Labour rebels deny they’ve flopped, despite paltry vote

Northern Ireland Labour candidates launching theirManifesto at The Unite offices on the Antrim Road.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland Labour candidates launching theirManifesto at The Unite offices on the Antrim Road. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Risking expulsion from the Labour Party by standing in the Assembly election, eight Labour rebels received a total of just 1,577 first preference votes - fewer than one vote per party supporter in the Province.

The Labour Party members ran under the banner of the Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee in an attempt to pressure the Labour hierarchy into dropping its ban on contesting Northern Ireland elections, but only announced their campaign about three weeks before polling day.

Adding to the disappointing result for the Labour Party rebels, three entirely separate youthful first time candidates, campaigning under the banner of Labour Alternative, exceeded the rebel Labour group’s total by over 300 votes.

Yet, party leader Kathryn Johnston told the News Letter that the result was “absolutely phenomenal” as the group had “no organisation and no backing”.

The journalist and author said the party will continue seeking to build support, adding: “There is certainly a desire to move forward to stand”.

“There is a terrific amount of anger with the Sinn Fein-DUP axis and people want to fight back and organise against that.”

Two weeks ago, Ian McNicol, a Labour Party official, sent a letter warning the candidates they could be expelled for contesting the elections.

Ms Johnston said she was not worried and has not heard anything more on the issue from the party since. “It just absolutely beggars belief that anybody could try to expel 1,800 people for wanting the right to stand.”

Last month, Ms Johnston told the News Letter that there had been a huge increase in party membership in recent times.

She said Labour had 1,200 members in the Province and around 600 registered supporters – a figure which could put it ahead of Northern Ireland’s biggest party, the DUP, in terms of membership.

Therefore, Labour received fewer votes than it claims to have supporters in Northern Ireland.

Ms Johnston, whose late husband, the respected veteran former Sunday Times and Belfast Telegraph journalist Liam Clarke, died at Christmas, stood for the party in North Antrim. She received 243 votes.

Damien Harris in Fermanagh and South Tyrone was the most successful candidate receiving 285 votes but that equated to just 0.6 per cent of the constituency’s vote share.

Overall, the party’s vote share was a meagre 0.2 per cent across the country.

Other left wing parties, such as People Before Profit, which gained 13,761 first preference vote and had two MLAs elected, dwarfed the new party’s results.

However, the party did fare better when compared to the Conservatives, who have a much longer electoral history in the Province as the two largest parties in the UK continue to struggle to win over the electorate.

Despite backing from Secretary of State Theresa Villiers on the day of the election, the Conservatives received just 977 votes more than the NI Labour Representation Committee.

Labour stumbled across the Uk, as the party was pushed into third by the Conservatives in Scotland and fell short of a majority in the Welsh Assembly.

However, the party did not lose as many council seats as some had predicted and Sadiq Khan became London’s first Muslim mayor.