A year ago I left the Irish Labour Party, with very great regret. I felt it was my political home and I was prepared to devote considerable effort both to party administration (I was Treasurer for several years) and to developing the argument that the party should have an all-Ireland remit with a specific appeal to all communities in the North.
I’ve spent the time since then thinking about what to do next politically. The answer ‘nothing’ was pretty far up the list, usually followed by a resolution to spend more time in the office (sorry, Nick!), courtesy of the Research Excellence Framework.
A second answer was just to keep blogging, but to tell the truth it’s rather isolating and there are too many good political bloggers out there for me to do it for any other reason than because I enjoy it. My blog isn’t only about politics anyway.
The third possibility is single issue campaigning. I’ve never been keen on this unless it’s conducted within a wider political framework, but have joined Amnesty and also, locally, signed up to Platform for Change. But it’s more about writing letters than going along to events.
So then I started to think about whether I could bear to join another political party. UUP or Tory? I’m neither a unionist nor a conservative. Alliance? I’m still not quite sure what they stand for, apart from on community relations. Green? Not as a fairly frequent flyer and a very frequent car driver, although I respect them enormously. SDLP? I know more individuals whose views I share in the SDLP than in any other party, but I still can’t join it because I’m not a nationalist. Worker’s Party? Seems rather stuck in the past to me, and very male dominated.
The net was closing. How about re-joining Irish Labour? No chance, partly because several other people I enjoyed working with stepped down at the same time as myself.
Well, in the end I’ve decided to join the British, or should I say UK, Labour Party. I don’t intend to be a particularly active member, perhaps just go to the odd meeting now and again. I certainly won’t take part in any moves to contest elections in Northern Ireland, because something I learned through the Irish Labour debacle is that such decisions are made on a top down basis, not through pressure from members. If the UK Labour Party elite decides to contest elections in Northern Ireland, it will do so because it has calculated that there will be a political advantage. Local members’ wishes will carry no weight.
So I join with many reservations, but I hope having a party card will get me back into the swing of collaborating with the people whose views I share in all the parties I don’t feel it would be right for me to join – perhaps most particularly the SDLP. I’m a pretty mainstream democratic socialist nowadays, probably centre left rather than left, as reflected by my new party membership. Part of the thinking over the past year has been about facing up to that.