I never thought I’d join another political party. When I became active in the Liberal Democrats, I thought that was me, settled. No one else really reflected my views, no party had such a beautiful and evocative preamble.
Today, I felt compelled to join a different political party: Alliance.
Alliance are the Northern Irish liberal party. They are, in many ways, the Liberal Democrat’s sister party in NI, a member of Liberal International and the International Federation of Liberal Youth. The situation is a bit complicated (what in Northern Irish politics isn’t?) but broadly, Great Britain’s party’s tend not to stand in Northern Ireland. There is a Liberal Democrat group in Northern Ireland but membership of both parties is permitted at the same time; case in point, Lord John Alderdice (who was leader of Alliance and is now a LibDem peer) and David Ford (current leader of Alliance, who also holds a LibDem membership card). Alliance caters to the need for a liberal party in Northern Ireland, or at least, it caters to the need for a party unencumbered by sectarian politics.
Alliance is neither a Nationalist nor a Unionist party; they are, formally, Other. Which is what makes this week all the more tragic.
You’ll likely have seen on the news the violence in recent days on the streets of Belfast, Bangor, Carrickfergus and elsewhere. It all goes back to Monday, 3rd of December. A vote on Belfast City Council was hotly divided. The motion? Whether to remove the flag from outside the city hall. The Nationalist Sinn Fein and SDLP wanted it removed entirely, and the Unionist UUP and DUP wanted it kept. Alliance proposed a compromise – to only fly the flag on 20 designated days, the same policy as the Assembly building at Stormont. Sinn Feinand the SDLP agreed that was acceptable, and the motion passed.
As the week progressed, the violence against Alliance escalated.
- Cllr Michael Bower, Cllr Christine Bower and their 17-month old daughter were faced with a paintbomb through their window.
- Cllr Linda Cleland’s home was attacked.
- MLA Stewart Dickson’s Carrickfergus constituency office was attacked and burnt out.
- There was an attempted arson attack on the office of North Down MLA Stephen Farry.
- Cllr Laura McNamee was unable to return home for fear of attack.
- Naomi Long, Alliance MP for East Belfast, suffered death threats.
- 100 Loyalists protested outside Naomi Long’s Belfast constituency office.
I highly recommend watching this BBC news video.
The most incredible thing about these attacks is that those who have been targeted with physical violence and threats have responded, not by attacking loyalism, but by calling the attacks out for what they are: an attack on democracy itself. The Alliance party works to support democracy, non-sectarianism and compromise in a badly divided nation. It deserves our support for this alone, and especially now in such dark times for the party.
But how to show this support?
I have done both. A £10 unwaged membership, and a £20 donation in Alliance’s coffers have made me feel a bit less useless in defending democracy in what is meant to be a modern, progressive, liberal Western European state in the 21st Century. I truly wish I could do more.
So, here I am. The Spineless Liberal, a Liberal Democrat and Alliance member. And proud of it.
If you’ve been as moved by this as I have, I highly recommend donating to or joining Alliance. Show your support and stand up for peace and democracy in Northern Ireland.
- Belfast flag violence: Today, we all vote for the Alliance party (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Belfast flag row violence: We’re not going to take it (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Flyin’ the Fleg (liberalmeritocracy.wordpress.com)
- In which I join the Alliance Party (stephensliberaljournal.blogspot.co.uk)
- Joining a New Political Party (johnmarkcole.blogspot.co.uk)
- Stand with Alliance against mindless thuggery and threats (carons-musings.blogspot.co.uk)
- Councillors’ home attacked and death threats – all because of a flag (libdemvoice.org)
- Hillary Clinton says threats to MP unacceptable, during Belfast visit (guardian.co.uk)
PostScript – I am awaiting some form of reaction from Westminster, especially from the Liberal Democrat leadership. They’ve been strangely silent on the issue.