Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One Nation?

Unlike some, I wasn't that taken with Ed Miliband’s One Nation speech yesterday. Northing I could put my finger on, just a vague suspicion that it wasn't very... um.... Labour-ish. A sense that, for democratic socialists, there should be some who are forever outside the tent. Such as corrupt bankers, unprincipled newspaper proprietors and editors, and unscrupulous employers.

But today we found out who is really excluded: the people of Northern Ireland.

In Miliband’s Question and Answer session this afternoon, a very brave member of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, Rebecca Hall, asked whether he supported Labour standing candidates in Northern Ireland. The Guardian summarised the reply as:

Miliband says he applauds Labour members in Northern Ireland. But he is wary of standing candidates there. The British government needs to be an honest broker in Northern Ireland. It is hard to be an honest broker if you are fighting elections.

What does that even mean? Let’s take a look.

Miliband ‘applauds’ Labour members in Northern Ireland. Why? For taking legal action against the Party in order to be admitted to membership? For pestering NEC members with reasoned arguments for the Labour franchise to be extended to the Northern Ireland electorate? Or perhaps for paying a full subscription every year without having the full rights of members elsewhere in the UK?

But he is wary of standing candidates. So Labour members in Northern Ireland are welcome (following the court case) as long as they don’t want to do what politics is actually about.

The British government needs to be an honest broker in Northern Ireland’. Leaving aside the fact that Labour is not currently in government, this opinion is outdated and neocolonialist. Outdated because Miliband fails to recognise that Northern Ireland politics has moved on since 1998 and there is growing disenchantment with an enforced coalition based on sectarian division; and neocolonialist because he views Northern Ireland as a place which has to be controlled from the outside. Whereas Labour in Northern Ireland has stated recently:

While Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, the Labour Party is an active and major participant in the politics and governance of Northern Ireland. That participation must be normalised and democratised by developing Labour Party organisation and representation on the ground.

You cannot be an ‘honest broker’ and fight elections. Again this shows a poor understanding of the situation, assuming that Labour would take either the unionist or nationalist side in Northern Ireland politics. However, the case made to the NEC and others over many years has emphasised consistently that Labour would be a cross-community party and, while designation continues in the Assembly, would designate as ‘Other’.

Labour in Northern Ireland issued a statement earlier today from CLP Secretary Boyd Black, indicating that a positive meeting had been held with the NEC and he is confident that 'progress is being made on all levels for us to move forward'. 
Last year I asked the question: have we been conned? I am coming closer to believing the answer is ‘yes’. It's hard to believe we'll be able to make further progress if the Party Leader truly believes what he said today. 
And I'm losing patience. Especially when some real politics might be the alternative.

Related posts: Rab and Kris


Andrew said...

Jenny Well said, saddens me but I think the direct debit is to be torn up.

Jenny Muir said...

I don't believe in direct debits, thank goodness. But it would be a tough decision even now. As Peter has said on FB, it's walking away from a lifetime of commitment.

Kristofor Ballance said...

I have always said labour wished we (NI) didn't exist and this is another fine example of its disgraceful attitude.

If Labour has such a urge to govern us like some colony instead of an actual part of the UK then it should do away with the NI secretary of state role and more importantly, Ed should never come here because frankly he's as welcome in NI as we are in being members of the Labour Party.

nick said...

"Miliband says he applauds Labour members in Northern Ireland. But he is wary of standing candidates there." Jesus, his arrogance is breathtaking. Northern Ireland is part of the UK. We should be entitled to vote for any major UK political party, the same as England, Scotland and Wales. If we can't, then we're disenfranchised. Can't he understand that simple fact?

nick said...

As for him being an "honest broker", we don't need a broker, all we need is a properly-representative Northern Ireland Executive, one that includes the mainstream UK parties alongside the destructively sectarian local ones.

epictrader said...

This sounds utterly ridiculous I'm quite sure but today is a really sad day in my life. I really care about 'most' the politics of the labour party.


Email sent off, direct debit cancelled, membership card torn up.

Au Revoir, labour.

Jenny Muir said...

Kris - but that's the point, isn't it? Let's have a Secretary of State who doesn't (can't) live here, to come over and tell us what's good for us, and with the great leader dropping in from time to time to make sure we know our place.

Nick - absolutely, no-one is forcing anyone in NI to vote Labour but they are not being given a choice. I wonder whether some of the problem is because, inevitably, we wouldn't do so well to start with, and the LP over the water would find that hard to deal with. Having said that, NI is not the same as England, Scotland and Wales (which of course are different from each other), but local LP members are very aware of that and were approaching political activity accordingly, for example welcoming Irish Labour and Labour-minded SDLP members, and Greens, into a possible left of centre coalition.

epic - I am so so sorry. I know how you feel as I might well be doing the same (minus DD which I didn't have anyway). But I don't think you'll be the only one.

Rab said...

Well, down in Strangford we're getting ready to welcome the first UKIP MLA. Nigel Farage the party leader will be at Stormont later today to make the announcement that David McNarry is joining UKIP. He'll arrive in the wake of the BNP's Nick Griffin, over here last week to electioneer at the Covenant celebrations. And then there is the Conservative party who formed an admittedly disastrous alliance with the Ulster Unionists at the last. It seems that the Rung (of all complexions) doesn't do the 'honest broker' thing.

It seems that the only time Labour ever had anything resembling a coherent policy on Northern Ireland was during the talks. But that it seems was temporary and contingent. Now it has returned to the confusion and incoherence of the past. Having pacified the place, as Kris says, Labour's position reeks of 'we wish Northern Ireland didn't exist.

One day Labour, and everybody else, may come to regret their loft, patrician attitudes. These are troubling times and at the moment Labour seem content to leave the political field open in Northern Ireland to all manner of right-wing demagoguery and bigotry.

The British Labour party won't fight elections here, but there is still the need for a left alternative to sectarianism. There is a Labour CLP. Would it consider going it alone?

Kristofor Ballance said...

Ran I'm sure there are a few in the CLP that would be happy to go it alone and set up a real Labour party here but a vast majority are more interested in the perks of greasing their way up the UK Labour party.

LeftAtTheCross said...

Jenny, I kno wyou have issues with the Workers' Party but just to mention that the party's NI conference is on Saturday 20 October in 20th October in the Grosvenor Hall, Glengall Street.

If you're looking for an alternative to sectarian politics why not come along:

"Northern Ireland Deserves Better: Amongst those addressing the conference theme of ‘Northern Ireland Deserves Better’ will be Dr Una Lynch speaking on Public Health issues, Les Allamby of the NI Law Centre on Welfare Reform and Kerry Fleck from the Youth Committee of the NI Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions addressing youth unemployment and job creation.

Party General Secretary John Lowry will be the fourth panel speaker during the afternoon session. He will be examining local political structures and the way in which Northern Ireland is governed.

The morning sessions will also include discussion and debate on Housing, Education and the Quality of Life in Northern Ireland.

Conference runs from 9.30am to 4.30pm. All welcome."

Jenny Muir said...

Rab - I have had this discussion with various Labour members (UK and Irish) over the past 8 years, which is how long I've been at this. And incidentally I'm beginning to think it would have been 8 years better spent if I'd compromised on my principles and joined a party that stood for election. Anyway - a single party would be the least best option given the history of Labour here, but events may still take us there. I worry about the practical aspects of setting up a new party though - money and time.

And your observation about right wing parties is very important. More blogging on that in future, I think.

Kris - I couldn't possibly comment! But it's true I'm sure that not every current UK Labour member would be interested in a new party, for various reasons. Many seem amazingly interested in what happens in England. I only really care about making life better here.

LeftAt - thanks for this info and it's time I got over my particular problem, which I think you know about. We need Left alliances. But did you know that's the day of the anti-cuts demo?

Peter Milner said...

In one breath Miliband talks about a 'one nation' Labour party then excludes NI out of the deal!

But more importantly, I heard Ed Miliband on the radio the other day, BBC Today, and based on what I heard he wont be leader for much longer.

It all sounded like backtracking and then re-clarifying what he said or attempted to say a second earlier with the odd word like "bold" thrown in here and there.

Definitely not a leader, as he was getting brushed off on Today quite easily.

If this British Labour thing hits the buffers, NI Labour should form as a separate party with its own identity etc.

Jenny Muir said...

Peter - I'd never assume any leader was on the way out until they actually go. They develop survival skills on the way up the greasy pole.

In relation to a new party, I think we could get over the history if we badged ourselves very explicitly as a cross community party. However, I think the real obstacle is a practical one. We would need lots of time and money. I did approach the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust last year, but they said they wouldn't fund a Labour initiative as they are linked to the LibDems - which was a surprise to me. So we'd be reliant on trade unions (unlikely, they will stick with UK Labour), a private benefactor, or donations which just won't be enough to, for example, pay an organiser's salary.

epictrader said...

Ed Miliband is an opportunist, it's what he does well. He did it to defeat his brother at the labour leadership election; he did it again at the Commons debate on Libya; again during Levinson Inquiry; on the tax cut for the rich and the Jeremy Hunt, News Corp debacle.

He'll do it again too. And come the election, he'll have his ultimate opportunity.

He has improved dramatically since the early days of his leadership and has a very thick skin. Criticism does not seem to bother him in the slightest, Ed Miliband is very relaxed and at ease with himself and believes in his own ability.

Al this does not mean he'll win come 2015, of course. But it does mean that he has a good chance.

Most of Miliband's recent popularity has only been partly due to his own personal improvement. But in the main it is due to the fact that the coalition government is extremely incompetent in policy implementation; has only one policy to define it: i.e. economic austerity; is constantly trying to bridge the gap between right wing conservatives and naturally left of centre tending liberals, and failing, and appears unable or unwilling to focus on the fine detail of policy implementation that is needed to make it implementable let alone succeed. How many u-turns have there been to date? So it is this combined with an unstable UK economy as well as a wildly unpredictable and uncertain outcome for the eurozone economy which haunts Cameron and his government.

However, it has a little over 2.5 years to get the economy moving again, and if it does, I think it will win in 2015.

On top of that, labour does not have any policies of its own at present on which to judge what direction it wants to take. Is it going to be significantly distinguishable from the Conservatives and will the electorate like what it sees if it is?

Crucially, whatever economic policies labour come up with to fight the election will seal its fate. And, frankly, we are no nearer to knowing what those will be. So it's all to play for, Ed Miliband is certainly in with a good chance but I wouldn't be getting carried away with recent polls. Much can happen in 2 and a half years.

I’m one of those who is very interested in mainland politics. But I live here and care enough about the place to have left labour because I feel its leader has insulted all the people here by turning his back on them and not getting the party involved in resolving the sectarian illness from which we suffer. I’ve heard one too many such insults from the party over the years and I’m not prepared to accept it any longer.

So, I probably would join a new, centre left party here. That said, I'd hope the local labour party here would at some stage reach a point where they felt it necessary to look in to taking legal action against the party on the mainland, if such an avenue is possible. I have long argued for this and have been told, "we aren't at that point yet". I tend to disagree with that analysis and prefer to go straight for the jugular rather than continue to prevaricate through negotiation with a reluctant, recalcitrant party leadership.

Jenny Muir said...

epic - I think UK Labour's attitude to us is even worse. Vernon Coaker last week talking about reconciliation and victims from afar, when not prepared to let us stand on an electoral platform including reconciliation, isn't even neocolonialist, it's straightforward missionary stuff, bringing wisdom to those stuck in darkness. Like you, I've pretty much had enough and that, perhaps even more than Miliband's comments, is making me feel it's the end of the road.

But Labour as a party here has a dilemma. We can't walk away from the protracted negotiations before the end, or we are the ones in the wrong. My own view if that we need to be clear about what we'll do when the announcement finally comes, as it's pretty clear what it's going to be. But the problem will be that not everyone will want to go the same way. As I said to Rab, a new party requires funding and time, neither of which I'm convinced we have.

Peter Milner said...

'So, I probably would join a new, centre left party here.'

Take it you would never join the PUP?

Re Ed Miliband, I probably would go as far as to stake my house on him not being PM, he certainly sounds unclear and unsure, he is physically not that appealing and come across as nasal, which sadly all does matter. Perhaps if he is a lucky chappy maybe a coalition arrangement could spare his blushes, but I'm not so sure.

Re the salaried organiser, it's politics, the idea is that you put out ideas to the public and if they agree they prop you up by voting for you and giving you access to offices etc to implement the ideas etc, rather than being supported by a party machine or members or big donors over the long term. I guess the volunteering ethos is key at the start, especially until such times as there is take up by the community which translates as electoral support. Of course, that said, funded positions would be v useful!

Kristofor Ballance said...

Have any of you heard Boyds interview from Good morning ulster?

1 hour 14 minutes in. Personally, sounds to me like Boyd is making Ed look like a bit of a dick (which I am fine with) and that he can't really think for himself. But he was asked straight away if he has spoke to Ed since the Q&A and he said no.

Jenny Muir said...

Peter - as you know, I think, it's always difficult to find volunteers even for our Labour party at present, because people are so busy with other things. It's all very well having ideas, but they need to be expressed coherently as a policy programme which then needs to be disseminated round the doors and also electronically. A major problem with a volunteer-based system is that a fairly big chunk of your support will not do what they say they are going to. That's why I think a paid organiser OR a volunteer who acts as if the work is their job (i.e. full time, office based, multi-skilled - retired person ideal). The LP at the moment couldn't function without Boyd's input, for example.

Kris - yes I was just setting out for work when Boyd was on, so heard it. I wouldn't have expected him to have been able to speak to Miliband and I thought he was right not to prevaricate about that. As I've said above, the party is in a difficult position about the future of negotiations but what the party does and what individuals choose to do may well be different.

epictrader said...

Peter M,

I would never join the PUP. I dont like the origins of that party though am pleased that those who created it found a more constructive outlet for their views.

Also, I think that any party which defines itself by making national identity its priority is merely placing itself in the sectarian box of politics and excluding a significant section of the community who dont share their views.

Margaret Ritchie did the same sort of thing during her unflattering reign as SDLP leader; telling the party faithful at conference that a united Ireland was the party's, "absolute priority".
This, in the context of the worst economic storm to engulf this island in 100 years.

I support the union in the sense that I believe it is the best option for all of the people here, at this time, but I do not define my views by my nationality; I'd rather things were the other way round, so to speak.

I am intested in the bread and butter politics of every day life and sincerely believe that "by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achive alone"..." to be as aspirational an attribute for any political party in Northern Ireland to have.

However, in the final analysis, it is just a pity that the party I have been a lifelong supporter of, and member of for last 3 years, could not live up to its own billing.

Jenny Muir said...

And this comment from Kathryn Johnston, previously eaten by comment modertaion:

There are four points we need to consider:

1 What Ed said and the context.

2 Where we are at with the NEC.

3 What the likely outcome with the

NEC will be (and when)

4 Vernon Coaker's response.

Did VC only agree with Ed that the party should be 'wary' of standing in elections?

Or does he go all the way, that 'I think being a part of the electoral, sort of, competition, I don’t think is a great prescription for being the honest broker that we need.'

If so, then it's a done deal and Milliband can be as 'incredibly applauding' of LPNI members as he wants, but it doesn't mean a tuppenny damn.

That being said, I find it very, very depressing that we do not have the right to stand candidates. I agree with you, Jenny, we do face a dilemma. We can't afford to wrong foot ourselves and walk into a possible trap.

I note that Andy McGivern only put his case on hold 'but may re-activate it if he does not believe Labour is offering real membership to people in Northern Ireland.'

This was on 1 October 2003 from BBC News so things may have moved on from then.

I also think that rather than falling into a potential time wasting exercise of lengthy discussions with other parties, we should be concentrating on following up the USI model, where each of the three relevant parties on the island of Ireland could meet to discuss general areas of interest, BUT would each have the right to field and/or endorse candidates.

I'm fed up hearing Labour must wait.

Jenny Muir said...

epic - it does seem as if disentanging territorial politics and socio-economic politics is going to take a bit longer than many of us would like. The Platform for Change meeting on Saturday morning was interesting about that.

Anonymous said...

Your time will come if you struggle on. Ed Miliband may be against it but other Labour people are not. Leaders come leaders go. The legal route is possible--does labour really want to defend this legally? It is embarrassing to be taken to court for not allowing willing members to stand for election. Labour's arguments will be exposed as not very good. Your NI membership seem to have very good labour values.

Kristofor Ballance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter M said...

Just out of interest, I take it you are allowed to be a PUP member and in Labour?

Peter Milner said...

also, upon reflection, I think Ed Miliband was just out of touch with the inner workings of the Labour Party and wasn't up to speed; but, I am surprised that he didn't feel a bit foolish for making a one nation speech then quite comfortably ruling out NI involvement. Shouldn't he have been more open minded to that possibility given the context?

Not that I am a big fan of one nation-ism, sounds more old school Tory to me, besides identities are fragmenting and regional identities may hold as much meaning as national ones.

But given the state of the financial sector and the Uk economy perhaps a speech about a new political economy may have been of more relevance. Maybe that will come next year.

Jenny Muir said...

Peter M - You would not be able to be a PUP member and in Labour, because the PUP is not a member of the Socialist International like the SDLP and Irish Labour.

Anon- Thanks for your encouraging words. You're not Andy Burnham, by any chance? :)

Peter - I don't understand the difference between One Nation and We're All In It Together.

Kristofor Ballance said...

Peter - the one nation speech wasn't supposed to include NI, Labour like to act as if we don't exist.

Anonymous said...

I see Ed Balls has taken a more measured standpoint today in the media on standing candidates.

Jenny Muir said...

But nothing in the Tele article about it

Jenny Muir said...

Anon - BBCNI news web site today: 'Mr Balls pointed out that the party has no tradition of candidates standing in Northern Ireland and said things had not worked out very well for David Cameron when he had interfered in local party politics'.

Not what I would call 'more measured'.