Nicholson says he can top poll for new electoral pact


MANIFESTO LAUNCH:MEP JIM Nicholson says he can top the poll for the new Ulster Unionist-Conservative electoral pact.

Speaking at his manifesto launch in Belfast, Mr Nicholson said the bitter exchanges between Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and the DUP’s Diane Dodds would allow his campaign to gain the initiative.

He said Mr Allister, who won his seat in 2004 for the DUP before quitting the party over powersharing with Sinn Féin, was taking votes from Mrs Dodds.

Mr Nicholson has never topped the poll nor reached the quota on the first count. However, supported by British shadow foreign secretary William Hague, Mr Nicholson said: “Jim Allister is taking a sizeable amount of the votes away from the DUP, and I do not believe he is taking any votes away from us. Our vote is holding very strong and we are going to increase on that vote. I am the only unionist left who can top the poll.”

The Ulster Unionists were experiencing a revival thanks to the new pact with the Conservatives.

“We are widening the union, deepening the union and strengthening the union. That cannot be bad for [those] who want to see the union for many decades to come.”

He said there was no confusion among unionist voters about the new approach by the two parties.

“Everyone knows it, everywhere I go around Northern Ireland. Everybody knows I’m the Ulster Unionist, and on this occasion they know I am tied in with the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists and quite frankly they are liking it.”

In a lengthy address before a large audience which included former UUP leader Lord [David] Trimble, now a Tory peer, Mr Hague said the two parties would form a new right-of-centre bloc in the European Parliament opposed to creeping federalism.

He welcomed the restructuring of relations between their two parties, claiming it was “good for Northern Ireland” as it offered local voters a place in the UK political mainstream.

He looked forward to the next general election, due within 12 months, as it offered a chance to “get rid of the worst government of the United Kingdom in modern times”.

He said the British government was the “most financially disastrous, the most blindingly incompetent, grossly dishonest and disgustingly grubby government that we have had, certainly in living memory”.

He said people in Northern Ireland would join with David Cameron’s Conservatives in demanding change.

The manifesto praises the EU, saying it had “done much to reconcile the painful division in Europe and to spread democracy and the rule of law in the former community countries”.

It also lauds the single market and the moves towards deregulation.

However, the manifesto rails against “the renamed European constitution” as well as “the dogmas of the past, the concept of an ever closer union, to the centralisation of power, to a focus on the EU’s internal structures rather than the world beyond its borders”.

Mr Hague also called for the EU to be expanded to include former Balkan states and Turkey.