome the commitment of UKIP to treat Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
And the party’s attempt to spark political debate in the Province about the role of the EU is exactly the sort of issue which many of those turned off by the often sectarian political squabbles at Stormont will find refreshing.
There are huge challenges for UKIP, not least in finding a slate of credible candidates ahead of next year’s European and council elections. In recent years the Conservative Party, since splitting from its alliance with the UUP, has also attempted to put down roots in the Province. Its difficulties in doing so give UKIP – a much newer and much smaller party – a lesson in the difficulties of breaking onto Northern Ireland’s crowded political landscape.
But those parties’ attempts to take Northern Ireland seriously stand in stark contrast to the cowardly decision of the Labour Party to abandon its supporters in Ulster. Northern Ireland, areas of which have a long tradition of support of Labour across the communal divide, has been denied any chance to vote Labour, because of that party’s outdated relationship with the nationalist SDLP.
UKIP’s vision of national politics in Northern Ireland should inspire local Labour supporters – and shame Ed Miliband – into putting Labour candidates on Ulster ballot papers.