The NI Conservatives didn’t miss when they issued a press statement titled: Labour Party Abandons People in Northern Ireland. Party spokesperson Bill Manwaring said:
It’s pretty rich for Vernon Coaker to pontificate about how the government should respond to disorder in Northern Ireland when his party is not even prepared to stand candidates in elections here … Labour is opting out of engaging with Northern Ireland voters and the problems they face.
This was in response to the decision by the Labour Party NEC’s Organising Committee that the Labour Party should not start organising electorally in NI. For years the local Labour movement has been campaigning and lobbying to be allowed to stand candidates in NI elections. The traditional British linkup with the SDLP always stood in the way. However, Labour NI (technically, the Northern Ireland Constituency Labour Party) stepped up the pressure last year, and it was a central strand of their afternoon conference in March 2012.
The local party organisation issued a statement expressing their disappointment and calling the NEC’s decision “an abdication of responsible political leadership, at a time when we have a leadership void in Northern Ireland”
After the last few weeks it should be clear that to unite our divided community, we need a new brand of anti-sectarian electoral politics, based on shared Labour Party values …
The Labour Party is continuing to deny people in Northern Ireland their fundamental democratic rights in a discriminatory way. We remain unable to vote for the party that aspires to govern us and which, if successful in the next general election, will set our taxes and determine the level of our public services and benefits. We are all effectively disenfranchised by the Labour Party.
It is ironic that, on the same day that the NEC report was issued, Tom Watson MP, Labour’s campaign manager, circulated an email to all Labour Party members in Northern Ireland asking for financial contributions for the Labour Party’s general election campaign, claiming the party was: ‘fighting for fairness in the North, South, East and West – in Scotland and in Wales. There will be no ‘no go’ areas for Labour’.
The Belfast Telegraph report that SDLP (and/or its leader Alasdair McDonnell) spoke with a forked tongue, publicly telling the paper last year that “he had no objections to UK Labour standing in single transferable vote elections like local government and Stormont but drew the line at Westminster contests” while a leaked paper presented to the NEC Organising Committee suggests:
SDLP representatives spoke strongly against the prospect of the Labour Party standing candidates in Northern Ireland. They said it would be seen as a hostile act which would cause a deterioration in the relationship between the SDLP and the Labour Party. In Westminster the SDLP votes with the Labour Party on almost every occasion and considers itself a sister party.
We regret that the suppression of our democratic right to vote Labour is based on opposition from other parties. Sadly, the SDLP, a party that developed out of the civil rights movement, now wants to deny people the most basic civil right of all, the right to vote for the party which may form our government. The party of civil rights insists on suppressing Labour Party politics, even though we now have PR STV in local, Assembly and European elections. The SDLP is being kept on ‘life support’ at the cost of our democratic rights.
The NEC promises to review its decision during each parliament. A rather feeble olive branch was thrown at the local activists: their proposal for a Council of Labour for Ireland was supported to look at policies across SDLP, Irish Labour Party and Labour (NI).
Last March I commented:
A ‘yes’ vote from the NEC will move Labour NI onto the next stage of their policy formation and organisation. A ‘no’ vote will jeopardise their recent progress and inevitably frustrate members, both old and new.
The phoenix of the old Northern Ireland Labour Party is still smoking, but there’s little chance of a powerful beast rising from the ashes.
So much for Labour’s “One Nation” rhetoric, amended to “Nation and a half” by LPNI member Ben Monteith.
Update – A few more quotes from the information the NEC had to hand to make clear the stances being taken by The Irish Labour Party and the SDLP.
The Irish Labour Party’s representatives … noted that many of their own members in Northern Ireland were pushing for the ILP to do likewise. Indeed they stated that if Labour were to enter the electoral race in Northern Ireland, the ILP would face irresistible pressure to follow suit. However, they had serious concerns about either party taking such a step. Principally they were convinced that if either party became involved in Northern Irish electoral politics it would be to the detriment of the SDLP, which is already weakened by the rise of Sinn Fein.
The SDLP representatives also said that, in Northern Ireland, any Labour Party candidates would be fighting for the same votes as the SDLP and so would split the social democratic vote. The SDLP pointed out that the demands for differentiation in electoral competition would force the SDLP to be vocally critical of certain Labour stances or tactics.
Link to the whole report.