By William Ennis.
“It’s a builder mate.”
The voice came from my left at the rotunda balcony. A gorgeous place of marble and echoes. It was Mary Ellen Campbell. I knew as soon as I would try to speak my voice would crack, but I tried anyway.
“I wish I could call her. I wish I could call my mate”
And I was right. My voice just whispered away at the first word, tears rolled. I became useless. I sensed the motion of Mary Ellen summoning back-up. Anthony Flynn placed a comforting hand on my back. I owe these two people a word of deep, soul-felt thanks. In fact, through the whole process of my first attempt to win office I owe out a great many thanks.
The first promise I make is to not to feign satisfaction with the electoral result. Winning fewer than 400 votes is not good. I had targeted 1,000. I had targeted election. I had targeted a result upon which my brand of Progressive Unionism could ignite. Ervinian Loyalism. Unionism of the progressive left.
I wanted a mandate. I didn’t get it. But I’ll tell you what did occur. Pride. A pride in my campaign which sincerely feels like its own victory. A pride that I didn’t compromise who I was. I didn’t leave progressive unionism as a mere brand for my flyers, devoid of meaning and surrendered to a clichéd popularity rat-race. I never jettisoned my loyalism, or my leftist values. That the two are not inconsistent is an argument I’ll die making.
I didn’t hide that Britishness to me means conscripting no one into any identity other than their own. I didn’t hide the fact that my belief in equality sustains not despite my loyalism but because of it. I didn’t hide what the straightforward difference was between left and right, the pages of Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists having left its deep imprint on my heart – a book I regret not having read before my mid-thirties.
I didn’t hide my belief that social progress sought via the equality agenda is good for the Union, and that the thwarting of progress is bad for it. I maintained and made loud my belief that right-wing hyper-conservatism imposed upon Northern Ireland was damaging to the Union even if those who sought the imposition tribally identified as unionist.
I spoke in campaign videos in a charged, naturally emotive tone on two topics which usually aren’t vote winners from a red, white and blue base camp – namely, the importance of mental health awareness and life-long education. I’m proud to have opened my campaign with messages such as how men should speak about mental health, everywhere and without embarrassment, and that learning is not something which needs to be left in one’s youth; there are countless ways of proud self-betterment.
I’m proud that when I was snarled at by polished voices that I was a “thug” or a “terrorist”. I regathered the carded message, and replied only with politeness and kind regards, that’s what my mother made happen.
So, when I say as an unsuccessful candidate that I take pride in my campaign the sceptics may sound their cliché klaxon, but it’s true. I remained me. It’s how I coped. Had I merely wrapped myself in a flag and reacted to “themuns” with excited volume I’d have drawn a certain applause, but it wouldn’t have been me. It would not have been my unionism.
I would still have failed, but how would I have coped? I may have won more transfers from candidates whose parties favour austerity. I may have received more thumbs ups from candidates who oppose a woman’s right to choose. I may have got more pats on the back from those who oppose equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
I may have won a lowly preference upon the ballot cards of those who favour corporate tax cuts whilst care-workers work depressingly long hours and depend upon food banks. But it wouldn’t have been me. I wouldn’t have been campaigning as William Ennis. I would have been crying someone else’s message. I would have still failed to win election, and how then would I have coped?
The thanks I owe are many.
I want to thank the late David Ervine, whose activism taught me that it was okay for unionists who aren’t wealthy to disagree with unionists who are. Chris Thackerberry, my Dubliner campaign manager who taught me to appreciate loyalism on an all-island basis. My mum and dad, both of whom came out canvassing with me on a nightly basis; and my brother Steven too, for the same reason.
I want to thank the late Henry Sinerton, whose book, Uncharted Waters, introduced me to progressive unionism, and laid out Ervinian loyalism beautifully. The late William Mitchell whose document The Principles of Loyalism brought me home. Gareth Mulvenna, a fantastic writer whose book Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries – The Loyalist Backlash has in no small way sparked the remarkable culture of self-re-exploration by those of loyalist identity.
I also thank Sara Canning for the support she provided throughout the most painful time of her own life. And I’d like to thank my wife, Charlotte, who – despite the glaring reality that our marriage was coming to an end – remained a rock, a constant source of kindness. I thank Dr CouncillorJohn Kyle, for showing me that nice guys can still wade into a worthwhile fight and hold their own, time and time again.
When a DUP candidate with whom you have argued ungraciously for several years sheds tears at one of your party’s losses, exposing a kindness you didn’t realise was there, you just feel a bit better. When an opposing party delegation makes a point of meeting you on the staircase and congratulating you on specific messages, offering hugs on the points of common ground, you just feel a bit better.
And when your tears fall from a city hall balcony, and all you want to do is hear the voice of your best friend who had been murdered just weeks before, and two opponents/candidates/people/human beings show kindness out of nowhere, you just feel a bit better.
I think I’ll run again one day. Why wouldn’t I after this victory?
William Ennis is the Progressive Unionist Party candidate for Ormiston. Follow William on Twitter @WJProgressive and through the hashtag #Ennis4Ormiston.