An Ulster Unionist councillor has resigned, but vowed not to join a rival party because he believes that political parties are now a barrier to engaging with the half of the electorate who no longer vote.
Setting out an unusual reason for his resignation from the UUP, former Coleraine mayor David Harding said that he had “lost faith in political parties in Northern Ireland and their ability to deliver”.
The vet, who is originally from Scotland but has been a UUP member for 15 years, said that he had initially put his name forward to be the UUP’s East Londonderry candidate in May’s general election, but withdrew some days before the selection meeting last November because “I realised that I couldn’t in all honesty stand up in front of the Ulster Unionist Party and say what I wanted to say”.
Mr Harding, who resigned from the party on Monday morning, said that he found his former party had become “a barrier when I’m talking to people”.
He said that being a member of the UUP – or a representative of another established party – “comes with a lot of baggage for people not connected with politics”, whereas he believes that as an independent councillor he will be able to take on board the concerns of all his constituents.
“We have quite a significant Polish population now in Coleraine and they are Roman Catholic, but the ones that I would know from working with them are really quite right wing – centre right to right wing. Who do they vote for?”
He said that he believed such people would be uncomfortable with the left of centre SDLP and Sinn Fein, but would also be put off by the established unionist parties.
Mr Harding stood for the UUP in the 2010 Westminster election and – disastrously after the deselection of the late David McClarty – was one of two UUP candidates in East Londonderry in the 2011 Assembly election. Now both of those candidates (the other was Lesley Macaulay) have quit the party.
Mr Harding said candidly of his future prospects: “If I was concerned about re-election, I would have stayed in the UUP to be honest.”
Speaking of his apparently amicable split with his former colleagues, he said that he was “not out to slag the UUP” and added of his former leader: “I do respect Mike Nesbitt. What he’s done in stabilising the party is far more than what I expected him to do but it is still the same old UUP, with the same people.”
He admitted that some people would say that he was elected as a UUP councillor less than a year ago and has now abandoned the party, but insisted: “I have not changed one inch from what I stood for last year.”
He added: “Certainly any prospect of Stormont or Westminster has gone [for him], but I want to do this.”