LPNI members standing in #AE16 against party’s wishes

Here’s my quick take on Labour Party members in Northern Ireland standing in May’s Assembly elections against the explicit orders of the NEC and party leader.

Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC have said that, for the time being, Labour in Northern Ireland can’t stand in elections. Frustrated with years of being told to wait, a group of eight run-away candidates have decided to break rank and stand in the May elections—albeit as the Labour Representation Committee, but clearly linking the campaign to the Labour Party. Such defiance puts the structures of the party under strain.

The party is currently in a fractious debate about members with links to different parties (SWP, Green Patry, Class War, etc) who have joined since Jeremy Corbyn became party leader. People have been investigated by the Compliance Unit, and suspended, for simply tweeting they would vote for another party. Now you have a situation where party members have formed a separate party, and are standing in elections, against the wishes of the party leader and the NEC. Whatever you think of Corbyn and the NEC’s decision, this surely must violate the rules of the party, and forces the NEC and the Compliance Unit to act?

I understand the motivations of those standing. These are good people who want to push a platform of non-sectarian, centre-left politics that everyone, regardless of background, can support. But the Labour Party has an official sisterly relationship with the SDLP, and standing candidates against SDLP candidates strains the relationship. For the time being, the party position is that Labour supporters in Northern Ireland should support the SDLP. As far as I know, this long-standing policy has not changed.

The LPNI members say that because they are standing not as Labour, but as LRC, they have not broken party rules. But is this the case? I can’t find this now, but I have seen the eight candidates standing as LRC using the campaign slogan of the Labour Party, “Standing Up, Not Standing By.” Most of the candidates announce their Labour Party membership in their Twitter profiles. The Labour Party in NI Twitter account is re-tweeting tweets from the candidates and the LRC account. I get that the candidates want to push Labour values, and feel motivated by the direction and agenda of the Labour Party, but this clearly blurs the lines between the two parties. Also, the LRC in Britain, the one formerly chaired by John McDonnell, did not seem aware that another LRC had been formed in Northern Ireland.

Finally, as Labour in Scotland faces question about its commitment to the union, the run-away LRC candidates are standing on a platform of neutrality. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Labour to clarify its commitment to both the principle of consent in Northern Ireland, and the union in Britain, as I’m not sure the party has ever really worked this out properly.

I feel very conflicted about all of this, as I really respect many of those standing as LRC, but I am concerned about how this will all play out. Nonetheless, it’s an exhilarating move, and one that provokes a debate the NEC and leader’s office would probably have preferred to have after the elections.

  • Granni Trixie

    I feel sure that many of those who might go Labour in NI are not necessarily SDLP/Nationalist. Yet you and others make much of SDLP having ‘a special relationship’ with Labour so much so that they believe it is not right to stand in NI as this would be in competition with the SDLP. Doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Ryan A

    I think it’s fair to say the Labour Leadership would prefer they did not do this – however I am of the opinion it will not pick a fight right now considering the amount of scheming already going on to oust the leadership. If they did, I think it would spectacularly blow up in Corbyn’s face and he doesn’t need anymore problems within his own party.

  • Lee

    Labour party central office have been fobbing off and making mugs of Labour NI for years now, they have even illegally discriminated against Labour NI in the past. Too many archaic people in central office/NEC do not know the modern realities of the Good Friday Agreement.
    Labour NI are just right to make political manoeuvres to get the basic right to stand. It is excellent to force the hand of the NEC. If the NEC decides to send in the compliance unit well it will be central office who will be seen as unreasonable especially by many younger members of UKlabour who cant see what the problem is.
    And if they get thrown out of the party so be it, an independent Labour NI can organise; it already is coherent and well organised.
    As for voting SDLP; they hardly have the same policies as what Labour NI or Labour GB have, its another very weak fob-off from central office.
    Well done Labour NI on demanding your democratic rights.

  • Lee

    An old guard of LabourGB thinks Ireland should be United and this principle alone guides their thinking and actions. They genuinely don’t seem to grasp the modern realities of the Good Friday Agreement and the Consent Principle.

  • ideas whittler

    The whole purpose is to put strain on the ‘sisterly’ relationship with the SDLP. If at all possible, to break it entirely. That party stands explicitly for Irish nationalism, and for an absolute anti-choice position, both of which are contrary to the values of the Labour Party in the UK. The SDLP is its own party, with its own policies, and Labour Party activists whose position more closely reflects the Labour Party should not be forced to get behind a party whose values CLEARLY don’t represent them.

  • Lionel Hutz

    They are also part of the same PES grouping. So it’s really a problem for Labour to stand against the SDLP. But they do have different policies on any things. I don’t expect the SDLP will lose any sleep over it

  • Brendan Heading

    Debated this at length with the NI Labour Party types on Twitter last night.

    A party calling itself the “Northern Ireland Labour Party”, made up of a few well-meaning trade union/activist folks, campaigned in a few seats around the turn of the millenium, promising a Labour-style manifesto and that they would take the Labour whip. They lost hard – 0.44% in the council elections in ’97, 0.34% of the vote in ’98, and disappeared, although I’m sure a few of their supporters are present in the “Labour representation committee”.

    It is not clear to me what has changed since that time. Some progress has made – back then, Labour did not even accept membership applications n Northern Ireland – but supposedly the big selling point has been to try to secure approval to run UK Labour candidates here.

    It is unclear why these activists believe that people who would not vote for a locally established Labour Party are likely to vote for one with the exact same policies with the sole distinction of being organised and controlled from London. The lack of evidence supporting the expected success of this idea means that this is, largely, a faith-based initiative. This faith-based initiative, like that operated by the Conservative Party and NI21, suggests that winning elections is a simple matter of announcing your ambiguously-defined alternative platform anchored to a mainland party; hoisting your flag, and waiting for the votes to come in. It suggests that they will win a substantial vote by simply being a novelty; ie without having any campaigning organisation, any time to start a formal campaign, or any experienced political activists in their ranks.

    The reason why the NEC don’t nominate candidates here is twofold. Firstly, because they know they’ll lose and embarrass themselves, as well as waste money. The second reason is because they have a behind the scenes deal with the SDLP which the SDLP have lobbied hard to retain. I don’t have a lot of time for the SDLP, but from the outset they had strong links with Labour, under Gerry Fitt who had many Labour MP friends in London. The deal costs both Labour and the SDLP essentially nothing, and more or less guarantees SDLP support in the Commons.

    These 8 Labour candidates will all lose their deposits. When they do, they will not only demoralise the small base of activists they have, but they will also prove to the NEC what it sees as the correctness of its existing position – that running candidates in NI is a waste of time and money. There is no schadenfreude for me in pointing this out; like Barton, my heart lies with Labour at the moment and I think the people who are doing this have the best of intentions and genuinely want to see a change here. Sadly they will discover that there are no quick fixes.

  • Lee

    From small acorns to large trees grow. If no-one took a chance we would be stuck with the same parties for ever. Things change and evolve. Imagine if the Alliance party hadn’t thrown the dice back in the seventies and stuck with the UUP? The Alliance party carved a small naice for itself, Fawkners party eventually didn’t. Sinn Fein once had a negligible vote, but circumstances change.
    I applaud anyone who has a go. Democracy in action. Quite often its the established parties who have a vested interest in strangling such parties at birth.
    To be fair, NI21 gained 10500 votes from nowhere despite a farce implosion the day before the election. They were a whisker away from having approx. 5 councillors. They were on to something, just were badly led and disorganised. If you get a few rules right it can be done.
    To be fair to Labour NI, I don’t think any of them expect anything other than a couple hundred votes this time out. But its good experience for them for when the next councils come round and its about not lieing down to the NEC. Fair play to them.

  • Brendan Heading

    With no disrespect intended to you, none of the above means anything. People “having a go” are not going to bring about political change here. Platitudes such as “from small acorns” mean nothing. Look at all the acorns that fall to the ground – how many become trees ?

    We’ve had organisations like this before, the Women’s Coalition for example. They had two MLAs (one of them a defection from Alliance if I recall correctly) and they went on about how the ground had changed. One election cycle later and they were wiped out, because they were basically a gimmick and they weren’t able to transition into a sustainable political movement. The Conservative Party also had limited success in the 90s, a lot of it to do with Lawrence Kennedy. They were wiped out too. And as you note, most recently we had NI21. You could write a book about all the things that were wrong with NI21. Bad leadership and a total lack of political nous are just the start. And yes, I remember all the NI21 types saying, oh this is all new politics, you’re just a naysayer. They’re all gone.

    It is not yet clear whether or not the Greens will join this list. They’re the most serious new player in the centre ground because they have attracted some political talent and have a sharp leader, and they wisely got rid of a few of their more eccentric “activists”. But the Greens would not exist had it not been for the victory of their then leader, the ex-Alliance Brian Wilson – who is standing as an independent in North Down in May.

    And for the record I’m not speaking as Mr Smug-person-who-solved-it-all. Alliance were very nearly wiped out in 2003 and it was widely predicted that the election would signal the end of the party. The party were clinging to the edge of the cliff by their fingernails. It has taken a lot of work, time and effort to rebuild since then.

    Starting a political movement is extremely hard to do in an atmosphere like that in NI where the barriers to entry are extremely high. It takes time, years to build up. Building bridges, forming allegiances, attracting existing elected politicians. The sort of people who decide that they are going to fight an election one month before polling day are – and I’m sorry to be direct about this – absolutely, categorically not the kind of people who are likely to succeed.

    I want to be proven wrong. But I don’t think I will be.

  • Once they get kicked out of the Labour Party, they can join a genuinely progressive, non-sectarian party, the Green Party.

  • Granni Trixie

    The problems of NI 21 were much deeper than being “badly led and organised” – for example to say you are offering “fresh,new politics” ( their catchphrase) and then demonstrate you lack gumption and integrity is never going to work.
    As for APNI – it did not come about by ‘a throw of the dice’ but was an intervention to create cross community politics as an antidote to sectarian politics.

  • Granni Trixie

    Sorry Brendan but I don’t think you’re being fair to the WC. Where they differed from NI21 ( and where they are like Alliance) is that they had a particular right on their side namely the paucity of women’s representation at a crucial crossroads in NI. In case of Alliance they had right on their side Of a different kind – they wanted to tackle sectarianism.

  • Declan Doyle

    I am not so sure they don’t grasp the realities of the GFA or the Consent principle. They simply have a view on the constitutional issue in that they support Irish Unity. That’s allowed both in the terms of the GFA and in line with the consent principle. It is not just Labour Grandees who hold that position, Dianne Abbot for example is regarded as pro Irish Unity and Labour GB has always traditionally been supportive.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Do you have an interest in rubbishing them?
    They are prepared to start small because they believe in what they’re doing. They want a proper Labour party to vote for and not the local tribal idiots. If I recall correctly, 100+ years ago, there were many Labour MPS elected in NI constituencies. If you want rid of tribalism, you have to start somewhere.

  • Brendan Heading

    Do you have an interest in rubbishing them?

    Sort of. I think they’re wasting time by leading well meaning people up the garden path with doomed stunts and gimmicks which will never succeed at an election (although these days, that description applies to the entire Corbyn leadership).

    We’re very politically immature in NI, and that includes many of those of us on the left and/or the non-tribal centre. Rather than focusing on the areas upon which we agree, which are substantial, we focus on minor differences, often insubstantial, ideological ones, and split off all over the place. What is, substantively, the difference between Corbyn’s Labour and the NI Greens ? The local Greens are democratic socialists who support the ’67 Act. What policy difference prevents local Labour members from supporting the Greens ?

    If you’re making the “oh, you’re just rubbishing people who are a threat to Alliance” point – yes, we’ve been there before with the Women’s Coalition, UCUNF and NI21. It’s high flattery to suggest that comments on the internet influence elections – of course they don’t. And who exactly benefits from the NILRC standing 8 candidates and getting utterly wiped out ? You need to ask yourself that question.

    They are prepared to start small because they believe in what they’re doing.

    They believe in what they’re doing.

    But they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s the problem.

    They want a proper Labour party to vote for and not the local tribal idiots.

    I know they do. But as Mr Jagger once said, you can’t always get what you want.

    If you want rid of tribalism, you have to start somewhere.

    They don’t need a “start”, they need a plan and a strategy which will take years to execute. They don’t have one.

    The NILRC are an experiment in what appears to be a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect. All they have is a gimmick, and that gimmick is Labour candidates funded from London standing here. It’s doomed, as you will see in two weeks.

  • Graham Parsons

    Will be voting green this time but would prefer to have the chance of voting for a non-sectarian socialist party that can seriously challenge the tories and give N.I. proper representation at Westminster.

  • Graham Parsons

    Indeed. As well as their laughable anti-choice position the SDLP will not attract voters from the unionist community. We thus need a cross community socialist opposition at stormont.

  • Gingray

    100+ years ago the Tories and Whigs won seats all over Ireland. Times have changed, the only parties that will do well in Ireland are Irish based parties. 100+ years has shown us that.

  • Graham Parsons

    Agreed. As an aside I was called by Labour fundraisers this week asking for more money to support their local govt campaign. I explained that I’m happy to pay the membership but won’t pay any more until they stand candidates here in N.I. Labour thus seem happy to take our cash but are reluctant to give us our democratic rights.

  • Barney

    NI didn’t exist 100 years ago and there has never been any British labour MPs in Ireland. At that time there was a unionist labour party created to serve someone else’s interests similar to the labour Unions created in the Soviet Union.

  • Gingray

    Yes, but Brendans point is valid – Alliance have been around since the 70s and have yet to break 10% in an election. They have a very particular pitch, but it is an indictment of how tribal we are that less than 1 in 10 voters has ever been willing to endorse them.
    Thats 50 years hard work to get to this point, any Labour Party is going to need to put in the graft, and the types who have been round the door in East Belfast strike me as the 1 campaign and done sort.

  • Paul Hagan

    Barton, I know you’re conflicted on this, which given your past service to the SDLP I fully understand, but while the 8 candidates in the election are unlikely to make much headway in the election they will likely pay-back some of the democratic deficit owed to them. I work a lot in sister-party relations for my own branch of the Labour Party and they are part of any socialist or social-democrat party’s make-up and internationalist outlook, but why we should have a sister party in our own country is beyond me. I see the Party’s NEC has said they will look into the matter, and I understand why you think this might pre-judge the outcome and spoil the relationship with headquarters, but I think they’ve waited long enough. Many party members got excited when Andy Burnham, who was committed to allowing Labour candidates to stand, looked like he would win the leadership race, only to be denied by the surprise Corbyn-package. To be honest, I can’t see why they should wait any longer, especially as there’s no guarantee they will be allowed to stand, it’s still beggar’s belief that this is the case in 2016, when I asked Iain McNichol about it recently (in private) he said it was…well I can’t re-print here what he said (it was somewhat NSFW) but the ridiculousness of the situation hadn’t escaped him. To be fair many SDLP activists and members aren’t to blame for this, it has been the NEC who haven’t moved and offered next to no justification for it.

    What might offer the party in NI is that if the party is Scotland is allowed to loosen its ties then a similar type arrangement might be found for the party in NI. No-one is expecting many Labour MLAs anytime soon, but the equality before the law and the right to represent is surely what the party is all about…..Sorry went-on a bit there

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Looks like you can’t get no satisfaction from this lot just yet.(sorry!)
    Hopefully they’ll develop into something.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    What’s your logic behind “only parties that will do well in Ireland are Irish based parties” ? Don’t parties have local organisations all over a country usually? In the UK it would be over the 4 countries of the UK.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Awwww, you know what I meant ! MPs all over Ireland elected to national parties. IE that’s the norm and the sooner we get back to that in NI the better.

  • Gingray

    Just the performance of GB parties in Ireland over the last 100 years – which has been worse than poor, before and after partition.

    In terms of parties having local organisations, its entirely country dependent. Canadian state parties are not always in sync with national parties, while Quebec (like Scotland and Northern Ireland) has regional parties.

    Australia has the Liberals and Nationals in coalition and do not organise within each others sphere.

    In Germany, the right wing parties also do something similar, and also there is not always a direct link between the state parties and federal parties.

    In summary – there is no hard and fast rule, systems evolve over time, and in Northern Ireland there has been little or no appetite for British based parties for well over 100 years.

  • Barney

    I dont understand what you mean by “that’s the norm”. The norm was fixing the outcome which became increasingly difficult resulting in all Irish parties associated with English parties being ditched.

  • Barney

    His logic appears to be about 100 years of historical fact.

  • Brendan Heading

    >90% of the MLAs in the Assembly are anti-choice, and that includes almost all of the politicians designating Unionist. If it wasn’t a problem five years ago, and apparently wasn’t a problem in 2015, why would it put those voters off now ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Alliance has scored more than 10% in the past (14.4% in the 1977 local government elections for example – I think this was the high water mark).

    GT has some history involving the WC and to be fair to her she knows a lot more about the WC than I do. Nonetheless, my overall feel is that “vote for us because we’re women and we need more women” is a gimmick. The only gimmicks that work in NI are the tribal ones; the rest of us need to come up with something more broad based and consistent.

  • Brendan Heading

    I was curious about what the “norm” was so I went and checked. Since the UK became something resembling a democracy in 1832, the parts of it on the island of Ireland have always voted substantially, or entirely, on the “national question” or some variation thereof.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Out of interest, the 1832 election seems to have been 60% national parties (Tory+Whig) and 30% “Chip on the shoulder party” 🙂 Of course the last 100 years have been messed up due to the constitutional argument. But the norm I was thinking of is parties that are about the left / right, liberal / conservative type of outlook, not purely nationalist / sectarian.


  • Graham Parsons

    The opinions of our dinosaur MLAs are irrelevant. There is a significant pro-choice electorate here in N.I. waiting to be reached out to by the right party.

  • Barney

    “Chip on the shoulder party”
    A great phrase to advertise your modernity clearly demonstrating your undoubted superiority.

    The fact is you are wrong and were shown to be wrong.

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes, but still – the largest party in terms of share of the vote and seats was not a “national” party.

    Of course the Repeal party fell back over the following elections, but by the time of the 1874 election the Home Rule had 60 out of 101 seats. It’s also worth adding that this problem didn’t get solved in the Irish republic. To this day they still vote for parties that represent two opposing traditions over the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

    The fundamental problem is that most of people who live on this island, irrespective of the jurisdiction, or what community they are from, or how progressive their attitude is, still see the folks in England as interlopers. In this context, setting up a local political party whose novelty is to try to solve this problem by ignoring it is an exercise which is, and always will be, doomed to failure.

  • Brendan Heading


    The dinosaur MLAs are all elected. The depressing truth, which we’ll see borne out again in two weeks time, is that the “significant pro-choice electorate” does not make its presence felt at the polling booth.

  • Reader

    It was the Labour party that negotiated the Principle of Consent, and enacted it in law. That permanently put the decision on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland out of the hands of the Labour party, and indeed out of the hands of non-NI voters.
    It would be consistent with the PoC to delegate the Labour Position on the union to local members. Alternatively, it would be consistent with the PoC to support a local Labour party that puts forward candidates who won’t ‘designate’ in the Assembly.
    It’s not consistent to abandon the Labour inclined electorate and put their votes in hock to one of the local tribal parties.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Ok, largest party was not national. But come on, 60% voted for national parties in the old days. You could say that the home rule / constitutional issue, began destroying normal politics several decades before the 1900s I suppose. Also that it still hasn’t faded away, considering the parties that are around in Ireland today. I wouldn’t dispute this. I’m just saying this is not a normal politics. In NI, anyone trying to move on from this deserves respect and support.
    “Most people still see folks in England as interlopers”
    Sorry, but its only nationalists in NI (also Scotland and Wales) and most people in the ROI who still think in this way. In NI people who are pro UK, and the younger generation in ROI, do not have a chip on the shoulder about the past. In fact people with said chip are considered a bit embarrassing. See the audience reaction to the standard SF oppression rant on TV.
    So you see, nobody is trying to solve this problem because the problem only exists in the nationalist anti English mentality. The people trying to get a Labour Party up and running in NI are doing so because they believe in Labour values. Good luck to them 🙂

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Thanks Barney. But please don’t dwell too much on my superiority, it will only make you feel bad. We’re all equal these days !

  • Brendan Heading

    Sorry, but its only nationalists in NI (also Scotland and Wales) and most people in the ROI who still think in this way.

    Sorry, but you are wrong on this. I’m not talking about the union itself, but of the fact that there are two distinct peoples (those from the island of Ireland, and those from the next largest island to our east) who see themselves in distinct terms. Unionists dislike the meddling of London politicians to almost the same extent as nationalists; that is why Unionism has been devolutionist for the past century.

    I’d add that this is a two way issue. People elsewhere in the UK simply don’t see us as part of their population. UK politicians keep talking about “Britain”, a term which excludes Northern Ireland. Had the Conservatives formed a government with DUP support, which very nearly came to pass, English commentators would openly have wondered who these “Irish” people were holding sway over “their” country. That’s how they saw it a century ago when the Home Rule party enabled the Liberals in power.

    It is a straightforward fact that the UK government are not especially concerned for the wellbeing of people on this island. It’s just human nature. The indifference of the UK has a great deal to do with the great schisms that drove Catholic emancipation, then the land reform movement, then home rule, and then the war of independence. Almost the entire country was ruled by a relatively small number of landlords who, particularly during the Victorian era, sought and won the support of Parliament in enforcing their right to expropriate the meagre wealth and resources that the country had. My English great grandfather met his Cork wife when he was stationed as a British soldier in Templemore where the army had been called in to help enforced the Land Acts.

    All of this is history and has little direct involvement in how we decide our affairs today, but the schism remains. We will probably remain part of the UK for a long time to come – something that I have no problem with – but nobody here, or in London, has any intention of reestablishing direct rule here again.

    There is nothing stopping you from starting a Labour Party in Northern Ireland. Why exactly you think that the thing stands or falls on the affiliation with the one in London is a point I still haven’t had a straight answer on.