Positive change needed in wake of new dawn

A transformational shift is now at play, spurred by an expectant voter base ready to see change in action

The General Election delivered a landslide victory for Labour and installed Sir Keir Starmer as Prime Minister
The General Election delivered a landslide victory for Labour and installed Sir Keir Starmer as Prime Minister. So what change can we now expect? (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

‘Change’ is a word that’s bandied about often during election season. It’s baked into party pledges and plastered across posters and placards on local lampposts as a sort-of intangible promise to the people.

Vote for ‘Party X’ and we’ll change the situation we collectively find ourselves in for something new. Something better. Perhaps it’s the glass-half-full outlook, but the act itself can be fundamentally optimistic. What is change, if not a forward look to a refreshingly different experience. Out with the old, in with the new and improved.

In the wake of the general election, a transformational shift is now at play, spurred on by an expectant voter base ready to see change in action. The question for newly elected politicians is how that change is enacted once manifestos fall by the wayside. When push comes to shove and the hard reality of power-sharing at Stormont comes into play.

It is all well and good outlining the ABCs of how a policy or constituency will be transformed, but pre-emptive promises carry little weight. Frankly, it’s time that is so often the clearest indicator of a party’s success - or lack thereof. In many ways, demonstrable change is measured in hindsight. Today’s actions form tomorrow’s lessons.

There is the perception that it all boils down to the efforts of an individual. Those so-called movers and shakers who themselves advocate for systemic change in political arenas. History tells us that wholesale ideological and institutional transformation rarely comes from the top, but is instead fuelled by a grass roots effort to fully cement change as we know it.

Take the WiB Group, for example: once a small network of like-minded women, now a fully-fledged group of social enterprises united in our pursuit of a truly inclusive economy for Northern Ireland. Together with Women in Business, Diversity Mark, Timely Careers and Centre of Learning, the WiB Group is living proof of manifesting change.

Change that really takes root and makes a difference, rather than trickling down from the topsoil. In Ireland we’ve seen over the years how abortion rights and marriage equality were achieved through public conversations and activism that helped move the consensus. Legislative change can be a years-long commitment culminating in that defining turning point.

Which is why the oft-cited belief that one individual’s vote ‘doesn’t matter’ and that ‘nothing ever changes, anyway’, phrases often said with puffed cheeks and a weary shake of the head, are so far from the truth. They only serve to perpetuate the myth that voters are powerless. In voting, we are the agents of change.

Roseann Kelly
Roseann Kelly

If nothing else, last week’s vote was an opportunity for people to give their verdict on the performance of this new Stormont Executive. Providing parties with ample material to examine what worked for them in this campaign, and perhaps what didn’t, as we collectively journey forward in a landscape redrawn.

And to think, the next Assembly election is in 2027; imagine all the potential change between now and then.

  • Roseann Kelly is chief executive of the WiB Group