I don't know about anyone else but I find it impossible to make decisions about who to vote for from election leaflets. They're always full of vague statements about wanting the best for everyone (who doesn't?!) and 'delivering' for the 'future' etc. We're meant to vote for the people who best represent us but how on earth are we meant to find out who that is? Politicians in Northern Ireland keep on saying that they want to leave sectarian politics behind but many of them rely on the fact that people will vote as they've always done, it's as if they don't really want you to know the details of how they will represent you exactly. This election is particularly confusing because although the leaflets are full of very local issues/concerns actually we are being asked to vote for the person who will go to Westminster and represent us on a National scale.
I decided to email some of the candidates on what, for me, are issues of National importance to see where they stood so that I had a better chance of making an informed decision. I didn't email them all. For example, I already know why I don't want to vote DUP/UCUNF/TUV and I have a friend in the Green Party who has answered loads of questions for me already so I didn't need to email them.
Here are the emails I sent and the responses I got back. I am in South Down but some of the answers to these questions cover general party issues. I recommend emailing your candidates (still a few days left!) on specific issues if you're finding it hard to make your mind up.
Firstly I emailed Sinn Fein. Here is my email:
I'm sorry I missed you yesterday but thanks for leaving the flyer and the note. I do have a question I had been meaning to ask and I hope that maybe you can answer via email. I know that Sinn Fein are an abstentionist party regarding Westminster and I understand the reasons for this. My question is this: if you are elected as MP for South Down, what then will you do, apart from abstain in Westminster? I am asking because in thinking about this I came to the realisation that I really don't know what MPs do in Westminster. I know that they vote on various issues and I know that Sinn Fein will not be taking part in such votes, but I don't know if MPs do anything else besides this (and if they do, do Sinn Fein partake in these duties? Or do you abstain from everything to do with Westminster?). I suppose I am asking; what will you DO, on a day-to-day basis, at Westminster, if you are elected as MP?
Their response was longer than the others and much of it detailed all the work they have done in the past, so I will leave all that stuff out. If you want the full email please contact me and I'd be happy to pass it on. Here is their answer to my question:
We refuse to take seats in the British parliament, or to pledge allegiance to the Queen of England. We refuse to support any British Government that wages an unjust and unlawful war in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
As Irish republican we want to see an end to British control from London, but while adhering to this principled abstention, we ensure full representation of our constituents through the Sinn Fein’s offices in Westminster, and through our presence in every major decision making forum in Ireland and in Europe. Our focus is centralising power in Ireland so that the decisions which impact on the lives are ordinary people are made by locally elected and accountable politicians.
The importance and influence gained by Irish political parties participating in Westminster with small numbers of MPs negligible. This fact is illustrated by all of the local political parties whose attendance at Westminster, even during key debates such as when the budget is set, rank amongst the lowest of the 600 plus elected MPs who do not abstain.
Next I sent an email to the SDLP and the Alliance Party. The content of both emails was basically the same, I just changed the names. I had the same question for both parties:
Thank you for the election leaflet which I received a couple of days ago. I live in South Down so my election candidate is David Griffin and the following message is directed at him as well as the party in general. I am writing to you and a couple of other potential MPs to ask your views on some issues which are not covered in the flyers. I haven't decided who to vote for yet but the answers to the following questions will almost certainly help me decide. Thanks for your time.
I am just wondering what your views are on the idea that people who run businesses should have the right to turn away and accept whoever they want, especially if the business is run from their own home. I am thinking specifically of the instance where a couple who were running a B&B were highlighted in the media because they asked a gay couple to look elsewhere for accomodation. If an issue such as this came to the vote, how would David Griffin vote?
I would also like to know your views on extending the abortion act to Northern Ireland.
I am aware that these things might not come to a vote. I would like your views on the issues because I think it would give a good indication of how you are likely to vote on related issues. I am not asking for a long response or one which details anything else apart from topics relating to these issues as I feel that everything else I need to know has been covered in the flyer. As I said, I am an undecided voter and clarity on these specific issues will really help me decide. So often voting is left to guess work or hearsay, so I am very glad to have this opportunity to ask you about your views. I realise that David Griffin's personal views and that of the Alliance Party in general may not be the same, but I really just need to know how Mr Griffin be voting on my behalf, should I choose to vote for him.
This is the response I got from David Griffin of the Alliance Party:
Thank you for your interest!On the abortion issue I support the right to choose. As someone who read adverts stating "No Coloured or Irish" when a young teacher seeking accomodation in London of the 1960s I would oppose discrimination on such grounds. Best wishes.
And here is the reply I received from Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP:
Thank you for your detailed e mail. I am opposed to abortion and would be resisting any attempts to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. I am also opposed to Euthanasia. As a practicising Christian who firmly believes in the Christian way of life, I believe our work, our recreation and life should be imbued with such values. I trust this answers your issues.
The emails were certainly useful to me. I hope maybe someone else will also find them useful.