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[First published in the News Letter on Friday March 26.]

The main Unionist Parties have (largely) confirmed their candidates for the election. The phoney war is over… let the campaign begin!

In these early stages, Facebook is the social media weapon of choice for candidates. The ability to generate ‘friends’ (ie. nick other people’s established networks) makes this attractive for candidates. It’s also the lost-cost venue to launch your personal campaign. For example, within a couple of hours of being confirmed, @PaulaJaneB had invited me to become a fan of ‘Paula Bradshaw – Vote for Change in South Belfast’ on Facebook. Very organised.

I now see that fellow UCUNF candidate, and partner, Ian Parsley ‘likes’ most things on the page. I’m sure Paula likes you too Ian.

Wait, no update on the DUP Facebook page for 9 months? C’mon lads – you should talk to your friends more! (That page has been cleaned up since publication on Friday.)

On the blogs, some like Daphne Trimble began their blogging early but have since cooled off (coincidentally, that blog too has since been updated since publication on Friday). But new ones from people like Rodney McCune and David Vance are coming online all the time. More candidates will soon turn up on Twitter (passé for twitter veterans like @ianmccreamla). But be warned: the ‘great reception on the doorsteps’ tweet is not an acceptable use of the medium.

So what of the candidates?

Firstly we know the identities of at least 17 UCUNF candidates. At Bobballs, I noted that just two of the candidates are Tories, adding that ‘weighing down your ticket with unknown (deadweight) local Tories is hardly ideal validation of the strength of your new proposition’.

But Jeff Peel’s Diary counters: ‘This highlights the utter contempt shown to the local Conservative Party organisation by the UUP.’

At the time of writing the UCUNF South Antrim nomination was still to be resolved. ‘The watching world awaits the next episode of UCUNF’s ongoing farce,’ says Ulster’s Doomed!

We discovered the identity of the man to replace News Letter columnist Alex Kane as UUP Communications Director. Thanks to a world exclusive by Hand of History we know that the erstwhile head of New Media at BBC NI Davy Sims took over this week. ‘Well done Davy, and an excellent choice for the UUP,’ the blog declares.

Elsewhere, thanks to Lib Dem Voice, we also know the identities of the most authoritarian Parties in the Commons. Parties were ranked by how they voted on 10 key issues eg. ID cards.

So who is NI’s most authoritarian Party? High-fives, and high-angle, right-arm salutes to the SDLP! The self-proclaimed ‘Party of Civil Rights’ was second only to the Labour Party. The UUs / Sylvia Hermon came in third with the DUP claiming their spot as the most liberal of all the NI Parties. I kid you not.

I’ll look more closely at DUP candidates next week.

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