Election Review: Thoughts from the election count
Campaigns Officer Sam Nelson gives his thoughts from the campaign
For all those involved in the election count process — whether candidates, verification and counting agents or family relatives — there was a lot of time to deliberate on the first Northern Ireland elections in three years.
First of all, I don’t think I was alone when I was looking forward to the end of the 2014 campaign. There is little doubt, with boundary changes; a volatile and polarised political atmosphere; and no election in three years, there was a lot of unknown variables at play.
Despite this challenging atmosphere, the party came together and worked hard to deliver a solid local government result and the best ever result in Europe. To this end, I would like to thank all the candidates, agents, organisers, campaigners and staff who helped deliver this success.
During the third day of counting I began looking at the patterns of results across Northern Ireland, in relation to expected results. The thing that struck me most was that the party had held its ground in the face of some of the worst intimidation ever experienced by a Northern Ireland party in recent times.
In post-conflict divided societies, periods of increased tensions tend to result in a serious loss of votes for the ‘middle-ground’ parties, as voters’ insecurities take over. Historically, Northern Ireland has not been any different. However, in these elections the ‘middle-ground’ vote marginally increased, something of a watershed moment.
Those who said the Alliance Party was finished had failed to understand the strength of feeling towards the party’s pioneering vision of a shared society, free from intimidation, discrimination and fear, where everyone is safe and treated fairly and with respect — a society for everyone.
Over the past two years, with many of our political reps and high profile members coming under significant personal threat, the party can hold its head high in how it came together to stand up for its core principles, securing its democratic right to represent the silent majority in Northern Ireland.
However, we cannot stop there. We have another two years of hugely important elections ahead, starting with retaining our Westminster seat in East Belfast. Naomi’s main opposition — the DUP — lost ground in these elections. I have no doubt their attempts to win back the seat by stirring up political tensions and fears has severely back-fired.
We can now step forward into the next campaign with a confident platform, working together to retain our seat in Westminster.
Just like the rest of Northern Ireland, the majority of people in East Belfast want more than sectarian bickering from their politicians. It is up to us to engage with the voters and once again prove that Alliance offers the only viable way forward. No matter where you are based, there will be plenty of opportunities to lend a hand in East Belfast and make the biggest statement we can — we will not be bullied by a minority intent on taking Northern Ireland backwards.
Over the next two years we can be thinking back from the election counts, pondering the significance of the 2014 election result. There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most important in the history of the Alliance Party, a platform from which our future strength is built upon.