If I lived in Northern Ireland, I wouldn’t know who to vote for. I don’t have a real opinion on whether the six counties should be part of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland, and I’m a left-wing socialist, so many of the main Northern Irish parties are out of the question for me. The history of Sinn Féin puts many of my Labour NI comrades off voting for them. The SDLP, despite claiming to be left-wing social democrats, are quite conservative with many of their representatives opposing equal marriage and abortion. The Alliance Party is the sister party of the Liberal Democrats and is far more socially liberal than the DUP or SDLP, supports equal marriage, opposes sectarianism and takes a neutral stance on the union, however they are still too right-wing for many voters. The Green Party of Northern Ireland is a good bet for socialists, but they are still small and usually don’t stand candidates in all constituencies at Westminster or Stormont.
The Labour Party does have a branch in Northern Ireland but it isn’t currently allowed to put candidates up for election. The branch backed Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election partly because he was committed to an immediate review of the ban on official Labour candidates standing in Northern Ireland. In the 2016 leadership election, thirty-three Northern Ireland CLP members abstained from nominating a candidate, with some saying they made their decision because neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Owen Smith supports the party’s right to stand in Northern Irish elections.
In the 2016 Stormont elections, some Northern Ireland CLP members stood under the tag of ‘NI Labour Representation Committee’ and received a total of 1,577 votes, about half the vote share of the NI Conservatives, and the anti-capitalist People Before Profit Alliance received 13,761 votes and won two seats. This suggests there is an appetite for a real Labour movement in Northern Ireland.
I feel a left-wing democratic socialist party with a neutral stance on the union would be hugely beneficial for politics in Northern Ireland as it could trigger a political interest for some non-voters, increase engagement between party members, attract the diminishing SDLP vote and even has the potential to win over some reluctant DUP/UUP voters who would rather not support such regressive parties but often vote based on a nationalist-unionist scale rather than left-right.
To sum it all up: there are many disillusioned voters in Northern Ireland who feel alienated by the politics of the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Sinn Féin, and would like a new political movement with a message of hope. Labour has what it takes to provide the working class people of Northern Ireland with a better future.
I live in the constituency of Doncaster North so Ed Miliband is my local MP and most voters round here consider him a nice man and good politician, myself included. Last year, I was fully expecting Miliband’s Labour Party to win the general election and begin improving living standards for the poor and vulnerable after five years of an abysmal Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, but unfortunately, I was wrong, and so were the countless opinion polls that had suggested David Cameron would be defeated. In the end, Labour lost twenty-six seats across Britain as the party collapsed in Scotland and made very few gains in England and Wales. The Conservative Party ended up winning a majority of parliamentary seats and continued causing distress for the working class.
The election results made it clear Labour had lost touch with much of its core vote since 1997. The party’s vote share got lower and lower throughout the Blair/Brown years, to the point where we received a measly 8,606,517 votes in 2010. Miliband brought almost 1 million voters back and deserves credit for that, but sadly it did not result in parliamentary seat gains. The 2015 election results also showed that UKIP was making advances in traditional Labour areas such as Doncaster, Workington and even Merthyr Tydfil, which used to be Keir Hardie’s seat.
After Miliband resigned, a veteran backbencher named Jeremy Corbyn stood for leadership of the party against fellow MPs Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, all of whom had frontbench experience. I was not a member of the party at this time, but I supported Burnham from the shadows, although I could see the appeal of both Corbyn and Cooper. In the end, Corbyn managed to win the leadership election against all odds with an enormous vote share of 59.5% compared to Burnham’s 19%, Cooper’s 17% and Kendall’s tiny 4.5%.
After Corbyn was elected leader, the right-wing media predictably started an almost libellous campaign against him – taking comments he’d made years ago out of context, accusing him of having no morals and even making up nonsense about various members of the shadow cabinet. I wasn’t sure about him at first, but am very sceptical of the media so started talking to ordinary voters in my community and asking for their opinions on the newly elected Leader of the Opposition. Thankfully, most seemed to harbour very positive views. One man excitedly told me “he’s taking the party of working people back to it’s roots” and mentioned his dislike of former Prime Minister Tony Blair – a man Owen Smith once looked up to with great admiration.
Fast-forward to February 2016. David Cameron finally confirms the date of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Nearly everybody I know continues to support Labour and Corbyn, but most have been lifelong eurosceptics who had planned to vote leave ever since the government first promised a referendum in 2010, and Doncaster ended up voting Leave by 69% to 31% for Remain. I had predicted a similar result for months prior to the referendum, but Stronger In campaigners on social media often refused to believe me. There were many reasons for the huge Brexit support – not many people here think Westminster cares for our community and simply wanted to stick two fingers up at the establishment, some had legitimate concerns about the austerity imposed on other EU nations, others were unhappy with certain EU legislation, and while it pains me to say it, a small number of people voted leave simply because of immigration.
I honestly don’t know anyone who cast their vote in the EU referendum based on advice from their favoured politcal party, and even if they did, I don’t believe for one second that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown could have put across a more convincing pro-EU message than Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell.
Some Labour voters did not realise the party backed Remain, but I certainly wouldn’t blame that on the leadership. The Labour In For Britain campaign never once knocked at my door or delivered any leaflets on my street, but the official Vote Leave campaign sent me lots of campaign material quoting Brexit-backing Labour MPs including Gisela Stuart and Frank Field.
Now, Owen Smith stood on shaky ground when he admitted it would be “tempting” to block Brexit, potentially alienating millions of voters in traditional Labour areas, particularly in North East England, Yorkshire and South Wales. I initially thought Smith would be quick to change his views on the matter considering his council area of Rhondda Cynon Taf voted leave, but in the first live leadership hustings of 2016, he claimed our party should continue the fight to Remain – effectively ignoring a democratic decision favoured by a whopping 17,410,742 voters.
Polls show there is little appetite for a second referendum, and I cannot see it being a popular policy outside of 60%+ Remain cities such as London, Cambridge, Oxford, etc.
The Liberal Democrats have already taken the “ignore democracy” approach, and if Labour adopted the same stance, a huge number of left-leaning, Brexit-supporting, working class voters would end up with nowhere to turn to. In fact, UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe noted Smith’s comments on Twitter and claimed UKIP needs to “ruthlessly target Labour seats” as a result. This may sound like a petty complaint, but its one of the main reasons we need Corbyn to emerge unscathed from this contest – we must prevent UKIP gains at all costs.
Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not a perfect leader, but at least he is a principled man with popular socialist policies who respects the electorate and has ruled out overturning the Brexit vote.