Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Labour in Northern Ireland 2012 AGM

A crowd of around 50 gathered in the Malone Lodge Hotel for the Labour’s AGM on Saturday. Labour in NI doesn’t yet have an annual conference as such, as our policy-making is at an early stage and we are just starting to set up a branch structure.

But this year we decided to do the AGM differently. As well as a morning of necessary procedural business, the afternoon was dedicated to policy discussions on education and the economy, and was open to the public.

We invited a number of civil society organisations to take stalls and contribute to the afternoon debates. This as important not only to broaden out the debate, but to make a statement about where we want to be in Northern Ireland’s policy networks. We have very strong trade union connections but it has to be said that we need to strengthen our links in other areas. We were delighted that Alan in Belfast was able to attend in the afternoon and produce a comprehensive report of the event on Slugger O’Toole.

In the afternoon we also had a competent and amusing address from Pamela Nash MP. Pamela is PPS to Vernon Coaker MP, Shadow Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, who was unable to attend. She is also PPS to the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and is Scottish herself. So it was disappointing that she had to leave without answering questions, which might have been enlightening on broader devolution issues as well as in relation to Westminster’s view of Labour here in Northern Ireland.

For my sins I was re-elected to the Executive Committee. The next year will be important for us as we need to manage London’s decision on whether we may stand for elections here, whatever it is; we also need to continue to build a mass party, in particular by responding to the membership’s demands for a branch structure; and we need to recruit more women members and get them actively involved, as a matter of urgency.

Alan is understandably pessimistic about Labour’s chances of gaining support in Northern Ireland’s crowded left of centre political arena. The way we’ll prove him and others wrong is to make sure that we are a lively party of ideas and debate which attracts and retains new members, whether or not they have been involved in politics before. We made a good start on Saturday.


Anonymous said...

Offering a real alternative to the people living in Northern Ireland is an exciting and challenging project.
But the current CLP executive needs to examine very closly what its priorities are.
It will be interesting to see if the "Strong Trade Union" link can actually deliver active members and real support for campaigning.
The pace of growth for a Labour Party will be dictated by the energy and actions of the Executive.
Deliver a few thousands members with a functioning branch structure and I have no doubt the Labour Party NEC will be rubber stamp support and the right to stand in elections.
Carry on in the same vein as the past 9 years, then Northern Ireland CLP can only look forward to spending its resources on flirtations at conference.

Jenny Muir said...

Anon - I couldn't agree more. We need to be more than a party that recruits and organises mainly via our trade union connections, for all sorts of reasons.

The EC has a huge responsibility in the coming year as always, however the biggest influence this year is going to be the decision in London about whether to let us stand for elections. If the answer is no, for me it'll be hard to justify carrying on. However there are some who will continue because they still have the trade union link and get to influence party policy that way.

I would love to know who was flirting at conference. It wasn't me as I never go!

Carnan Lao said...

Anonymous's comments strike home about the election to positions of 'power' within the Labour Executive.

The Executive nomination and voting system has been able to maintain in place the same faces over a number of years perhaps based on badges they wear and because very few people are actively encouraged to come forward for office positions.

There is a complex job ahead of building a party. Are greater skills needed around the top table to lead, build and effectively govern a dynamic political movement than are currently seen? I would argue so.

The best leaders are those who plan for the time when they are not there any more. They build a team around them who know what they have to do and how to do it. Sadly those types of behaviours have not been active around membership growth, communication and organisational development. As a result, even if London says Yes, it will be a long time (if at all) until Labour is in a serious place to offer voters a credible party and capable candidates.

This is not just a NI issue, the comments of Peter Watt (former Labour General Secretary) about the Labour NEC's role and capability can be read here and are worth considering in the NI context. http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2012/03/15/the-flaws-at-the-heart-of-the-labour-party’s-reorganisation/#comments

So get your finger out and contribute I hear you say Jenny! If the NI CLP gets the right to stand well then I probably would. But now this new Executive needs to act with leadership and start planning and communicating how it will make real the potential of skills and talents of members towards build a solid and credible Labour political movement in Northern Ireland.

Jenny Muir said...

Carnan - again I agree with much of what you say, including teh final paragraph! We need a wider range of skills on the EC but that does require people to come forward, and I think a 'yes' from London will inspire many. However it'll be interesting to see its impact on those who have been there a long time, who may see newcomers as not having served their time in some way in the Labour movement and may therefore be suspicious about them. It's no use pretending that doesn't go on. I return to my point that hanging on in there is the only way. What will drive me out of the Labour Party will be a London decision, not the local members.

Anonymous said...

Carnan exhibits a feel for the Party with appreciation of the Executive of the LPNI and its character.
Jenny also writes with a degree of apprehension that tests her own spirit.
Together both appear to wait for the waves to part by a decision from London.
Shaun Woodward's legacy statement was I understand "it is in your hands",
London wants to see what your hands do.
Secretary reports to the All member meetings are passive and give "London" first move.
What would prombt London's hand - a message that the LPNI has adopted a policy on corporation Tax or the fact that the CLP has worked tirelessly over the past 3 years and now has a membership of 5,000?
Does London want to hear a plea for the funding of a part time organiser or that the executive has developed and led its own organisation?
Carnan is right, the top table needs to change - not so much the individuals but their mindsets, roles and functions.
The current EC's are not fit for purpose, which is why the new party rules and a recent paper presented to LPNI pleaded for change reducing the administrative and legally required officers to 5 with an expanded working committee taking leads with teams on critical areas - like membership, equality, communty and trade union liasion etc.
I say don't be stalled by London and don't wait for the the CLP Executive to change - get in there and help force the position. If the executive sees the wisdom for changing the way it works there will certainly be places for people like Carnan and several others.

Jenny Muir said...

Anon - I very rudely didn't acknowledge this point, just checking back over my comments a couple of months later and would just like to say again that yes, there is still the need for a clearer structure which gives more people the opportunity to participate and be valued. I hope we get there.