Ed Miliband visited Northern Ireland yesterday, including Bombardier and Stormont. At Bombardier, I hope he met trade unionists who are Labour members and in some cases would have voted for him in last year’s leadership campaign. At Stormont, I hope he noticed the absence of Labour MLAs and wondered why.
His visit was kept very quiet. The press didn’t know, and neither did we Labour members in Northern Ireland.
Martina Purdy, on Stormont Today, commented that this fiasco ‘doesn’t say much for the state of relations within that party’.
She’s right, but not in the way the person who fed her that line might have intended.
There is an issue here about Ed Miliband’s staff and their knowledge of Northern Ireland. The judgements made yesterday reflect far worse on the Leader of the Opposition than on his local party members (or the local press).
First, why visit Northern Ireland and keep it quiet? Do Miliband's advisers still think there’s a security risk? Who thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to notify the press? Surely if you are the leader of a political party, and you visit an area, you want some publicity? Would meeting the general public have been too much trouble – for example a short walkabout in Belfast? How exactly has Miliband’s political capital been raised by his welcome by Robinson and McGuinness at Stormont (during which Miliband looked very uncomfortable)?
Second, let’s look at the business of failing to notify the Labour Party here. The local press knew to get on the phone to Boyd Black. Miliband’s advisers didn’t. Either they didn’t know whom to contact, or they didn’t think it mattered. Either was poor judgement on their behalf. I fail to see how that error can be turned around to appear to be a fault or weakness on the part of the local party.
Ed Miliband and his advisors need to do their homework on Northern Ireland before their next visit. As it was, he looked as if he was parachuted in for the day and couldn’t care less. Which of course couldn’t be true – could it?