Fabians Join In the Crack
When Fabianism and Northern Ireland come together, I am bound to take an interest.
I rejoined the Fabian Society when I retired from parliament, having been a Local Society Secretary nearly 50 years ago. Speakers in those days included the local Labour MP, Mannie Shinwell. Whilst only last week I addressed the Sheffield Fabians even though I was somewhat under the weather.
On Northern Ireland, I served for almost a decade on both its Commons Select Committee and on the British Irish Parliamentary Body. So I was hardly ever away from the island of Ireland in that time. Yet I had never once visited the north or the south until I became an MP.
Labouring in Ulster
There are around 100 members of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland. They have no Regional or Constituency structure and the national Labour Party makes no efforts to recruit members or to run candidates.
It is only after a legal threat, that Labour decided to allow a Regional Forum to be set up if the membership in the Province ever reaches 200.
The Fabian Society has now stepped in by setting up a Local Society in Northern Ireland. As the Fabian Society has been affiliated to the Labour Party ever since the latters initial formation in 1900, this could be a significant move for those looking for Labour to have a future in Northern Ireland politics. It might even encourage those attending its discussions to join the Labour Party and for the Labour Membership to nudge nearer that 200 threshold.
Fabians Need To Be Well Red
But nothing is ever simple in Northern Ireland politics, even if we do now have a Paisley-Adams Alliance. In setting up a Local Society in Northern Ireland, the Fabians have changed their normal rules for membership.
Normally, membership of a Local Fabian Society is open to those who are eligible for membership of the Labour Party. Others can join as affiliates.
But for Northern Ireland purposes, the Fabians will also allow members of the SDLP and the Irish Labour Party to join their Local Society. Why are they doing this, when the people concerned could join in any case as associate members?
Labour has cultivated a position in Northern Ireland which is neither Green nor Orange, in order to enhance the principles contained in the Belfast Agreement. Why are the Fabians (who have a special relationship with the Labour Party) saying they prefer to accommodate the Green rather than the Orange?
Is it not better to keep out of these sectarian games? I managed to be immersed in the politics of the island for a decade without getting myself into a great deal of hassle. I always claimed to be neither Green nor Orange, but to be Red. It is something I recommend to the Fabian Society who certainly at one time used to be a bunch of democratic socialist intellectuals. They should know the significance of colour coding for Northern Irish politics.