For the last four decades the Irish and British Labour parties have declined to formally or fully establish local branches or stand candidates for election in the north-east of Ireland, jointly recognising the territory’s disputed nature between Dublin and London. Instead both groupings have turned over the management of centre-left politics in the north to their regional “sister party”, the Social Democratic and Labour Party or SDLP, which takes its seats in the UK parliament and the devolved assembly at Stormont. This non-partisan approach has allowed both Labour groups to act in a more or less even-handed manner when dealing with the politics of the region, particularly when in national government. This was especially true in the early days of the peace process between Ireland and Britain, notably under Irish Labour Dick Spring who acted as the tánaiste and the minister for foreign affairs in various Dublin administrations during the 1990s, and British labour leader Tony Blair who of course acted as the prime minister in London from 1997 to 2007.
Now it seems that the equitable agreement between the Irish and British labour movements is to be broken by one of the leading candidates seeking the leadership of the UK party in the desperate hope of gaining votes amongst the eligible members of the Labour Party domicile in the north-east of Ireland. Members who are, by definition, unionist or pro-union in their idealogical leanings. From the Guardian newspaper:
“Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham has vowed to lift the party’s longstanding ban on putting up candidates in Northern Ireland’s elections.
Burnham said he was a long-time supporter of the principle that individual members of Labour who happen to live in the region should now be able to field official candidates.
Labour has a long-running ban on putting forward party members to stand as official Labour representatives for Westminster, assembly and local government elections. Instead, Labour has been historically aligned with the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party through the Socialist International.
In a message designed to win support from Labour members from Northern Ireland who will have a vote in the leadership battle, Burnham has written an opinion piece for Tuesday’s Belfast Telegraph.
Up to 1,000 registered Labour members’ votes from Northern Ireland are up for grabs in the leadership contest. The Northern Ireland Labour party has urged people to vote for Burnham.”
Andy Burnham’s decision to publish his plea to local Labour activists in the editorially-unionist Belfast Telegraph newspaper clearly illustrates its communal and sectarian nature. Short of donning a bowler hat and orange sash it is hard to see how else the would-be UK Labour leader could play up his British nationalist credentials to his regional audience, regardless of their leftward-leaning nature. That a senior member of the Labour Party in Britain could be so cavalier with the hard-won peace process between our two island nations, so willing to destabilise it in the pursuit of personal gain, places him in the same category as every other UK politician in the past who has gambled upon the Orange Card – even the most red-tinged.
I don’t know about the Orange card but he’s short of 56 from Scotland. Long term planning ?
Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.
What a ludicrous article. As a Labour-leaning, small-u unionist, I would be delighted if the U.K. Labour Party ran candidates in N.I., giving Labour friendly people from both main religious traditions an opportunity to vote for a party which can actually form a government within the state where they currently live. From my point of view it would be the opposite of bolstering sectarianism, or playing/strengthening the Orange card. Labour’s current position of urging voters to vote for the S.D.L.P. does bolster sectarianism, as that party is essentially for middle class, conservative, Catholic nationalists. From Burnham’s point of view it may just be a cynical ploy to garner a few more votes from Labour members in N.I , but that doesn’t mean its not a good idea : I currently don’t vote because I don’t want to vote for sectarian, tribal parties, which is mostly what’s on offer at present. So, the sooner the better.
I can see your point of view but but also apparent in everything you say is that your response is just thelikes of Burnham woul be quietly banking , Don’t know his engagement and familiarity with Northern Ireland s politics and peace process but I would be a bit cynical on the idea of his motives being for his. Owwn political advancementAs of today I think Corbyn seems most popular
Speaking to two labour party members at weekend . One favoured Kendall the otherCooper
Anyway Harriet Harmon says many questions should be asked regarding validity of membership status across UK
“As a Labour-leaning, small-u unionist, I would be delighted if the U.K. Labour Party ran candidates in N.I…”
That’s the point, Ginger. British Labour in the north-east will appeal to left-leaning unionists or pro-unionists first and foremost. That some of those may be Roman Catholic is irrelevant as we have seen with the Alliance Party and NI21 where “Catholic unionists” form insignificant minorities in both groupings. In strict ideological terms it will be, as in Scotland, a British unionist and enthusiastic pro-union party.
I agree that the SDLP is an Irish nationalist labour party. If UK Labour found it necessary to have a similar relationship with left-leaning unionists in Ireland why not form a unionist “SDLP”? Have the same, hands-off relationship as with the SDLP?
Instead UK Labour will simply be another unionist party political player in northern (and Irish) politics, fighting leftish Irish nationalist parties.
Time for the Irish Labour to expand nationally to the north-east.