I have, on this blog and in public, been critical of the Alliance Party in the past, mostly over what I perceive to be a weak stance on the Union and recently over self praise which I felt was unwarranted. Now, after the election, I feel it prudent to re-examine that criticism and see if it is still valid...
The prudence comes about because after being soundly thrashed at the polls as a first time independent candidate, the evidence is stingingly clear in it's conclusion that success at the polls is best achieved with party support (David McClarty is an exception, obviously). So, I have to consider which party is best for me. Naturally, this was a question I asked before the election and decided that, whilst there were a couple of contenders, none suited at the time for various reasons. I am happy to admit that one of the reasons was a strong desire to run in the election. Something not possible if I had joined a party.
So, back to Alliance. One thing that has always been an obstacle in the way of giving my support to Alliance is that I'm never entirely sure what they stand for, save for not being in one camp or the other. On some issues they are clearly liberal, others have a tinge of socialist roots and yet their economic policies are decidedly right of centre. Above all, they are clearly a party of moderate politics and this is evident in their elected representatives. There are no controversial figures, no one that Stephen Nolan can catch out or lead down a path and no one likely to feature on the front page of the Sunday World at any time in the near future. That quality however, could just as well be a flaw.
Many voters like to know where a political party stands without having to read through a huge manifesto in order to locate the position on any issue. They don't need to do that with Sinn Fein or the DUP. Name any issue and it's likely 9 in 10 will get the position right without ever having heard from the party on it. So when they vote for Sinn Fein or DUP they know what they are getting with a far higher degree of certainty than they ever will with Alliance.
It's to it's credit that Alliance came out in favour of Water Charges before the election - it recognised a problem and proposed a solution, however unpopular it may have been. But that in itself is the problem with Alliance - policy is formed from practical solutions to problems rather than from a particular ideology. Again, there is nothing wrong with that and indeed could even be interpreted as a form of ideology in itself but it won't ever lead to Alliance being anything other than the 5th biggest party.
The UUP have always been considered the 'broad church' party but it is Alliance who can and do actually offer a home to the most different of backgrounds and views. Unless the UUP bring their warring factions together under a united message, the UUP will eventually see their party destroyed because the different wings of their party battle each other for dominance. If Alliance wants to really grow, they too need to present a united message, but for them it needs to be directed at the electorate so they can get behind it.
This still hasn't answered my own question as to which party to look to. A part of me still feels the UUP can be rescued and it can still provide a place for moderate unionists. A part of me thinks Alliance offer the best chance of focusing on 'normal' politics. I'm just not sure but there's always the option of mixing blue and yellow and coming up with...