Wednesday, 18 February 2009

British Labour to become a party in Northern Ireland

I haven't seen it covered elsewhere, but the Irish Times reports that the British Labour party is to officially organise in Northern Ireland. Apparently local activists have the 2011 local elections in their sights.

According to the IT, Queen's University lecturer Boyd Black said: "Next Monday we are being formally constituted within the Labour Party organisation- up to now we have been unofficial members. Now we will have a party constitution and have elected officers. We will as of right have a seat on the National Policy Forum, the body which sits in permanent session and develops policy for the party. I think it is a big step forward. It's been a long fight, with the Labour high command- mindful of its links to the SDLP- having to be dragged along."

The association had to sign up 200 members and keep them for three months before it could be formally constituted as part of the Labour Party. The 200 mark was passed last year.

This seems to somewhat reflect Fianna Fáil's moves north. With the prospect of a merger with the SDLP off the table, it has appears that it has remained for a few supporters in south Armagh, with the backing of some southern politicians, to do something this side of the border. The result was the establishment of a 'forum', rather than a cumann, in Crossmaglen recently. However, a quick visit to the Fianna Fáil website reveals that the interactive map of Ireland shows up as 'Void' if you hover over Northern Ireland, indicating that FF Central doesn't seem to have any plans to organise fully in the north any time soon.

Where British Labour and Fianna Fáil go in the north remains to be seen. The question is whether they can build the critical popular and membership mass to have any electoral impact. And that will depend to a large extent on the support they have from their respective central offices in London and Dublin.


Barry Magee said...

An interesting article Gary, I wonder though does the fact that the FF website does not recognise FF organisation equate to a disinterest to organise in the north by party centrally? It could simply be that they have not updated the website or not feel the need to reveal their plans currently. I also wonder what on the earth the impact will be of British Labour- I honestly can not see them making any headway unless the party invests heavily in its structures in NI.


Johnny Guitar said...

For what its worth, there was a short piece about this in the Financial Times as well.

While I would like to think differently, I fear that little will come out of this. If you ask me I think it bears a lot of similarities to the moves previously made by the Irish Labour Party towards the north. Under Pat Rabbitte they set up a Northern Ireland Labour Forum back in 2004 only to eventually decide after much humming and hawing that they would not contest elections. Labour in Britain seem to be doing something similar. The fact that they've had to be harangued and threatened with legal action just to get this far suggests that Millbank would rather these couple of hundred Irish lefties would go away. But I hope I'm wrong. There is a place in Northern Ireland for a genuinely non-sectarian, left of centre social democratic party that puts its socialism first rather than its nationalism (as with the SDLP) or its unionism (as in the case of the old NILP). Who knows. Perhaps the SDLP can morph into such a thing once we enter this 'realignment of politics' thing that we're all still waiting for.

As for Fianna Fail, I don't think they are serious about the north - not that I would ever vote for the bastards. With the southern economy in dire straits and their opinion poll rating plummeting I think the last thing they care about at the moment as a handful of disgruntled nationalists in Crossmaglen. The very use of the word 'forum' (the phrase Irish Labour employed for its six county fan club) suggests that they are just waiting to find a nice way to tell the lads in Cross and QUB to feck off.

Donal Lyons said...

I've a lot of time for Boyd, but he did forget to mention the last half dozen years of legal actions against Labour HQ in London which have got him to this stage.

They are adopting a CLP structure/constitution but not contesting elections.

Gary McKeown said...

Barry- if coming north was high up their agenda, I'd imagine updating their front page graphic to reflect that fact would be one of the first ports of call.

Johnny- If all Labour leaning people deciding to throw their weight behind either Irish or British Labour rather than splitting between the two, they'd have more clout?

Donal- Do you think there's any point in them bothering?

Johnny Guitar said...

“If all Labour leaning people deciding to throw their weight behind either Irish or British Labour rather than splitting between the two, they'd have more clout?”

I agree, Gary. I always found it depressing that good socialists like Mark Langhammer and Boyd Black were split into two separate camps that were essentially arguing for the same thing, namely anti-sectarian Labour politics. But that’s the left for you! At this stage, and judging by Jenny Muir’s comments, it looks as if the Irish Labour leadership aren’t overly enthusiastic about taking part in elections up here. As this is the case, there is no reason why members of the Ely Place-aligned NILF could not now throw their weight behind the efforts to get Millbank Labour to contest elections in this neck of the woods and at the same time retain their Irish Labour Party membership. Such a move would be permitted under Article 2. Section 1b of the Irish Labour constitution.

Even if all this did come together we would still have the spectre of the SDLP on the political landscape as a Socialist International affiliated party. I suppose we’ll just have to see how things develop...

Anonymous said...

I think Labour (UK) has nmissed the boat in NI - no one would vote for them now after the mess they have made of the economy - like many of the governments globally - they let the capitalist markets have a free run and now the taxpayer has to pick up the pieces

Donnacha Maguire said...

To be honest, I think it's just that the website hasnt been update yet. Fianna Fáil has two fully operational Cumainn in QUB and UU Magee. The South Armagh Forum held its first Fundraiser last Saturuday with former Minister and Ceann Comhairle, Dr. Rory O'Hanlon TD in attendance.

FF has not made a decision regarding full organisation in the North. We dont claim to have made the decision yet. Our Northern Committee is still, as far as I know, looking throw the thousands of submissions received following the consultation process.

Having said that, The Northern Fianna Fáil forum has recently set up sub groups in Derry, Down and Fermanagh. A member from Armagh will seek the win a seat on the National Executive and a large group of members from the 6 counties is expected down at the Ard Fheis!

Anonymous said...

I think FF should stay down south and sort out their own mess - we have enough political parties to be going on with!