Five things that will help Naomi Long take East Belfast


1. Naomi Long is no electoral spring chicken. She has taken (and yes, Virginia, lost) East Belfast before. She’s been elected as an MLA , she’s been Lord Mayor of Belfast: she knows what to do and not do, say and not say in an election. And she gives off a dedication to bread-and-butter issues – it’s what Alliance do.

 2.    A lot of voters, for better or worse, have bought the orange v green presentation of politics       here.  They may have strong views on either side but they’d prefer to shelve them and get on with life.Naomi knows that Gavin Robinson will be harping on about the need to protect Ulster/Uladh from the dreaded Shared Island/Ireland’s Future lot, and she can produce the usual Alliance line that right now, constitutional matters have nothing to do with being East Belfast MP. Gavin’s tired tune is Naomi’s fresh strength.

3.    She is a woman, and like it or not, people tend to think of women as more practical, caring and community-based. As an individual, she identifies with the daily round and local affairs. She knows how to connect with people. Gavin Robinson probably does too, but not in the same sure-footed way of a veteran like Naomi Long.

4. The Alliance Party are not the Greens, but they do include a clear commitment to environmental affairs in their manifesto. There are a lot of younger voters in East Belfast and they respond when a politician is genuine about the future of the globe. She emphasises help for people in need right here, right now; but climate action and sustainability are high on her agenda. The DUP comes nowhere near in this area; it’s only now that the likes of Sammy Wilson have stopped denying that the planet is in big trouble.

5. There was a smoothness, a quiet expertise to Jeffrey Donaldson. Alas, Gavin Robinson always looks like a man somehow persuaded to buy and wear a suit two times too big for him. The pre-cooked lines he’s been urged to trot out, like comparing the Irish Sea border to having one’s leg sawn off, he delivers like a man who feels embarrassed by himself. This may be very unfair, since none of us has much control over how we look; but Gavin looks and sounds like a sub-standard Head Prefect.

This is not a good time to be heading NEI’s biggest unionist party.  If (or more likely when) Naomi Long decapitates the present head of the DUP, unionism will go straight into the screaming-heebie-jeebies  mode. Of course, Gavin Robinson may defy all the portents and emerge victorious. And Rishi Sunak may be having his  Christmas dinner in 10 Downing Street next year.




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