Election Diary: I’ll be shocked if I win, says Tory defector

Former Coleraine mayor David Harding has joined the Conservatives and is standing for the Assembly
Former Coleraine mayor David Harding has joined the Conservatives and is standing for the Assembly

A former Ulster Unionist councillor has defected to the Conservative Party and is to stand in the Assembly election – but has candidly said that he will be “shocked” if he is elected.

David Harding quit the UUP last year, saying that he had “lost faith in political parties in Northern Ireland and their ability to deliver”.

Now Mr Harding – who in the last Assembly election finished last (albeit with 1,458 votes) in East Londonderry as part of the UUP’s disastrous strategy to retain a seat after the party deselected the late David McClarty – has joined the Tories. He is the only Conservative councillor in the Province.

The former mayor of Coleraine told the News Letter that he had joined David Cameron’s party because he had come to the view that it was almost impossible to operate effectively as an independent.

Describing himself as a “one nation Tory” with “the Ken Clarke view of life”, Mr Harding said he was “excited” to stand, but added: “I have very realistic expectations [in the election] – if I was in Stormont in June, I’d be more shocked than most.”

However, the vet said that he believed it was important to give people a choice so that they could not honestly claim there was no differences between the candidates.

Mr Harding singled out right of centre Roman Catholics, who he said were not adequately represented by either the SDLP or Sinn Fein.

He said: “I believe in capital and in the power of capital, but I also believe capital carries with it social responsibility.”

Huge DUP effort to win seat in West Belfast

The DUP is undertaking a huge canvassing operation in West Belfast in the belief that it is one of the few areas where it can win a seat.

The party faces the probable loss of seats in various constituencies, including East Belfast and East Antrim, but a win in West Belfast would help to balance up losses elsewhere.

Teams have been canvassing for candidate Frank McCoubrey (formerly of the UDA-linked UPRG) on a nightly basis, with the staunchly Protestant areas on one side of the Shankill Road (which fall within West Belfast) in line to be canvassed twice.

Symbolically, the party launched its manifesto on the Shankill Road on Monday. In 2011, DUP candidate Brian Kingston was 461 votes short of getting in.

But now Arlene Foster’s party is attempting to repeat Diane Dodds’ feat of 2003 when, despite three other unionist candidates, she managed to win a seat with just 2,544 first preference votes – but a huge number of transfers.

This time the UUP candidate is Gareth Martin, a criminal solicitor originally from the Suffolk estate but who is now based in Manchester.

Send us details of your hustings events across NI

This column will attempt to keep readers up to date on as many hustings events being held across Northern Ireland as possible.

Although some of the big battleground constituencies will feature in TV debates, in many seats potential voters will only be able to question candidates at local events where they can set out their stall in person.

If you are organising a public hustings event for candidates in your constituency, please send details to sam.mcbride@newsletter.co.uk or phone 02890 897722.

Please include the venue for the event, the time, the names of the candidates who have been invited to take part and the names of those who have agreed to attend.