12 May 2015The Election - Two Northern Irish Reflections
This General Election has been one of many firsts for me – the first time I was eligible to vote for Westminster, the first time I attended a hustings event (in fact hustled round a few hustings), the first time I sent emails to my representatives and the first time I pulled an all-nighter over election results –who knew it could be so captivating?!
When it comes to voting, I have previously felt uninformed –frustrated because I haven't taken enough time out of the craziness of life to read party manifestos and find out what the candidates were doing on the ground. This year my frustration was slightly different - after spending the year on this internship immersed in the political world and learning from big politicos - I felt frustrated with information. I realised that before ignorance was indeed bliss in that I could vote for someone and feel one hundred percent comfortable with my choice. My faith shapes my political interests ranging from 'moral' issues like abortion to protecting the poor and vulnerable to peace and reconciliation. However, no one party represented all this and so like most people, I realised compromise was necessary. The question is though, what do you give greater importance to? In voting sacrificially which issues do you designate as most important for others rather than yourself?
I wonder if the best place to start is picking a few things that you think are really important for society or a particularly vulnerable group of people and seeing who can best represent them? The church is a very broad body and so the hope would be that others within it will have a heart for other issues and will vote accordingly. In this, we strive for a fuller and deeper understanding of what the bible has to say into every single area of our lives and our world. And so, we don't want to be people who engage our hearts,
faith and thoughts for one day of the year. Speaking into the public square has to go way above and beyond putting an X in a box. We seek to be people who use our gifts, creativity and imaginations to honour Christ and bring His kingdom to our world, starting in our local communities. We are a movement of people whose faith makes us live differently. And so, in the wake of the election results - whether we are delighted or disappointed, we can choose to be people who make a positive contribution to our society. We can choose to engage with our politicians over the big and the small picture issues –are there things going on in our communities which we can bring our gifts or passions to? We can make small changes in our lives which make big differences in the lives of other - things as simple as choosing to use public transport more frequently or making a commitment to our local small businesses.
Margaret Stewart - Intern
An intriguing 'morning after the night before' left the nation in shock. No hung parliament and the Conservatives won the majority. The Conservatives won 37% of the national vote with Labour winning 31%. UKIP followed in behind with 13% and the Liberal Democrats 8%. Winning 5% of the national vote, Nicola Sturgeon commented that gaining 56 of 59 Scottish seats was "beyond her wildest dreams" for the SNP and looked forward to being a 'strong force in parliament' in the years that lay ahead. Meanwhile Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, all stepped down as party leaders within an hour of each other on the morning after the election.
In Northern Ireland the events where less dramatic but a few seats changed hands. Tom Elliot of the UUP won the seat for Fermanagh and South Tyrone from Michelle Gildernew who held the seat since 2001. The DUP's Gavin Robinson took the East Belfast seat won in the 2010 election by the Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. In South Antrim, the UUP Candidate Danny Kinahan won the seat from William McCrea of the DUP. Alliance Party Leader David Ford commented that although it was disappointing to have lost their seat, the party was pleased overall that they have gained 4000 votes up by 1.5%, and is a positive step for next year's elections.
The unionist pact seems to have borne the intended results for the DUP and UUP. UUP party leader Mike Nesbitt has described the result as 'the best result unionism has had for over a decade'. In agreement, Simon Hamilton said that the pact between the Democratic and Ulster Unionists has proved successful. However the pact did attract controversy with critics labelling it as sectarian and antidemocratic. The DUP's hopes for negotiating a better deal for Northern Ireland have been somewhat diminished, with the Conservatives taking the majority without need of their backing. Meanwhile Sinn Féin retained all their seats outside of Fermanagh and Sotuh Tyrone and continue with their abstentionist policy. The SDLP held their three seats with Mark Durkan in Foyle polling a larger majority. After holding his seat in South Belfast, Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell will soon resign as MLA in order to fulfil his duties in Westminster.
It is inevitable that Stormont's budget will be impacted which leaves many asking where this leaves Northern Ireland economically. Stormont's spending power has been decreased by 1 billion in the last 5 years but the Executive will face further spending power decreases as the Conservatives are planning a further £12bn in cuts. Considering recent pledges by the party, it is most likely that cuts will effect housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits.
And so with all eyes are now on discussions around implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, we pray that our local leaders will build real relationships and discern a healthy balance between economic prudence and the protection of the most vulnerable in our society.
Hannah Smith - Intern