Kris Ballance wants a leader for the whole UK

Can Labour provide a leader for the whole UK? It may seem like a strange question to ask, but it is something that party members who live in Northern Ireland ask daily.

Labour did many great things for my province while it was in government, but one thing is still outstanding – leadership.

During the last election, Cameron tried to seize an opportunity that no other party in Westminster has publicly tried to do before – he wanted to have a government that would represent the whole of the United Kingdom and would contest every Westminster seat to ensure that that happened.

Granted, it was on many levels a disaster for them. Instead of fielding their own candidates, the Tories linked up with the Ulster Unionists to agree 18 candidates between them, many of whom had grave misgivings about the arrangement and none of whom won. The victory it did provide, though, was in the public relations arena.

Finally, Northern Ireland was being asked to be at the heart of national politics and the people of the province offered a chance to take part in national, non-sectarian politics. A mainstream political leader who looked past the history and saw an opportunity for a fully representative government. And this is where my frustration lies.

Daily, I see the leadership candidates talk about their vision for Britain, in fact even the Labour website states that the campaign is to shape Britain’s progressive future. Not the United Kingdom’s.

Northern Ireland faces many challenges in the coming years. We have some of the most deprived working class areas in Europe. Community relations that need a strong influence and essential support. A political environment that is screaming for fresh ideas and leadership in critical areas such as education and employment. If these issues were found in any other part of the UK, Labour would relish and rise to the challenges, as it should. These are key Labour issues. But why do we not address them in Northern Ireland?

The next Labour leader needs to take this on and finally provide the voters with a true left of centre, non-sectarian party that will ask for support from the whole United Kingdom.

Our calls to be allowed to contest local elections are often met with a mixed response from the Westminster elite. Some of whom are still stuck in the 1970s ideology that Northern Ireland is ‘dirty’ politics and should be left to the locals. We have tried to ask our leadership hopefuls this important question, as we too have a say and a vote for leader.

The responses have been as follows:

Ed Miliband has said we need to be conscious not to disrupt the ‘peace process’, a term that hasn’t been used in Northern Ireland for many years.

David Miliband’s campaign feels we should discuss it with our ‘sister’ party the nationalist SDLP, who have no intention of ever being a cross community, non-sectarian party. Should this kind of group stop Labour progressing?

Andy Burnham has been the only candidate to come to Belfast and discuss this directly with members. He says he would trust us to make the decision ourselves on where/when to stand. The same approach as Scotland and Wales.

Lets be clear: I’m proud of Labour. The fact that I can write this as a member of the party was unthinkable until 2003 when, after decades of campaigning, the party conference passed the motion allowing citizens in the province to join the party that governed them at the time.  We are now growing. We have formed a province-wide CLP and membership is reaching the 300 mark.

Whoever becomes leader, the people of Northern Ireland have moved on from the past and so must our politics. Is Labour willing to take on the challenge that Tories have laid out and truly become the Labour party of the United Kingdom?

Tags: , , , ,

6 Responses to “Kris Ballance wants a leader for the whole UK”

  1. Andrew Scott says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the underpinning logic of this piece. The national leadership of the Labour Party has been remiss for too long in not entering politics in Northern Ireland. By doing so, it has perpetuated division and exacerbated the sectarian nature of politics. Of course, it hasn’t been alone in this.

    To suggest, as David Miliband does, that the position of the SDLP is an important consideration is to evidence the fact that he has singularly failed to think through the issues on this moving forward. The SDLP may be a more or less worthy party, but why should any voter in N.Ireland – British or Irish – be obliged first to declare themselves a nationalist before voting for a social-democratic party? There is enough separation in N.Ireland, whether in schools or in housing, without the need for national political parties cementing it in place.

    The Labour Party can play a major role in normalising public life in NI. Let’s see if it can be bothered…

  2. Alan Sheeran says:

    The UK has changed in the years since power was devolved to Scotlnd, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is, however, only slowly learning that the great debates of our time whether it is on health, the economy or education can no longer be argued out as thought they were an English-only argument.

    The practicalities of making politics work across disparate local polities in the devolved administrations means that the Labour Party has to change, and that local party structures have to make their policy decisions based on what they know will work.

    Listening to the leadership contenders, there were times when I felt they were arguing for policies that did not reflect the position in Northern Ireland, and I know from other party members in Scotland and Wales that they felt a disconnect as well.

    A leader for the future will have to recognise the importance of trusting local parties in the devolved assemblies to know their own people and their own politics. They could start by dealing with the oldest anomaly of all – the right of local members in NI to contest elections in the first place.

  3. Donal Lyons says:

    “David Miliband’s campaign feels we should discuss it with our ‘sister’ party the nationalist SDLP, who have no intention of ever being a cross community, non-sectarian party. ”

    “but why should any voter in N.Ireland – British or Irish – be obliged first to declare themselves a nationalist before voting for a social-democratic party?”

    I take it from these comments that if NI Labour were elected to Stormont they’d designate as other (i.e neither ‘nationalist’ nor ‘unionist’)?

  4. Jeff Peel says:

    Well said Kris. The Conservative pact with the UUP was a disaster – largely because it linked with an incompetent, and rudderless, and sectarian, UUP. But at least the road to hell was paved with some good intentions.

    All the prospective labour leaders have a moral and ethical responsibility to help Northern Ireland rid itself of sectarian defined politics. Our turnout at the general election was the lowest in the UK – largely because voters could not choose between one useless sectarian party and another. The bickering over ‘nationalism’ or ‘unionism’ is circular and pointless.

    It’s about time that the Labour Party contested elections in Northern Ireland. If it seeks to govern the United Kingdom it has a moral imperative to seek a mandate of govern every part of the UK.

  5. […] Labour: A Leader for the Whole of the UK? Published August 5, 2010 Opinion Leave a Comment Kris Ballance, a local Labour Party activist, has had a very useful post published over on the Labour blog site Labour Uncut… […]

  6. Jenny Muir says:

    @ Donal: I have no idea what the official position is, or indeed if there even is one, but I think many members are in the UK Labour Party because they don’t want to be in a party that seeks its support from only one part of the community, which is what being unionist or nationalist actually means. That means designating as ‘other’, as indeed the Irish Labour Party intended to do when I was a member, had it been allowed to stand candidates in Northern Ireland.

Leave a Reply