“Have the Labour Party missed a trick?”

On the Politics Show today, the Labour Party’s Boyd Black, who was the Northern Ireland constituency delegate at their party conference this year, gave his reaction to the newly conjoined UUP/Conservative Party.

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  • Ri Na Deise

    Who could English Labour realistically align itself with in the north? Would surely represent a huge conflict of interest for the SDLP.

  • slug

    Interesting to hear that Labour organisation will be formalised in the next few weeks.

  • Richard James


    Unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be contesting elections as Boyd Black hinted. Although I suppose we should welcome any progress they make in taking down the no Irish need apply signs.

  • Rory Carr

    Boyd Black said that he wouldn’t want to prejudge whether or not the National Executive of the Labour Party would permit Labour Party candidates to stand for election in NI in Westminster elections.

    Fair enough, Boyd. I’ll happily do the prejudging on your behalf. They won’t.

  • slug



    The lack of a genuine Labour choice is rather glaring in NI politics, so there is a strong case to be made. Further, the argument that says “people should be able to vote for and against the government that rules over them on the major matters” is rather compelling. Labour should stand for all Westminster seats even if they lose many deposits.

  • bob wilson

    ‘Fair enough, Boyd. I’ll happily do the prejudging on your behalf. They won’t’

    Rory I really wouldnt bet on that if I was you.

  • In exile

    I think Rory is right. The UK Labour Party is not going to waste money on the sort of extreme unionist politics represented by these people – the political inheritors of people who wanted to break up the only serious cross community insitution in the North – the labour movement.

    There are lots of reasons why a backward looking “Labour” politics (which is what all of this is) will fail in the North of Ireland, most of which are actually pretty standard politics for western European social democrats – trade union density is falling and Labour Parties have to be more than just the voice of trade unions (there was a fella called Tony Blair who had some ideas about this, some of you may remember him).

    But others are very particular. When people say they want “normal” or “genuine” Labour politics in the North they are shutting their eyes to history. Northern Ireland isn’t Surrey in the Atlantic and if you say you want “genuine” politics and really want unionist politics then you are failing in mission number one of the labour movement – uniting people on the basis of their shared experiences not dividing them from the start.

    People on the left in the North need to think about ways they can work together across the “comnmunity divide” but the politics of Boyd Black and co have little to do with that.

  • catchagrip

    There may not be an obvious party to align themselves with but they could get defections from local parties if they were to make a serious effort to organise and contest elections. For atarters not all UUP members are happy with linking to the Conservatives. It would certainly make local politics more interesting if we could have a few Labour and Conservative representatives.

  • slug

    Don’t agree with “in exile” in use of the term “extreme unionist” regarding NI Labour people.

    Further, I think there is a gap in the market for a party with Labour values in NI, and there is always a democratic role a party that forms governments to be a choice on the ballot box everywhere in the democracy it governs.

  • In exile

    Boyd Black, spokesman for the WA, in a letter to the Irish Times (17/8/74) denies that his organisations’ proposals would lead to sectarian trade unions. He says: “There is no trade union reason why out suggestion would create Protestant and Catholic unions. It would only happen if there was a nationalist boycott of the new structure. But then we are used to that in Northern Ireland.”

    Sounds pretty extreme, not to say on the borderline of b*gotry, to me. Of course he may have moved on from that sort of crap, look at Mart and Big Ian. But where’s the evidence for that?

  • slug

    I don’t know what that’s about In Exile but if its all the evidence you have its extremely little!

  • Nay, nay, and thrice nay.

    If there is a NewNILP/Dream an Lucht Oibre to emerge, it must do so from what we have in Northern Ireland, with or without links to the other jurisdictions.

    Before then, we have to resolve:

    what to make of the SDLP, as it declines into senility;
    what to make of the (often quite progressive) social policies of Alliance;
    whether there is anything (and, in my view, yes there is) to be rescued from the community involvement of the best of DUP and SF grass-roots.

    To attempt to impose a settlement from on high, from either SW1H 0HA or 17 Ely Place, is ludicrous — and ludicrously expensive. And, as with the UUP rump looking to Diddy Dave Cameron to fortify the over-sixties, it’s merely a confession of local debility.

    That said, there is one obvious route to a left-of-centre movement: public service unions. They have the resources, the power-base (potentially, some half of all NI employees): they lack a co-ordinated intent. Perhaps the cuts in public services, due any moment, might apply a smouldering splint to the red touch paper. Out of self-interest could emerge a manifesto to address the other issues: social welfare, health, education, transport, housing …

    Why do I know that’s Star Wars IV: A New Hope?

  • In exile

    You what? He wrote a letter saying he didn’t give a toss about what the Taigs thought about anything and that’s “extremely little”?

    (It was about the proposal of the grouplet he was a member of at the time that unions in the North should leave the ICTU).

  • slug

    In Exile – yes, extremely little evidence of what you are alleging in your first post, namely that the NI Labour party represents ‘extreme unionist politics’.

  • IJP

    I’ve always liked Boyd Black – I don’t agree with all his politics, but it’s the kind of politics I’d like to see done, if you see what I mean.

    I’m not confident about either the British or Irish Labour Party taking NI seriously – it’s not just a matter of “allowing candidates”, but also getting serious about funding them.

    The other problem is, what is the core of NI’s “Labour” movement? It was traditionally, in fact, hugely Protestant; yet the assumption is that it would be “soft Nationalist”. In reality, this doesn’t work.

    Which industries would such a movement represent? I don’t see many to represent, aside from the public sector – and frankly a movement seriously trying to defend the public (and community) sector in current size would merit little support post-conflict.

    In short, there may well be room for a cross-community left-of-centre party in NI politics – but I’m not sure we should assume it will have anything to do with the “Labour” movement.

  • John K Lund

    Come on Boyd Black lets see the Clunking Fist contest all 18 seats and go ahead and offer a home to the tiny Labour rump of the UUP who are so dissafected according you Non Coservative and Unionist bloggers. Why vote for a tired failing party when you will get the most imaginative social justice programme from Iain Duncan Smith. Some people say Labour has no money and will try to piggy back the General Election onto the Europeans on 4th June 2009, This could well give you the funds to organise select secular candidates and fight the full 18. Labour want to remain the party of government again. So get the most noble Lord Mandelson to lead your campaign with Peter Hain.

  • Rory Carr

    I won’t be betting , Bob.

    There will not be a race
    in which this Labour horse is entered. He won’t run at Downpatrick or the Maze and he’d be best left to sweetly graze and reminisce on what might have been had he been a stallion instead of the useless, ball-deficient, pretty owner-pleasing plodder that NILP ever was, with apologies to Sam Thompson, Raymond Barry, Andrew Boyd and those who tried to make it run like a class horse ought.

  • Mick

    I would not offer this as any kind of valid empirical test, but when we tried to convene a meeting at the last but one Labour conference on this subject no one turned up, including Boyd.

    To be fair it may have had something to do with a diary clash (mea culpa) with the Irish Embassy’s do the same evening. But outside Jim Larkin (and James Connelly?) Ireland north and south has little real history of mass involvement with the Labour movement.

    Ulster politics prior to the rise of Unionism in the 1880s is largely (but not exclusively) Protestant and consists of tensions between Liberals versus Tories… Now we see a re-emergence of that split: UUP retained the Tory strain; and to some extent the DUP reflects the radical/liberal strain… (believe it or not!)…

    Strangely what destroyed the last piece of internal resistance within the British Tories to this UU move was the Biblical illiberality of Iris Robinson towards gays…

    But, for now at least, Labour and the left is generally caked out on rock over this…

    Whilst I would not go down Rory’s Futuring route and say it will never happen, the Labour enthusiasts in NI are miles for any gaining provenance within the party (which is still in its political DNA at leat, pro UI in sentiment)…

    The SDLP is both split and conflicted (an alliance between a tiny minority of middle class SDs and the Fianna Fail tendency; some of them no so subtle admirers of the British Tories, if only from afar)…

    And, it seems, they want little to do with Irish Labour other than largely passive endorsements…

    Irish politics for all its revolutionary history may be too ideology-free for any leftist party to really prosper…

    But I could be proven wrong…

  • IJP @ 10:07 PM:

    … the core of NI’s “Labour” movement … was traditionally, in fact, hugely Protestant.

    But only in recent memory, and only in a particular interpretation. The causes and reasons thereof are too complex for this wee comment box. And only if one totally ignores the subterranean moles (wait for their eventual appearance on this very stage!) and their occasional up-earthings.

    However, taking your point, when Jack Beattie was refused the Labour Whip in 1949, that was one lost opportunity (Jack didn’t easily fit that “hugely Protestant” template). Another was 1969: Jim Callaghan spoke to a packed Ulster Hall (eat your heart out, “Dave” Cameron), and invited NILP to join the [UK] Labour Party — they all applied, and got another raspberry.

    Nor can all the ordure fly one way: what about the repeated denunciations from the Catholic pulpits that any leftist must be a “Communist”?

    However, $70+ will buy you Aaron Edward’s forthcoming history of NILP (subtitle: “Democratic Socialism and Sectarianism”).

    It’s not likely to be a cheering story of a happy band of brothers (well, think Harry Midgley — and you’ll see why). Even so, there were other toilers in the field: Paddy Agnew, Paddy Devlin and others do not Gerry-Fitt that “hugely Protestant” template. None of those names are likely to gain universal adoration, I accept.

    So to the promised moles. Did you know, by the way, that the collective noun is “a labour of moles”? I thought fondly of that, on Thursday, as German Railways whisked me past Ingolstadt (home of Audi cars), and I had a quick glimpse of what moles were doing to the (doubtless-expensive) new-laid marl of a tennis court.

    Back in 1856, at a Chartist dinner, Marx responded to the toast to the Proletarians:

    In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer — the Revolution.

    I’ve not given up on (again, Marx, with one addition):

    … the newfangled forces of [NI] society, they only want to be mastered by newfangled men — and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself.

  • Labourman

    The wheels of change grind slow, but they have shifted into a faster gear within the past few weeks.

    Don’t expect a sudden bloom of candidates across the 18 constituencies. When it happens, it will be a phased affair aimed at building the party.

    The local CLP is already receiving finance from the Labour Party, but any elections contested in NI will see the funds raised in NI.

    On Trade Union involvement, Labour is at heart a union of trade unions and wider civil society. Looking across it’s membership, a substantial number have direct experience of building cross community organisation.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    I would like to see a cross-community Labour Party but I don’t think a unilateral move by BLP without the Irish Labour Party would attract significant nationalist votes and it would just be like NILP II. I find it a bit rich coming from Boyd Black that the SDLP aren’t Labour enough, FF tendancies notwithstanding; remind me again which party took us to war in Iraq, Boyd? 28 Days detention? PFIs? Top-up fees? Oh yeah.. Labour. if there was a Labour Party in the North it would have to do a lot better than the current one anyway.

  • Driftwood

    No sign of the Lib Dems joining with Alliance?

  • IJP

    Interesting, Malcolm, but I’d still say Mick is 100% right. There is, essentially, no NI “DNA” in either Labour Party, nor any real “Labour” DNA in NI.


    I’m not sure what the portent of your question is, but the really exciting thing about the UUs’ latest moves is that essentially it makes the relationship between the UUs and the Tories similar to the relationship between Alliance and the LibDems.

    Done properly, this is ideal – it leaves enough room for manoeuvre on NI issues, but also access to the wider game at UK and EU/global level. That is particularly relevant in times of global economic crisis with local economic impact.

    And it all leaves the DUP and the (other?!) nationalist parties trapped in parochialism.