Now that the Fermanagh and South Tyrone dilemma has apparently been sorted, we can turn our attention to the campaign at hand in the other seventeen constituencies. The news that Rodney Connor will, if elected, take the Conservative whip is welcome, but he will not be an Ulster Conservative and Unionist. All our candidates are, as everyone will know, committed to taking the Conservative whip if elected and promoting the cause of Northern Ireland at the heart of the next Government of the United Kingdom, formed by a resolutely pro-Union party. In order to fulfil that goal, it is important that our candidates measure up, and after the UUP completed its review process a couple of years ago, the candidate selection procedures were (thankfully) improved.
Of the seventeen individuals standing as official Ulster Conservative and Unionist candidates, seven are completely fresh faces, and most others have fought only one or two electoral battles (the obvious exceptions being Sir Reg Empey, Danny Kennedy and Fred Cobain). All are experienced in other avenues of life though, be it as a PR professional (Ian Parsley), former RUC Officer (Ross Hussey), veterinary surgeon (Dr David Harding) or newscaster (Mike Nesbitt). All are of course committed to single mandates, with the four MLAs in the mix on record as announcing that they will relinquish their posts in the Assembly if successful on 6th May.
You would naturally expect me to be a little biased (wouldn't you?) but all the candidates are highly capable and dedicated individuals. Most have an obvious record of commitment to their local communities (in one form or another) and to the party. All are very keen to serve their local communities at Westminster and all are dedicated to a 'new' politics. Above all, as you can see from a cursory glance, all represent change. Many of the UUP's older and more established names have served our party and the people of Northern Ireland exceptionally well through the years, but all recognise that they cannot go on forever. The fresh talent coming to the fore in this election will serve the party and Unionism generally well in the years ahead. Each of our candidates is unique and each has something to offer their prospective constituents. But all are determined to change the way politics works in Northern Ireland - we are fighting a positive campaign, not a dirty war littered with stunts or a sectarian headcount. I believe that the time is right for a new candidate ticket on a new platform. The Ulster Conservative and Unionist team will bring the change we all need.