My dad has been voting for left-wing parties in Northern Ireland since 1970. But after 46 years of trying, 2016 is the first time that someone he voted for – Clare Bailey – actually got in. Indeed this election, from a green left point of view, feels good. Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in Northern Ireland can finally feel a little bit less left out of the global action…
My tribe in Northern Ireland are firmly ‘other’. We take our kids to Pride and are part of local brewing co-ops. We’re more concerned about TTIP, fracking and the global refugee crisis than the state of the union. But we’re not for emigrating and we genuinely give a crap what happens in Stormont. And this is probably our best election yet.
The growth of the Green Party in Northern Ireland is one of the major causes of our excitement. Two MLAs and an increased vote share everywhere, despite other leftist options, and especially in the winnable seats. Queer and trans candidates, lack of power suits, people we can relate to. From abortion access to fossil fuels to integrated education, they care about the stuff we care about.
The success of People Before Profit is also cause for celebration. Eamonn McCann singing the Internacionale in his acceptance speech – in reference to Paisley’s victorious gospel ditties of yore – was the highlight of my election. Sorting out welfare and stopping Corporation Tax change are high on our list of priorities. Whilst most of us are not living in poverty (except the conceptual artists), we’re not rich. We can afford craft beer, but not to get drunk on it. We’ve been hanging on for years on NHS waiting lists with our gallbladders exploding. Hardly anyone I know has a pension pot. We believe in a strong welfare state and we’re happy to contribute to it. It also feels good to be part of an all-Ireland left.
We’re grateful to Alliance for holding the middle ground when things were bad. We’ve often voted for them – even campaigned for them. But with a heaviness of heart, when they’ve abstained from equal marriage votes or not unconditionally supported full abortion access. But Naomi is surely coming, and if they change fast enough, we might be able to get excited again. And especially for those of us in rural unionist constituencies, the presence of Alliance continues to provide an important non-Jurassic option.
We also take heart in the fact that some new faces in the SDLP and the UUP seem not so very far away from where we are. MLAs feel younger, there’s a little less testosterone than before… LoveProudly.org reckon that 59 out of 108 MLAs are now in favour of equal marriage, which may bode well for holding up any future legal change. Even Mike Nesbitt seems to be wavering on the subject – his kids can’t understand his problem. The centre ground is becoming less conservative.
Of course all of this is small potatoes when compared to the dominance of the DUP. Arlene and her Martin letter did the trick, and their unrelenting politics of fear will be as hard to stomach as ever. What impact, if any, Fresh Start will have on the petition of concern is unclear. Now that Sinn Fein hasn’t hit the magic 30 seats needed to use the petition, the DUP may try to protect their own veto more vigorously.
But there’s a new naughty corner in town. Comprised of serious politicians who can’t wait to disrupt the status quo. Of course it will be hard to be an effective opposition from over there. But a bracing war of attrition on the established order – that seems very possible. And the term ‘naughty corner’, whilst hilarious, is derisive. It under-estimates how determined they are. We don’t know yet who will join the four mighty avengers, whether any of the larger parties will go into opposition with them, if any progressive alliances might be formed, and who might snag an influential job as committee chair.
No doubt this optimism seems misplaced to those in larger parties with access to ministerial jobs, party budgets, mainstream media time, access to a LOT of stamps and let’s face it, loads more supporters. Progressive parties are still small, and change is painfully slow. But to inhabit the green left is to be an optimist by definition. And compared to where we have been, this feels good. There’s some big shit happening in the world today. And it looks like Northern Ireland might almost be ready to engage with it.
Claire Mitchell was a sociologist of religion at QUB until 2010, when she left to pursue civilian life. Now a mother, runner of a small business and occasional storyteller at Tenx9. She is a shamefully lazy member of the Green Party in NI, although all views here are her own (as she’s never quite made it to a meeting).