The Refounding Labour organisational review will be debated and voted upon at the UK Labour Party Conference next week. Here is a summary of the Northern Ireland CLP’s submission.
The full version is available here and is worth reading if you are interested in the details of the argument – in particular, I would urge those who think the Party is anti-SDLP to read pages 3 -4 .
A real Shared Future: why the Labour Party should stand for elections in Northern Ireland
Submission to the Refounding Labour organisational review by the Northern Ireland CLP
Our submission is the response of the Northern Ireland Constituency Labour Party to the Labour Party’s organisational review, Refounding Labour, and argues that the Labour Party should stand for elections in Northern Ireland.
The argument has three strands.
1. It is the final stage in achieving a fully functioning Labour movement in Northern Ireland. As has been said many times by senior Labour figures, there should be no ‘no go’ areas for the Labour Party. In a democracy, a prospective Party of Government should seek a mandate across the UK, including Northern Ireland.
- Northern Ireland has a vibrant Labour moment including 350 paid-up Labour Party members, almost 260,000 trade union members, mostly in affiliated unions, and 32,000 trade union members contracting in to pay the political levy. Northern Ireland has the highest density of trade union membership of the four UK jurisdictions – and no other party in Northern Ireland has a structural link with the trade unions
- Party members participate in an active Constituency Labour Party, assist in British and Irish Labour election campaigns, attend Conference and are active in the National Policy Forum. Standing for election is the last piece in the jigsaw.
- Members also participate in their trade unions, socialist societies, the Co-operative Party, the Fabian Society, Labour Students and the Party of European Socialists activists’ network.
- Northern Ireland’s Labour Party members are involved in a wide range of civil society organisations which seek to influence policy both at regional and UK level through lobbying.
- It has been argued that Labour cannot usurp the SDLP’s position as the only Northern Ireland member of the Socialist International. However, fifteen countries have two SI parties as members, and one has three.
- Although Labour members would have respect for the historical role of the SDLP and for many individual SDLP members, the SDLP is currently unsuitable to represent the Labour movement because (i) it has no structural connection with the trade unions, and (ii) its ‘nationalist’ community designation in the Northern Ireland Assembly prevents it from developing truly cross-community, anti-sectarian politics based on economic and social issues rather than on territorial position.
2. The Labour Party can fill the political vacuum caused by the lack of a cross-community, anti-sectarian democratic socialist political party. Labour in Northern Ireland provides a voice that is un-mediated by community divisions, a voice that can develop policies that will encourage sharing in a divided society and build a future without the fear of sectarian tensions.
- Political identity and electoral behaviour in Northern Ireland is often erroneously presented as a simple territorial cleavage between unionism and nationalism. However, this disregards opinions on social and economic issues, and other aspects of political identity such as class and gender.
- A review of the statistical evidence has revealed a political vacuum that could be filled by Labour. For example:
- 43% of the population consider themselves to be neither unionist nor nationalist; and
- in 2005, around 70 percent of people who didn’t vote said they had sympathy with the statement that ‘I would have voted if there was a strong non-sectarian party’.
- Under the circumstances it is not surprising that turnout at elections is declining, and public confidence in the governance of the region is low. In such a climate of dissatisfaction and frustrated aspirations, Labour has to act.
- Labour Party politics can offer a home to those disillusioned voters and to many more voters who simply put up with current parties because there is no viable, non-sectarian alternative. We believe that the best ‘cross community’ decision-making takes place within parties rather than between them.
3. We have the capacity to build our case around the Labour values of social justice, equality of opportunity, strength of community and rights matched with responsibilities. The Labour Party in Northern Ireland accepts the duty to stand for Labour values, to use those values to promote prosperity and a shared future, and to represent the wider Labour Movement politically.
- The Labour Party in Northern Ireland seeks to uphold Labour values in the context of a society trying to move beyond sectarian division and find a common ground based on values, rights and responsibilities we all share. We seek a new political paradigm that is not dependent on territorial politics and thus contributes to healing the divisions of the past.
- The people of Northern Ireland want politics based on everyday issues such as crime, education, health and the economy – especially at the present time of economic uncertainty and constraint.
- We can use our solid base of 350 members, plus substantial support in the wider Labour movement, to build electoral support through standing good, local candidates and seeking votes from all sections of the community.
The next stage of Northern Ireland’s ‘peace process’ is to work towards a genuinely shared society which acknowledges the importance of history but refuses to be held back by it. Only Labour can fulfil the role of a non-sectarian democratic socialist party in which all voters can have confidence.