Ulster Labour brand Miliband “colonial oppressor” over refusal to stand candidates
Boyd Black, the secretary of Labour’s Northern Irish branch, last week branded Ed Miliband a “colonial oppressor” for his determined refusal to put his prospectus to the Ulster electorate. The terminology will doubtless leave many of the traditional, Republican-leaning Labour members splutting – anti-colonialism is an IRA claim, after all. But the anger is understandable.
Labour has not contested elections in Ireland in a century. After holding the party conference in Belfast in the early 1900s, the party leadership decided to leave the entire island to the Irish Labour Party. They did not revisit this decision after partition and the creation of Northern Ireland, nor in any decade since.
Indeed, Labour policy was for a long time one of active hostility to the British loyalties of the majority of Northern Ireland’s majority. MPs with Irish connexions such as Kevin McNamara helped to ensure that Labour’s official policy was “reunification by consent”. In recent times this has switched to simply supporting whatever the majority in Northern Ireland choose to do.
In the meanwhile Northern Ireland has been largely bereft of labour politics. The Northern Ireland Labour Party had an MP at once stage but is long since gone. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) votes with Labour in parliament and adopts the right airs, but as a nationalist party is much more a home to well-to-do Catholics than working class Protestants, who have become dangerously disengaged from the entire political process – as the flag protests demonstrate.
Labour people in Northern Ireland have had a much harder time of it than their Conservative opponents. During the high tide of integrationism in the 1990s, the Tories embraced the need to stand in the province and came close to winning North Down in 1992. By contrast Labour refused to even allow Northern Irish residents to join the party until they were forced to under threat of legal action. Miliband’s oft-stated commitment to neutrality – so as to be an ‘honest broker’ in inter-communal disputes – was in evidence as far back as 2011, as I wrote on my old blog.
Hopefully, this will change. Black’s attack on Miliband came at the launch of a new internal campaign group aimed at getting Labour into Northern Ireland (the first, I believe, since the 1990s), with the backing of MPs and peers. I wish it every success – the people of Northern Ireland deserve the opportunity to vote for the parties that will govern their country, even if (as with the NI Conservatives) few of them take it.
Europa defensatrix! Plaid leader takes tough line against “anti-Welsh” UKIP
Chalk one up to the Welshness police. Through constant vigilance and a ruthless willingness to act in defence of Welshness, Plaid Cymru have achieved an important victory in a fight against the ‘far right’. That’s right: they have sacked a UKIP councillor from the post of cabinet member for ‘Lifestyle Services and Waste’ after he joined the party, formerly being an Independent.
It’s not up there with running Nigel Farage out of town with a mob – the Scottish nationalists still lead on that score. But their Welsh brethren can nonetheless be proud of their role in stamping out a party described by their leader Leanne Wood as “having no place in our country”, a vote for which is “a vote against Wales”.
Not everyone in the party was comfortable with this – apparently former leader Lord Elis-Thomas warned against the presumption that any party could pronounce on who was or was not Welsh according to their political leanings, and called Woods’ comments “facile”.
But her remarks were made as part of a broader rallying cry against “Europhobia”, delivered at Plaid’s spring conference. Keeping Eurosceptics away from the levers of power – even over rubbish collections – is probably vital to ensuring that this is not “our last European election.” Somehow.
Villiers declares an end to ‘amnesty letters’ as investigations begin
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has announced that the government has ended the “letters of comfort” programme which granted effective amnesty to dozens of wanted republican terrorist “on-the-runs” (OTRs). Apparently there hasn’t been such a letter issued since December 2012.
This is still more than eighteen months after this government took office. Writing for the News Letter Alex Kane, unionist and former aide to Enoch Powell, takes Villiers and the government to task for perpetuating the ‘politics of secret deals’ for so long after entering government back in 2010. He points out that, according to Villiers’ own speech, the government did not definitively close the programme so much as decide to change the way it worked: new cases would be referred to the devolved authorities – although neither the Alliance Party nor the unionists were informed about the system, despite serving on those self-same authorities.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to wonder, as Kane does, why a government who claims to be so appalled by the system in the backlash against the collapse of the John Downey trial kept up the system, in secret, for so long after entering office. To this end Lady Justice Hallett has been appointed to chair an independent review of the OTR scheme. Her review will examine in detail how the scheme operated, what its purpose was, and its legal implications as well as the impact on the victims of terror, thirty of whom protested outside Downing Street at the weekend.
Questions for Davidson?
The Scottish Conservative conference is coming up next weekend. Your columnist, alas, will not be there. But all is not lost – the BBC is organising a webchat with Ruth Davidson, and has asked the public for questions. You can find the contact details here.