What is the Labour Party's hang up about allowing our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland(NI) to have full rights of Labour Party membership?
It took a serious threat of winnable legal action in 2003 to get the Labour Party to allow people in NI (for the first time) to purchase Labour Party Membership Cards.
As Labour has no structure in NI and does not wish to run candidates for Local, Assembly or Parliamentary elections it is not surprising that only around 100 people have since joined us in the Province. That works out at 5 or 6 per Constituency, compared to the mainland average of around 330.
Far from Labour engaging in the recruitment of members in NI, it places blocks in the way of people joining as you will see from this.
Next Small Step
Further legal action has now obliged the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party to take the next grudging step towards making such Labour Party membership meaningful. It has decided to allow members in NI to send a delegate to the Labour Party Conference, to vote someone on to the National Policy Forum and to establish its own Regional Policy Forum. But only when its membership passes the 200 mark.
Too Far For Some
According to the current issue of Socialist Campaign Group News, Dianna Holland and Peter Willsman voted against this small advance arguing that it was "the thin edge of the wedge" and that our card carrying comrades in NI would next be demanding the right to stand candidates. Shudder such thoughts: next our comrades will be like the Chartists and the Suffragettes in wanting to have political representation for people such as themselves !
What Is The Problem, Dianna and Peter ?
If the Labour Party in NI could see opportunities to participate in the electoral game, then why should they alone throughout the United Kingdom be refused this right? This certainly could not have been the view of Keir Hardie and company in the days when the Labour Party was made up of affilated Trade Unions, Trade Councils and Socialist Societies such as the Independent Labour Party. For Labour's 1907 Annual Conference was held in Belfast.
Surely, NI people can aspire to vote for or against a Party which forms its Government in Westminster. Watching Labour Party Conferences, might be a minority pastime. But as the people of NI are just as entitled as the rest of us to be spectators, surely they should not be barred from being full participants as well.
Are the people of NI ever to be entitled to vote Labour, or are they to be permanently restricted to deciding between the extremes of the likes of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams ? In fact, the more Sinn Fein grows at the expense of the SDLP, the more redundent becomes the failed old argument that Labour people in NI (Protestants included) should really vote for our Sister Party - instead of for ourselves.
For Labour, the issue of whether we are for a United Ireland, for permanent intregration of Northern Ireland into the UK or for the logic of the Belfast Agreement is a matter for our own internal democratic structures.
Of course, our internal Labour Party democracy is itself in need of considerable improvement. But in tackling this problem, those 100 members from NI are also entitled to their full say.