As a One Nation party the Conservative Party strives to be active and successful in all constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
Out of 18 constituency seats in Northern Ireland, 10 have an incumbent elected on a unionist philosophy – but those representatives sit on the opposite benches from the government.
A government that has created more jobs in the UK than has been created in the rest of the EU combined, and a government that is one of the few in the world that presides over a growing economy.
It is the aim of the Conservative Party in NI to turn these seats into Conservative seats.
After all, NI has an electorate that is fully aware of the need for change towards normal, future-focused, outcome-based politics whilst the established local parties remain tribal, history-orientated and often self-serving.
Surveys, polling and anecdotal evidence indicate that a large number – possibly the majority – of the population (as well as elected representatives of other parties!) holds opinions indistinguishable from the Conservative Party. In the 2015 election, two national parties, Ukip and the Conservatives, had a larger increase in vote share in Northern Ireland than any local party bar one.
With a favourable political environment nationally and a growing desire for change locally, the NI Conservative Party is in a strong position. Membership is increasing and awareness of the party as an alternative to local parties is gaining momentum. Last Sunday, 30 members from Northern Ireland went across to Manchester to participate in the Conservative Party conference and experience what it is like to be part of the governing party of the UK.
The conversation in the last few days indicates that all found it an interesting and reflective experience, particularly for the candidates who are standing in the upcoming Stormont elections. The biggest surprise for those who had not previously attended were the many fascinating fringe events, the high quality debate on issues of inequality, poverty and charity, and the diversity of attendees.
A highlight was the ability to see and sometimes speak to ministers, media commentators, campaigners of all political shades and to exchange ideas with party colleagues from across the country.
The conference had the largest ever number of attendees, 11,000 plus, so 30 people from Northern Ireland represent a tiny contingent. Fair therefore to ask what the leadership and co-members made of the group from Northern Ireland and if there is sufficient interest in Northern Ireland from the party at large. Cabinet members, engaged in private conversations, expressed a clear intention to visit in the near future.
When Martin Craigs of Strangford stood up in a packed meeting on the party structure and stated he had come from Northern Ireland, the whole audience burst into spontaneous applause.
With over 2,500 meetings taking place over four days, including keynote addresses broadcast across the nation – as well as running the country – the prime minister attended the reception held by the NI Conservatives on Monday, where he spoke to attendees about his passion for all parts of the United Kingdom.
All attendees are now returned to Northern Ireland with renewed determination to make an impact in the Stormont elections and significantly alter the political landscape here to create a prosperous, vibrant, forward-looking society.
• Annika Nestius-Brown is a consultant on membership for the NI Conservatives and a member of Strangford Conservative Association. www.niconservatives.com