Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Popping in for tea

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?


jamesmcanespy said...

This is the first I heard about Miliband's travels - and literally about 20 minutes ago I was informed that Prince William and Kate Middleton have been in town since 10am. Is Belfast hospitality so generous that guests are confident they can show up unannounced and get a warm welcome?

nick said...

I wonder why Ed Miliband was even here in the first place. If he didn't meet Labour Party members or do a walkabout or visit anywhere other than Bombardier and Stormont, what was his purpose? If he wanted some first-hand experience of Northern Ireland he didn't look very far.

Jenny Muir said...

James - strange, isn't it? And the royal visit today held up an International Women's Day march in Belfast City Centre. I gather from the news that there is still considered to be a security issue about royal visits here which mean they are not announced in advance, but surely that can't be the case with politicians?

Nick - I think he came to take political advnatge of Peter Robinson's disappointment about no longer being able to walk in and out of No 10 at his leisure, most unwise.

Anonymous said...

Surely its time LabourNI gave up the ghost. Unwelcome guests at a party...doesnt there come a time when the members here accept that they arent valued or wanted Labour?
Boyd Black, despite valiant efforts a few years back, hasnt succeeded.

Jenny Muir said...

Dear Anon, don't you just love the freedom of being anonymous? I would, I must say. Especially because I'd like to reply to your comment seriously but am hampered by knowing nothing about you.

Are you a member of another political party? If so, how would you persuade me to join it instead of Labour? Are you involved in politics at all? If not, are you suggesting I should give it up altogether and perhaps take up golf and move to Bangor?

The reason I ask is because there are certainly times when I agree with you that we are not making any impact. However, this year will be make or break as our status in NI is to be considered as part of a policy review. Like you, I am not by any means certain that we'll succeed.

In terms of being valued or wanted by Labour, when I was a member in England I certainly didn't feel either. Labour has a history of treating its members as a nuisance, wherever they are located, so I'm quite used to that!

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed it is a luxury being anonymous. You offer that option! I'm not a member of any political party, but a keen observer of all.

I'd certainly prefer UK parties to organise and fight in Northern Ireland. Thats the only way politics in NI will move on from the sectarian carve-up it is now.
Labour steadfastly refuses to take that step....does it still recommend people join the 'sdlp' in NI? I wouldnt be surprised.

Tell me this, how many members are there in LabourNI? It doesnt look to have made any headway in recent years.
I get the feeling it would implode if a new more dynamic membership joined up... the politburo feeling their roles under threat!

Jenny Muir said...

Dear anon,

What Labour does formally and informally may well be different. Formally, they accept membership applications from us in NI and don't mention the SDLP any more, but informally I do wonder what individuals might advise. However, we have about 350 members now - which is fantastic for a party which offers very little to careerists - and you are late with your observations on dynamism because this year there has been quite an influx and several of us are now EC members. A very beneficial synthesis between old and new is taking place and lots of useful work on policy development has begun.

The best way to show support for your wish for UK parties to stand here is to join Labour, because the more members we have, the stronger our case. Give it a go! (via the main Labour web site)

Anonymous said...

350...I suppose I could be disparaging about that but its a start for you. Whats your target before the next election...and really whats the point if you wont be allowed to field candidates anyhow?

Really, and I'm not being trite, doesnt that big central problem need sorted before anything else?
Policy forum, AGMs...its all window dressing until you have an honest statement from Labour HQ about elections.

As for me joining....well, no, not a chance. I didnt think Labour could get worse after Blair/Brown, but it has under the dire Miliband.

Jenny Muir said...

350 is really good when, as you say, we can't field candidates. And we know that's the big issue, but we can demonstrate that we have some degree of meaningful party organisation here and that therefore it's realistic to let us stand in elections.

In terms of what you are joining, when in London I felt the same as you and left and re-joined several times during the 1990s. But here it feels a bit different, due to devolution and also because the alternatives are either the Alliance, which is sort of half LibDem, or the SDLP, and I've blogged before about how I have a lot of respect for individuals in the SDLP but it's not a party I coudl join myself becaise it's not equally attractive to all democratic socialists in NI (which is a polite way of saying it's a nationalist party).

Anonymous said...

How many more years though can you keep peeking in through the windows hoping to get an invite to the party?

Surely there comes a time when enough is enough.

Jenny Muir said...

And for many people this year's policy review will be it.

If the decision is no, there is a very interesting question looming about what to do next.