Despite our efforts, there will be no Labour candidates in NI

Eric Harvey
Eric Harvey

The people of Northern Ireland since 1945 have benefitted more from Labour Governments at Westminster than from Tory ones.

So much for praising Labour – now for criticising it!

Prior to 2003 a person living in Hollywood, California could apply for membership of the Labour Party and be accepted, yet someone living in Holywood, Co Down would have their application rejected.

It was the policy of the Labour Party that no-one living in Northern Ireland would be accepted into membership. A justification given to me by a representative of the Labour Party years ago was that the party was a member of the international socialist organisation as was the SDLP and this prevented the Labour Party from accepting into membership anyone living in Northern Ireland.

I later learned that the ISO did have two political parties from the same country and it was not unknown for them to have candidates in general elections and competing against each other for votes.

A member of the GMB trade union living in Northern Ireland announced that he was suing the Labour Party for denying him the democratic right to join the political party which governed him at times. He had the support of his union and he was prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Eventually at the 2003 Annual Conference of the Labour Party the general secretary announced that the party had been advised by its solicitors that it could not successfully defend such an action.

The National Executive of the party had decided that in the future applications for membership from people living in Northern Ireland would be accepted. The general secretary later announced that the party would organise in England, Scotland and Wales – full stop.

As if the party had been requested to stop organising in Britain!

Active trade unionists/socialists living in the Province had got together to form a group and the announcement in 2003 encouraged them to recruit more members. Eventually in 2008 the group was formally recognised by the NEC of the Labour Party as “The Labour Party in Northern Ireland”. Members went across to Britain to assist Labour candidates in various elections and it sent delegates to annual conferences.

It was the intention of the LPNI to have candidates in the 2015 general election however in January 2013 the general secretary wrote to the secretary of the LPNI informing him that the National Executive Committee had decided that there would be no Labour candidates in any kind of elections in Northern Ireland. The NEC proposed that the Labour Party and the SDLP and Irish Labour Party should have a close working relationship and invited the secretary of LPNI to attend a meeting of the parties.

The members of the LPNI were shocked at the NEC decision – “suppressing the basic democratic right of everyone in Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, to vote for the Labour Party which hopes to govern them after the general election”.

The LPNI in its reply to the general secretary said the “SDLP for all its merits is perceived to have failed to cross the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland – it often does not contest wards in predominantly Protestant areas”.

The LPNI secretary told the general secretary that in 2013 members of affiliated trade unions in Northern Ireland paid the political levy and contributed £145,851 to the Labour Party. The NEC said “their decision stands”.

The LPNI produced a booklet giving their case for a reversal of the NEC decision which was sent to every Labour MP. Despite all the efforts of LPNI there will be no Labour candidates in the general election in Northern Ireland.

The Labour NEC have never given an explanation for their ban on Labour candidates, but the following may give a clue: Years ago I attended a conference of my then trade union in England. There was a motion from the Northern Ireland region declaring that the women of Northern Ireland should have the same rights regarding the termination of pregnancy as the women of Britain. The motion was moved by a woman member of our region. She spoke eloquently. Members from other regions also spoke in favour.

It was opposed by a London delegate who declared that no decision should be made regarding until there was a united Ireland. This speaker had an Irish background as had others of the London delegation. The motion was passed by a substantial majority. The LPNI believe the women of Northern Ireland should have the same rights as women in Britain. It is not the policy of the SDLP that they should.

I believe the Labour Party do not want to do anything which they think might adversely affect the Irish vote in Britain.

Despite my criticism of Labour I still believe that it is in the interests of Northern Ireland that the party wins the election.