On the 30th of November 2015, the Northern Ireland Constituency Labour Party (CLP) unanimously passed a motion to run candidates. The only thing standing in its way is the Labour Party itself.
The motion states:
The NI Constituency Labour Party (CLP) noting: that the intentions of those who join the Party is to secure Labour representation at every level of government and political decision making affecting the people of Northern Ireland; and recognising that the influx of new members and supporters is a further sign of the disillusion of the Northern Ireland electorate with the dysfunctional political structures of Northern Ireland and the political parties that populate them; instructs our Executive Committee (EC) to ensure that the Party is equipped to engage in elections at the earliest date at which it is appropriate to do so.
Accordingly the CLP instructs our EC to:
Prepare and train members who would be suitable candidates; Establish a fighting fund to pay for offices and staff; Prepare a political programme to put to the electorate; Alert the National Executive (NEC) and the Party leadership to the evolving political situation in Northern Ireland and engage with them in the process of promoting Labour’s challenge to the sectarian status quo.
Despite this great news, the fact remains that there are some within the party that do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland deserve the progressive, socialist and inclusive politics of the Labour Party. In their infinite wisdom they have decided that as they believe in Irish reunification, we the people of the country in question should not be granted the democratic right of choice and of forming part of the UK government. I am tired of people with no connection with Northern Ireland and with shockingly limited knowledge of the region telling me that I am not entitled to vote for the party of which I am a member, for whom I have campaigned and that I want to represent me.
The Labour Irish Society is interestingly one of the most anti-LPNI groups:
The Labour Irish Society claims that its aim is to “work for the Irish community in Britain”. I put it to the society that the best way to work for the Irish community in Britain is to allow them to vote for a party that represents their views, let them have the representation they want and need and let them have MPs that could potentially be part of the UK government. The six counties of Northern Ireland have been officially part of the UK since the Act of Union of 1800, yet we still have no voice in government, little influence in the parliament and are ruled by people we do not elect.
The Labour Irish Society encourages supporters of UK Labour to vote SDLP in Northern Ireland. The SDLP is not representative of the values of the Labour Party. At the moment the most topical difference is:
It is important to note that none of the 5 Northern Ireland Executive Parties (Alliance, DUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin, UUP) support the implementation of the 1967 Abortion Act in Northern Ireland which still works under the 1861 Act. (Yes you read correctly, abortion law in Northern Ireland is as old as Italy, which unified in March 1861.)
In 2014, Jim Wells (DUPlicity Party MLA and the then-Health Minister) proposed an amendment:
“to restrict lawful abortions to NHS premises, except in cases of urgency when access to NHS premises is not possible and where no fee is paid”
After much criticism of this stance (including from Amnesty International), David Ford (leader of the Alliance Party and NI Justice Minister) called for a public consultation on changing abortion law when:
“there is a diagnosis in pregnancy that the foetus has a lethal abnormality”
“women have become pregnant as a result of sexual crime”
However, the SDLP still remains “unequivocally opposed” to changes in abortion law.
“The SDLP is unequivocally opposed to abortion, even in those particular circumstances (i.e. the fatal foetal abnormality scenario, not in the case of rape) because basically, the predictions in those circumstances are never accurate”
In summary: the SDLP is so pro-life that it does not support abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality or sexual assault.
Yet, the Labour Irish Society feels the need to condemn Northern Ireland for its abortion law. (This article was retweeted by the Society).
It also seems quick to criticise our lack of same-sex marriage…
Criticising Northern Ireland for its abortion laws, yet condemning the Northern Ireland CLP for running candidates is nothing short of full-blown hypocrisy that enables regressive social policies.
(For more information on some SDLP-Labour policy differences, see Labour Party in Northern Ireland’s page).
Another objection from Labour Party members about running candidates in Northern Ireland is that, being the UK Labour Party, it would be divisive. There is simply no evidence for this. In an RTE-BBC survey conducted last year it was found that only 27% of Catholics and 3% of Protestants backed having a United Ireland in the short to medium term. It is therefore highly plausible that a socialist, pro-choice, progressive Catholic would not mind voting for a UK-wide party, given that none of the NI Executive parties hold these values.
When asked which designation NI Labour would take, they replied that they oppose the system but if they were unable to designate themselves as “socialist”, they would go as “other”, reflecting NILP’s commitment to a policy of inclusion. Personally I think that if they are unable to be designated as “socialist”, they should refuse to designate at all; challenging a system that entrenches division and proving that they offer a different kind of politics.
An interesting move from the Irish Labour Party is having a “hybrid party” in Northern Ireland, whose members would be full members of both Irish and UK Labour. For me, this would be an ideal solution; a testament to socialist solidarity, co-operation and internationalism, while being highly pragmatic. However, due to relations between Irish Labour, UK Labour and the SDLP, this seems unlikely.
We need, want and deserve a party with principles
I am not a nationalist. I am not a unionist. I am a socialist. On twitter someone incorrectly concluded that what I wanted was a progressive unionist party (not to be confused with the Progressive Unionist Party), I sincerely don’t give a damn which designation a party gives itself at Stormont (Unionist, Nationalist or Other), what its views on the constitutional issue are and from which community its members come; if they represent my views, I will vote for them. In previous elections, I have voted for parties from each of the three designations. However it is clear that in Northern Ireland there is no single party that properly represents my views.
The Northern Ireland Assembly with its divisive system entrenches sectarianism and ensures that progress is postponed. Why hasn’t the NI political establishment changed all this? Because it keeps us divided for their benefit. Scare tactics are used to create hatred between communities and keep the parties in power. What’s the result? People blame the “other”, immigrants, refugees and the destitute for the province’s problems. Who gets re-elected? The people who caused the problems. Where is the opposition party that scrutinises the Executive, fights for workers’ rights and creates a society for all? We do not have one and will not have one unless NI Labour run in the May elections. We have the highest levels of homelessness in the UK, a 21-year-old faces a life-time in prison for having an abortion and our then-First Minister has stated that he wouldn’t trust Muslims following Sharia Law, but would trust them to “go down to the shops” for him. But what do we talk about?: flags, flags and more bloody flags. However, this could all change with Arlene Foster’s recent appointment as leader of the DUP…
Those who feel guilt for their ancestors’ treatment of Ireland and therefore oppose NI Labour somehow feel that by being fervent Irish nationalists, they can atone for their country’s former colonialism. This is understandable but misguided. The only way that we can create a progressive, peaceful and happy future for Northern Ireland is through self-determination. It is our country, our future and our ballot paper.
Solidarity, co-operation and internationalism are the foundations of socialism; why can’t the UK Labour Party live up to these values and back us?