Thursday, October 14, 2010

An interview with Claire Hanna

See my e-interview with Claire Hanna over at Irish Left Review.


Seymour Major said...

I read the post. It is interesting to see an SDLP activist/candidate declaring themself to be a genuine socialist. The trouble is, many of their supporters are not socialists at all (I'll leave that one hanging)

Most of the SDLP rhetoric has a green tinge to it, despite the fact that on policy they are just socialists. In fact, the word socialist is taboo in their speeches. Click "our ideas" on their website and the first words you see are "United Ireland." The SDLP also seems to allow itself to get sucked into sectarian trench warfare during debates in the Assembly. They also continue to fight yesterday's battles (civil rights)

It may not be techinally correct to call the SDLP a "sectarian party." What puzzles me is why they seem to be determined to keep looking like just a politer, nicer less nasty version of Sinn Fein. Why are they are so cavalier about alienating the unionist left.

I cant tell the Labour Party what to do but in my humble opinion, it should contest elections here as an independent (agnostic on the Union) Labour Party just like the old LPNI pre 1949. They would instantly take the unionist left because nobody represents them and this would give that party a launchpad for attracting Nationalist socialists who would rather keep all socialists in one family.

Jenny Muir said...

Thank you, Seymour. I think it's a great interview (by which of course I mean it's a great set of responses from Claire!) - although not everyone on ILR agrees!

The interview also highlights my dilemma with the SDLP, which I know is shared by some of my Labour colleagues and was also an issue for us in Irish Labour. I have a huge amount of respect for young activists such as Claire, and several others I could name, in the SDLP. I am sure some of them would be very comfortable in a party that put socialism first and which wasn't sectarian one way or the other.

But you can't really blame them for sticking with a fully functioning political party, in which they get the chance to stand for elections and actually influence change, plus they have the advantage of paid staff to work on policy documents and media relations.

I suspect we are getting close to what you suggest for Labour, and if that happens then it's inevitable that at first we'll have more unionist than nationalist members, given the imbalance you describe. But it won't be reflected in policy (or if it is, I'll leave and I wouldn't be the only one)and I hope that over time more nationalists would join us, as well as the non-aligned of course. Money is going to be a huge problem if we have to go it alone.

Garibaldy said...

It was a most interesting interview Jenny, and thanks for it. Having said that, you'll surely forgive me for questioning Gilmore's integrity, especially in the week he talked about cutting public sector jobs and wages etc. Red rag to a usually rather calm and relaxed bull.

Jenny Muir said...

No problem at all, Garibaldy, I thought about pitching in but I'm sure Gilmore can defend himself. I have to say it wasn't my experience though - I didn't like the decision he took on standing for elections in the North, but woudl still agree with Claire on his integrity as a Party leader. Also he may be the best option to lead the next government.

Garibaldy said...

I'm trmpted to quote Mo Mowlam on the least worst option, though I'd agree with you that it would be preferable to see an LP-led government than a FG or FF one. I think though that we need to bear in mind the last council elections - the left made some gains, but the big winners were FG. A real danger of that happening at the next GE in the south.

Jenny Muir said...

Yes, reading this week's Irish Times I can see Labour letting their gains slip away. Very difficult to distance themselves from other parties sufficiently to be distinctive without appearing to be making political capital out of the situation, which at the moment the public loathe, IMO.

Johnny Guitar said...

The idea of starting from scratch and launching an NI-only Labour Party depresses me. As you say, Jenny, the hard reality of getting the cash together would be enough of a problem! There are other stumbling blocks too. Since the dissolution of the old NILP there have been several attempts to form such a vehicle and all have bitten the dust after performing miserably in elections. I am not overly convinced that the public have much of a craving for another such party. Add to that the fact that a six county party, even a principled non-sectarian centre-left one, would lack the very thing that people like us who support the UK Labour Party fighting elections here desire: the ability to be, as Chris Hudson put it in last week's News Letter, "at the centre of government in Westminster."

When you read Claire Hanna's comments, as well as some of the blogs written by younger SDLP members, it is tempting to wonder whether the party could evolve in the coming years into an organisation that puts its socialism first. I recall being quite optimistic (a rarity for me) upon reading Mark Durkan's speech in Oxford a couple of years back when he spoke of the sectarian designations used at Stormont "dissolving in the future as the environment changed." Of course, he took a step back when the Provos lowered the debate to the level of accusing Durkan of wanting a return to pre-1972 Stormont days but I think it told us a lot – thinking people in the party know that the nature of the game has to change. The SDLP cannot out-green the Shinners on the issue of partition. If they are to have any sort of future then it will have to be in doing, to use a cliché, what it says on their tin (i.e., being a social democratic and labour party).

Personally, I would like to see them take the radical step of redesignating themselves 'other' in the Assembly. Such a move would trigger a real debate on the nature of politics here. Will they do it? Of course not. Not at the present time anyhow. But, like the Ulster Unionists, they seriously need a big idea. Playing first fiddle in the left camp is surely more preferable than playing perpetual second fiddle to the Provos in the nationalist one.

Jenny Muir said...

Johnny - there have been times when I have shared your optimism about the SDLP, but reluctantly I've concluded that the socialist members of that party (and there are some) are pushing against too much other baggage. Look at the response to Peter Robinson's comments on integrated education. LIke you, I'd like to see them redesignate but even writing it down makes me realise it's not going to happen.

Also I would agree that a separate Labour Party is by far the worst option. But there's a big unanswered question about what happens if the UK Labour Party says no to standing for elections in NI. Which I think they will. If that happens, and an independent party doesn't get support, the options are to grit teeth on the national question and support the SDLP, or grit teeth on democratic socialism and support Alliance.