Friday, January 4, 2013

A new beginning

Two big decisions for the New Year: I have decided to leave the Labour Party and join the Green Party. I'm also winding up East Belfast Diary.

I have been involved with the Labour Party on and off throughout my adult life, including four years as a local councillor. Since moving to Northern Ireland, thirteen years ago, I have spent around eight years in either the Irish or British Labour Parties helping to campaign for Labour to be allowed to stand for election here. But the flags protests last month have finally made me realise that there is absolutely no point in being in a party that doesn't have any political power.

It’s no secret that I've felt sympathetic towards Green policies for some time. And I have become increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations about Labour and elections. It seems pretty clear to me that senior Labour figures are having none of it and that the party in England remains tied to the SDLP. I gather the NEC will make a decision later this month, however I've got to the point where I no longer want to be a member of a party that is so reluctant to have me as a member and clearly considers me to be a nuisance rather than an asset.

Labour in London doesn't understand the need for new politics in Northern Ireland. They continue to support a divided political system based on sharing out power between two ‘communities’, which has been a necessary stage but the time is overdue for change. Much of what I’ve written on East Belfast Diary over the past few years has been about decoupling sectarian and political identities so that Northern Ireland politics can begin to be based on different views on economic and social policies rather than on tribal allegiance. It’s time for me to join a party that is a full part of this new approach. Stephen Agnew’s speech as part of the Assembly debate on the flags protests set out what politics in Northern Ireland could look like so much more convincingly than Ed Miliband has been able to do with his fixation on being an ‘honest broker’.

The move is also an opportunity to pull the plug on East Belfast Diary. Although I do write about other things, the blog has been closely connected to Labour politics so it doesn't feel right to continue. I may start a new blog at some point in the future, but for now, it’s time to sign off.


Rab said...

Hi Jenny,

I hope this isn't your last word as a blogger. I, and I'm sure others would miss you. Start a new one soon.

Best wishes,

Jenny Muir said...

Thanks Rab - I'm sure I won't be able to resist the lure of blogging for ever, but as you will know it's hard to find the time on top of the day job... but no doubt I'll be back one day!

Supergreensunbear said...

What Rab said! I'm also really sorry to hear that you're winding up your blog. Please do hurry back with a new blog if time allows :)

Jenny Muir said...

Thank you, supergreen! I think a year off is likely but after that we'll see

Howard said...

Very sad about that. As someone who lives away in England and always hopes to return home to NI, I have found your blogs really interesting to read. I have always hoped to make a return, and so I found reading your blog interesting, coming from someone who had made that decision.

Two of your blogs come to my mind now. One in which you complain about NI people asking where you were from (for reasons of your accent). And one in which you see political parties in 10 years. Including the availability of a Labour option.

I have always shared your hope for a better politics and I think that needs a Labour option. I hope that the NEC decision next month is positive. But I agree that the present leadership of Labour (Ed Miliband and his close advisors, as well as Croaker) are against it. That might change with different leadeership, we know that others such as Alan Johnston and Andy Burnham support the idea, but since Ed M looks to be the next PM, we are talking another 10 years for such a leader to come forward. Too long and too uncertain.

The Greens with Stephen Agnew look like a good (if not perfect) substitute for Labour politics. I hope you find it less frustrating and I hope the Greens are able to grow.

Certainly, listening to some of the people in the flags protests, it struck me that a new type of politics is really needed more than ever.

But I am sure that many of your friends in Labour NI will be disappointed.

Jenny Muir said...

Dear Howard - many thanks for this, and interesting for me to hear which of my posts have stuck in your memory.

I'm feeling optimistic about the Greens, but I've been around politics for too long to expect any party to be perfect!

As I've said above, I'll take at least a year 'off' in order to reorientate myself, but after that we'll see. I think the flags protests could prompt more debate on political alternatives, as you say, but may also make Labour more cautious about agreeing candidates - quite wrongly, in my view.

LeftAtTheCross said...

Sorry to hear that you feel forced to make that move Jenny, that the inertia in Labour has brought you to this point, which is a poor enough reflection on Labour.

But good to see that you haven't given up the political struggle.

There are clearly some very progressive people in the Greens in NI and also across the water, though unfortunately there's very little evidence of radicalism down here on this side of the border after their somewhat disgraceful participation in the previous coaliation government with FF. Hopefully you'll add to that pole of radicalism within the party.

Best of luck with the new projects.

Jenny Muir said...

LeftAt - thanks for the good wishes. I have valued your comments over the years too (n.b. others I shoudl also have said that). I am of course going to be a 'red green' and it's clear to me that there are like-minded people in the NI Greens, who have already been very welcoming.

I'm aware that the Greens in NI are part of an all-Ireland party and I'm more comfortable being back in that kind of arrangement, having been a member of Irish Labour although still very much on sufference. I disagreed with the decisio to go into government with FF and the southern Greens have been paying for it ever since. Like the LibDems in England, I hope they have learned their lesson.

LeftAtTheCross said...

Thanks Jenny.

Unfortunately I don't know that the RoI Greens did learn any lessons. They elected Eamon Ryan as party leader some months after the election, and in interviews I've seen since then Ryan has been somewhat in denial about the role of the GP in propping up the FF-led government.

One would hope that a future leadership might swing in the other direction, towards the red/green roots of much of the eco-political movement here and elsewhere. What I've seen of John Barry to date looks promising for example. I have a copy of his book by my bed but there are a few others in the queue ahead of it still. Mind you he was in the WP himself at one stage, so maybe past differences there should be consigned to history and at some stage we could get to work together for a new red/green future :-)

Jenny Muir said...

I think everyone I have any political respect for here has been in the WP at some point, very interesting. And obviously scope for lots of creative tension in the Greens... a real political party....

Andrew said...

Sorry you will no longer blog here Jenny, far from surprised you have moved have left Labour for the Greens. Tonight's Belfast Telegraph conforms you are right not to waste any more energy. The news has resulted in one further canceled direct debit- my own. One Nation Labour? What tosh!
Will I go Green, maybe, the party has had my vote already, so it may well get my membership once I get over the annoyance of years of wasted Labour membership.

Jenny Muir said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Andrew. It wasn't hard to predict the likely outcome of the NEC review. I think Labour has made a big mistake in allying themselves to the SDLP and hence to sectarian politics. The 'Council of Labour' without Labour candidates is a travesty. Still, I've had a great welcome from the Green Party and hope you join me!

James said...

Welcome to the extended family from a Scottish Green!

Jenny Muir said...

Thank you, James! I think our lot (as I'm beginning to feel comfortable saying) would like closer links with yourselves.