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 Leaving aside the fact that Labour is not currently in government, this opinion is outdated and neocolonialist. Outdated because Miliband fails to recognise that Northern Ireland politics has moved on since 1998 and there is growing disenchantment with an enforced coalition based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.