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.