Leader of new party NI21 seeks to enthuse non-voters

John Manley Political Reporter

THE leader of the north's newest political party has urged the electorate to ditch the "politics of the 20th century" - but Basil McCrea has also made a pitch for the increasing number of people who avoid the ballot box.

The Lagan Valley assembly member was speaking last night in Belfast at the launch of NI21, the pro-Union party he has established alongside fellow Ulster Unionist defector John McCallister.

The two assembly members left the UUP earlier this year after disagreements with leader Mike Nesbitt over the party's moves towards unionist unity and its Union flag policy.

Despite NI21's overt desire for the north to remain part of the UK, the new party has chosen not to include the word 'unionist' in its name or use any traditional red, white and blue branding.

According to its literature, the NI21 title is designed to reflect a rejection of the "bag-gage of the 20th century, legacy and conflict".

During last night's launch at the Mac in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter Mr McCrea argued that the established parties represented the last century.

He spoke of "old grey men" who rarely agreed and reduced politics to "orange and green".

Mr McCrea criticised the Stormont government's structures and the lack of available sanctions to challenge the executive.

"Without choice there is no alternative to the government, no matter how bad," he said.

The NI21 leader said his party would offer a "democratic alternative to the current incumbents".

"More importantly it will provide you with the opportunity to be that alternative," he said.

The Lagan Valley MLA said being an alternative did not mean seeking to destroy the assembly but rather it enabled debate.

Mr McCrea said most people accepted the north's constitutional status and said the issue had become irrelevant.

He said some parties cam paigned as if the Union were under threat while others 'pretended' to for a united Ireland.

"Why do we let ourselves be bullied into talking about an issue that is settled?" he said.

"We have made our position clear on the constitutional issue but for us it is not a question of 'or' but 'and' - we are all of the above."

Although supportive of power sharing, NI21 advocates reform of the Stormont institutions and aims to create an opposition in the assembly.

Deputy leader John McCallister said the party would act as a "vehicle for reform".

"The lack of an opposition in the assembly goes to the root of the widespread disillusionment with politics right across our community," he said.

"It also condemns our politics to enduring tribal division rather than fostering a mature political culture in which policy, instead of tribal identity, shapes voters' choices."

The South Down MLA out-lined plans to launch a public consultation on his private member's bill to establish an opposition.

He said NI21 was "different" because it was inspired by the need to change politics.

? THE PARTY THAT SAYS NI: The new unionist party's logo is unveiled last night


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