Louise Haigh, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary:
“It’s not my job to be a persuader for the union.”
“And men and women then a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not there,
And hold their adulthoods cheap whiles any speaks
That campaigned with us upon the 1st of May.”
“Yesterday (Monday 29th November) the opposition Labour party had a reshuffle of its shadow cabinet.
This would not usually be anything of note for this blog, as it is the stuff of politics rather than of policy and law.
But there was one change that caught the eye.
The shadow Northern Irish secretary Louise Haigh was switched to the transport brief.
This was, to say the least, a shame.
Haigh had developed expertise and insights into the post-Brexit problems for Northern Ireland and the border dividing the island of Ireland.
She made a particular point of visiting Northern Ireland and Ireland regularly, so as to listen and understand the issues surrounding the Northern Irish Agreement.
She also had not only read the Good Friday Agreement (unlike some ministers), but she also understood it.
There was no better opposition politician to be in place while during reckless, erratic antics of Brexit minister David Frost and his constant threats to trigger Article 16 for no good reason.
And now, all that is lost, and the opposition front bench has to start again.”
“A Labour government in Britain would remain neutral on the question of Irish unity in any future Border poll, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh has said. She described Labour as a unionist party but said the Belfast Agreement meant that the British government should not act as a persuader on one side of the argument.
“The principal of consent is still very much intact. It is only for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future and polls still suggest there is still a very firm majority in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom,” she told GB News.
“It’s not my job to be a persuader for the union, that was an important principle that led up to the Good Friday Agreement. One of the important principles was that Britain should not have any strategic or selfish economic interest in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It’s up to the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said in July that he would be “on the side of unionists” arguing for Northern Ireland to remain in the UK.”
I wonder if Londoner born and bred, Starmer understands that the Irish diaspora vote has a tendency to trend towards Labour in places like Birmingham and that saying Labour would campaign in a border poll with the ultra Unionists has the potential to lose my party way more votes in elections than it might ever gain?
Was his declaration of intent more rather pathetic wooing of the Red Wall Tory vote that seems designed to alienate Remain supporters; liberals; small business people; One Nation Conservatives; 2015 General Election Tory voters, 25% of whom are believed to have voted Remain in 2016; trades unionists …
Is Claire Ainsley’s and Deborah Mattinson’s post General Election book to be entitled “50 Ways to Lose a General Election” or, perhaps, “Keir Starmer: Our Part in his Downfall”?
Although surely even they would not include a chapter on how to woo support in Northern Ireland, the White House and on the Hill by siding with ultra Unionists in Northern Ireland? A policy doing wonders for Boris Johnson and Lord Frost.
The Corbynistas, predominantly located in London, bang on about Israel/Palestine, but here in Birmingham it has been a matter of little or no interest amongst the Muslim community in my city, to my knowledge for decades.
In Birmingham, it is not a pukka (God, those pies are awful!) Labour Party meeting if a Muslim chap with links to, if not property in Pakistan does not bring up Kashmir, usually at some length.
Invariably inviting the traditional, world weary response from the meeting chair, “Sorry, comrade, is there a question in there?”
Yvette Cooper came here in 2015 during the Labour leadership election and found a goodly amount of the Question and Answer session in her campaign meeting taken up by a rambling comment about Kashmir. I think the gentleman in question did not quite get around to seeking her position on independence for Kashmir.
Labour has a decades old policy, agreed at conference, just like the one it has on Israel/Palestine that Corbyn did not get around to changing.
And I surely do not need to tell you about my party’s commitment to pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland?
“The Irish interest in Birmingham, it has included electioneering for the Irish general elections in recent decades past, baffles many, but it reflects the centuries old connections between the settlement and the country.”
Traditionally, Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland is the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
The SDLP has in the past sat on whichever side of the House of Commons that the Labour Party is sitting and currently has two out of the Northern Ireland seats at Westminster.
The Labour Party does not organise and campaign in Northern Ireland for elections there. Although the party does have individual members registered there.
“Labour opponents of so-called progressive alliances interpret the party’s own rule as saying it must under its constitution stand candidates in all parliamentary seats, in either general elections or byelections, except in exceptional circumstances. But this is disputed by advocates of co-operation who say no such rule exists.”
London Labour has a long standing, informal agreement with the SDLP not to stand candidates at elections in Northern Ireland.
London Labour has by lengthy custom and practice accepted the principle of standing down candidates at election time in order not to harm the electoral chances of parties with which Labour shares much in common.
The SDLP has until very recently taken a strong stance against the liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland. Hardly a minor issue of disagreement between Labour in Great Britain and the SDLP in Northern Ireland and at Westminster.
Election pacts are not alien to the Labour Party’s traditions.
In 1903, an agreement was made between Herbert Gladstone (the then Chief Whip of the Liberal Party) and Ramsay MacDonald (Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee) that, in thirty constituencies, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would not stand against each other, and thus would avoid the risk of splitting their vote. As a result of this agreement, in contests against the Conservative Party, 29 Labour MPs were returned at the 1906 General Election and the Liberal Party achieved a landslide.
Highlights of the Liberal Government that followed, included a commitment to Free Trade (lower food prices and a wider range of goods and foodstuffs in the shops) …
… and the establishment of the Welfare State by David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill that included the enactment of an Old Age Pension and the establishment of Wages Councils.
The SDLP party platform advocates Irish reunification.
Should one or more SDLP members be returned to the Westminster Parliament at the next General Election along with other parties favouring reunification then Labour might find itself in a bit of a spot, if it needed their support to keep the Tories out of Number Ten.
Starmer and the advisers he personally appointed are just not very good at the nitty gritty of politics and in hock to the Scottish Labour Party with its determined opposition to another independence referendum that might prove to be the price of Scottish National Party support in a hung Westminster Parliament.
Welsh Labour has set up a commission to consider the position of the principality within the United Kingdom and its deliberations will include independence for Wales.
Monday 29th November’s London Labour Shadow Cabinet reshuffle was Old Labour, pre New Labour at its very worst.
Wasting a day of campaigning in the week of an important Westminster Parliament by election and disrupting campaigning for the following three days.
The Shadow Cabinet or as many of them who were available should have been out pounding the streets of Old Bexley and Sidcup on Monday, not being engaged in all the excitement of a reshuffle.
How much better might Labour have done in Old Bexley and Sidcup on Thursday 2nd December, if Team Starmer had not indulged itself itself in the displacement activity of that Shadow Cabinet reshuffle on the Monday preceding it?
Divided parties or those perceived to be divided do not generally do as well as those putting on a united front.
The average voter does not understand the significance of the 1922 Committee undertaking a home visit to the leader of their party nor does the average voter see a thin Government bench at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
They will probably take more notice of …
If Lisa Nandy had had her way back in 2016, a third of the Shadow Cabinet would now be elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party.
At one time, it used to be the whole of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet. All of whom became redundant when Labour took office as the Prime Minister had free reign to put whomsoever they desired in their Cabinet.
A two Johns sketch from back in the day (that I have yet to track down) had John Fortune interviewing John Bird, who was posing as a Labour Party apparatchik, in the aftermath of a General Election.
Bird says he is relieved that the General Election is over so they may now focus on the real elections.
“Real elections?” asks Fortune.
“Yes, to the Shadow Cabinet, the National Executive Committee …”
The 1922 Committee visited Boris Johnson in Number Ten last week.
Only a resounding victory in this week’s by election will improve Johnson’s credit with the men in grey suits.
Labour did not have to win on Thursday 2nd December, just reduce the Tory candidate’s vote share as against the 2019 General Election to lower Johnson’s credit further.
Labour did come a strong second, but, odds on, more might have been achieved.
The weightier the Labour vote share and swing to Labour in a by election, the larger the number of Tory MPs eyeing the size of their majority and considering their prospects at the next General Election and the greater their concern about Johnson’s leadership.
Corbyn and his coterie may have gone, but too often it is still amateur hour in the Labour leader’s office.
How else do you explain moving on an impressive Shadow Minister whose friendly connections and contacts might be crucial after the next General Election?
A bit of a dig there at Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves from a Labour Member of Parliament, who saw off a challenge from a chap called Michael Portillo at the 1983 General Election.
There was at least one occasion prior to the 1997 General Election when one might have asked, “Were you up for Portillo?”
I was certainly up on the more famous occasion and had been since around 05:00 that morning of May 1st.
Bliss it was to see those results coming in after 23:00 in the Councillor’s box at the electoral count at Birmingham’s (Inter)National Indoor Arena.
Here, though, is a cautionary tale.
In the early hours of Friday 2nd May 1997, I was with a senior Councillor at Clare Short MP’s victory party.
We got chatting with young folk for whom this was their first General Election as activists, if not voters as well. Both myself and the Councillor are centrists and pragmatists. And we like to win.
We were adamant that Labour had to move fast to bring in some electoral system for the Westminster Parliament that better reflected the votes cast on practical grounds, if for no other reason.
They were convinced, adamant even, that the Tories had not just been vanquished at the previous day’s General Election, but were down and out for all time, too.
Like Dracula, we both said, the Conservative Party would rise again.
Electoral reform might not drive a stake through its collective heart, but it might diminish their capacity to dominate the politics of our nation.
Elections to the Senedd, itself founded by Labour in its first term after the 1997 General Election are by the Additional Member System.
Welsh Labour has never had a majority of the seats in the Senedd since devolution, but it has led every Government in Wales in that time in formal coalition or alliance with Opposition parties or with their active support.
On Saturday 27th November 2021, Plaid Cymru members backed a Senedd deal with Labour.
A Progressive Alliance was born in Wales!
Lloyd George, possibly a distant relative of mine, once remarked that you may keep your political principles pure and shining bright and not get your hands on the levers of power or get them a little tarnished, get your hands on the levers of power and do something for the good of the people.
Lloyd George the radical, reforming Liberal Chancellor between 1908 and 1915
He also said …
“For now, the Labour Party cannot fulfil its historic mission. Its limitations have been there from its inception, particularly its estrangement from Britain’s great Liberal tradition – Gladstone, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge. Except for the period of New Labour, it has never succeeded in being in government more than six years; and the devastating cul-de-sac it went down over the past decade has made those limitations worse, possibly endemic.”
One more heave in a Westminster General Election, Labour, is not going to drive the Tories out of Number Ten and get things done.
It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over, again, and expecting a different result.
And it may be, it may be, then that the Labour Party is now too stupid a party to last as a major force in British politics.
“… we need a new progressive movement; a new progressive agenda; and the construction of a new governing coalition.”
“… above all, decide whether it’s about them or about us, about the people or about making us feel good about ourselves. If it’s about them, then winning is the top priority. That means a professional organisation, strategy, preparation, not deluding ourselves that belief in our own righteousness is enough.”
London Labour needs to agree alliances, formal or otherwise, well before the next General Election in the expectation that they will help maximise the number of Opposition seats won at that election and help consolidate power, thereafter.
“Britain’s next government will be some kind of coalition. That can be said with confidence, not because the outcome of the next general election is predictable, but because all governments, even those consisting of one party, are some kind of coalition.”
In the immortal words of John Smith MP, Leader of the Opposition, uttered at the end of his last ever public speech at Labour’s 1994 European Gala fundraiser on the night before he died.
“We will do our best to reward your faith in us,
but please give us the opportunity to serve our country,
that is all we ask.”
There are no caveats in that sentence about not entering into alliances.
Labour needs its Louise Haighs where they will do the most good for the party and the country, but may be my party prefers the purity of Opposition to rolling up its sleeves and getting things done in the service of our country?
We know Corbyn preferred winning the moral argument to the burdens placed on office holders and the compromises required of those who govern.
Does Starmer really just want some updated, better performed variation on Corbyn’s theme?