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The General Election in Northern Ireland: A Look in CLR’s Crystal Ball April 28, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in UK General Election 2010.
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The nominations closed last week, and we have 108 candidates for the 18 constituencies. In the absence of The Workers’ Party and other left groups like the Socialist Party, there is just one candidate unambiguously from the left, Eamonn McCann, standing for People Before Profit in Foyle. In terms of other candidates that identify as neither nationalist nor unionist, Alliance is running in every constituency, and the Green Party is running four candidates (and the areas in which the Greens are running suggest something about the class nature of their support). There is also 19 year old Martin McAuley (whose election agent easily has the greatest hair in Irish politics), who is running on a platform of cross-community and cross-class unity in north Belfast, and Ciarán McClean in West Tyrone, who comes from a left background, but who is running on a non-sectarian, enviromentalist platform. There is also John Stevenson in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, an independent candidate who states “Those with vested interests have never and will never succeed”, the founder of engineering firm Titanic Rebuilt 2010, said. “We are one people and we all have one future. It is a future equally shared. I am absolutely confident that our people will make the right decision on May 6.”

And that’s it. Less than a quarter of the candidates. None of these candidates, despite Alliance trying to talk up Naomi Long’s chances in east Belfast, has much chance of taking a seat, and many of their votes will be very low. The simple numbers tell us something about the weakness of those seeking to build a united community alternative, never mind a left alternative, to the tribal politics of unionism and nationalism. Even the numbers themselves are deceptive, over-representing the non-communal electorate, and the organisational strength of those involved. If you look at the Alliance candidate profiles, a lot of their candidates are standing in areas to which they have little connection. Although Alliance can get the required numbers in each constituency to sign the nomination papers, it seems that in some areas there is very little in the way of an organisation on the ground, and so candidates are being drafted in from areas in Belfast and parts of Antrim and Down where they are stronger. Next year’s elections for the Assembly and local government, where there are fewer than 10 members of the united community group, and no left members (the PUP’s Dawn Purvis probably being the most left-wing MLA), will see more candidates representative of non-sectarian and progressive politics, but without much hope of success. Eamonn McCann would be in with a strong chance of taking a council seat if Derry, but I’m not sure if he will stand for the council, and if the reform of local government goes ahead, cutting the number of councils to 11, the left’s task would become even more difficult. If the candidates committed to the united community group maintain their seats, that would probably be a good result, although the TUV’s presence may make it some gains more likely. We’ll have a better sense of that after the election.

As for the mainstream, it’s an interesting election for several reasons. The scandals surrounding the DUP, the emergence of the TUV, and the Tory-Ulster Unionist alliance make this a much less predictable election for unionism than at any time since the 1970s. I highly recommend Splintered Sunrise’s Know Your Constituency series of posts, especially the one for North Antrim, where Ian Paisley’s seat may be lost by Ian Jr to the TUV leader Jim Allister. The Ulster Unionist Party, which for 50 years ran a one party-state in the north, is seriously faced with the possibility of having no MPs. Reg Empey may be in with a chance of unseating Willie McCrea in South Antrim, and they have some hopes for Trevor Ringland in East Belfast (Peter Robinson’s seat) and for Mike Nesbitt in Strangford (formerly Irish Robinson’s seat). The DUP, which cannot expect a repeat of its vote in 2005 due to the emergence of the TUV and increased signs of life in the UCUNF, will be seeking to hold all its seats while minimising the amount of voters who defect to the UUP and TUV. The UUP needs to win at least one seat, and beyond that will have an eye on consolidating for the Assembly elections. The TUV is pushing hard to take North Antrim, and to a lesser extent East Londonderry, where former UUP MP Willie Ross is battling the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, and again will have one eye on the Assembly elections.

The only nationalist seats in danger are those in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast, which has raised the issue of electoral pacts once more. Although Gerry Kelly has been trying to talk up his chances in North Belfast, it is highly unlikely he can unseat the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, and I don’t really see any unionist seats being under threat from nationalists. His party’s joint priorities will be to hold on to Fermanagh/South Tyrone and to gain the most votes overall. The SDLP will be hoping to hold all three seats, with South Belfast the most difficult, and, as with the UUP, to gain back some ground across NI with the aim of securing their seats and possibly gaining in the next Assembly election.

So to stick my neck out, at a time where the balance of forces within unionism in particular might change, and make predictions. I think the SDLP will hold its three seats. I think the DUP will hold all its seats, though with sometimes greatly reduced majorities. South Antrim may fall to Reg Empey, but at the minute I think McCrea will narrowly hold on. It was a difficult seat for the DUP to win, and they have worked hard at trying to keep it, and the Tory link-up hasn’t had as transformative an impact as the UUP hoped. The TUV vote is again a difficult factor to judge, but I think their impact might be balanced by broadly pro-agreement unionists who shifted to the DUP between 2005 and 2007. Slyvia Hermon should hold North Down easily as an independent unionist. Which leaves us then with PSF. They should hold four out of their five seats easily. The vulnerable one is Fermanagh/South Tyrone, where I’m guessing that enough nationalists will be angry at the unionist pact to switch from the SDLP to push Gildernew over the top, and so save the seat for the incumbent. So basically, I’m predicting no change, apart from the UUP being wiped out by Herman’s resignation, which is the case now anyway. The predictions for South Antrim, South Belfast, and Fermanagh/South Tyrone are made without any great degree of confidence.

Whatever happens, this has been a bad election for the left, and a bad election for the prospect of removing sectarianism and creating what we now seem to be calling a shared future. Anybody who doubts that should have a look at the election manifestoes. With the exception of the SDLP, when it comes to the big four parties, the concept is conspicuous by its absence. What this election proves is the strategic necessity not only of left cooperation, but also that the left must be willing to work with those seeking to end communal politics, and create a new type of politics in NI based on commonality and active citizenship.

DUP Election Manifesto, SF Election Manifesto, SDLP Election Manifesto, UCUNF Election Manifesto, Alliance Manifesto, Green Party Manifesto, Eamonn McCann Manifesto

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Comments»

1. que - April 29, 2010

“Whatever happens, this has been a bad election for the left”

Garibaldy,

But which election can be held up in opposition to the current westminister round as a good election for the left.

And if that election was not followed by an election as least as good then what went wrong with the left project.

I am reluctant to describe this as a bad election for the left without discussing why and whether there has evern been a good election for the left.

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2. Ramzi Nohra - April 29, 2010

“John Stevenson”… I didnt think we’d hear that name again.

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3. Garibaldy - April 29, 2010

Que,

Perhaps on reflection I ought to have said an even worse than normal election for the left.

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que - April 29, 2010

Not trying to pick holes but I am a firm believer that we should be calling these things as another disaster for the left because otherwise we are only spinning for ourselves.

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4. B - April 29, 2010

To be fair, Garibaldy, not all who are ‘left’ agree with your analysis of what is left in the north i.e. the much idealised non-sectarian whatnot.

Some of us still consider the North part of the British state and therefore tie the struggle for national unity alongside the social.

In that case, while Sinn Fein are not fantastic, neither are they the worst. At least they:

– Are still trying to bring in a Bill of Rights
– Are proposing fiscal powers as a means of dealing with the Westminster cuts
– Have ended the 11+ and attempted to roll back prep school funding

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Mark P - April 29, 2010

The fact that SF are trying to privatise everything that isn’t nailed down may be considered to be a better indication of their “left” credentials than their support for a “Bill of Rights”.

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Leveller on the Liffey - April 29, 2010

Exactly what is the “everything” SF is “trying to privatise”?

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que - April 29, 2010

who knows leveller?

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5. Garibaldy - April 29, 2010

B,

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t consider NI part of the British state. As for the struggle for national unity doesn’t everyone except the dissidents now see it as fundamentally a matter of persuading the people of the north to accept unity?

It’s certainly true that people have different definitions of what is left. The criterion I’ve taken for the post is to identify primarily as left, rather than nationalist, unionist, or Green or simply cross-community without any commitment to social equality. So I’ve tried to reflect how the parties or individuals define themselves rather than impose my version of what is left on them. Each of the parties – with now probably the exception of the UUP – has elements in their manifesto that might be considered leftish, and as you point out some of them are very positive (and the things you cite also have the support of the SDLP, or for that matter the PUP). But those parties still choose to define themselves primarily (in the north anyway) as something other than left.

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splinteredsunrise - April 29, 2010

And even the UUP is running Fred Cobain, who’d really rather be in the Labour Party…

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sonofstan - April 29, 2010

Anyone spot Baby Doc on Prime Time being asked who the DUP would support for PM and saying they wouldn’t support a leader – DC – who wanted to cut spending in the North: this is probably just trying to scare possible UCUNF voters.

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Garibaldy - April 29, 2010

Fair point SS. Must be strange for Fred to be running on a Tory ticket, although probably eased by the fact he knows he’s highly unlikely ever to actually have to vote with the Tories at Westminster.

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splinteredsunrise - April 29, 2010

Cameron’s speech is probably not going down too well with punters in… say, East Belfast, where there are lots and lots of public sector workers and they all vote.

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Garibaldy - April 29, 2010

That’s true. Although Peter is hardly more ideologically committed to public services than the Tories. He has a much surer populist touch though.

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6. B - April 29, 2010

Garibaldy,

I’m one of those sectarian slabbering bastards who thinks to be socialist, one must be necessarily republican.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t consider NI part of the British state. As for the struggle for national unity doesn’t everyone except the dissidents now see it as fundamentally a matter of persuading the people of the north to accept unity?”

I agree that the Agreement is a ‘game changer’, but it depends how one interprets it, if you mean uncritical acceptance of the Agreement as a settlement of some sort then no. One of my big problems is that Sinn Fein are now part of the institutions rather than being able to exist outside them for something beyond them; But then how could they? The Agreement is not the end, and must be gone ‘beyond’. Neither is it inevitable that it will last.

I do agree with you that there is no explicitly left wing force in the North, and it’s most unfortunate.

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7. B - April 29, 2010

(Btw, first line is a joke! :s)

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8. Garibaldy - April 29, 2010

B,

I think the Agreement reflected the recognition by some of a fundamental reality about the only realistic means to achieve unity. Other means wre unrealistic before it. Certainly we on the left should not be uncritical of the Agreement, but I don’t think anyone on the left is. It certainly isn’t the end, but what it does to, as well obviously as ending the violence, is open the space for class politics. As for it lasting. I think that structures may change (e.g. at some point probably a shift to voluntary coalition but not for a good while) but the overall framework is here to stay.

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9. the.digger.notes - April 29, 2010

At NIC-ICTU in Derry this week Assistant General Secretary Peter Bunting said it was now time for trade union movement to build a party to represent workers’ interests in the north.

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10. B - April 29, 2010

“is open the space for class politics.”

I’ve heard this millions of times, but no-one can show me how or where – and it’s 10 years on!

In addition, class politics that ignore the national question only lead us back to the connolly-walker debate, and there is already an answer to that. This is before we do an analysis of the institutional arrangement. Let’s not lie to ourselves that it is little more than a colonial parliament.

I only see two spaces for ‘left forces':

1. A ‘non-sectarian’ NI Labour, which will inevitably be nominally unionist and social democratic. If this is ‘class politics'; I find it sadly lacking.

2. An all Ireland force to the left of Sinn Fein, creating a threat (not necessarily violent) to the effect that forward momentum towards unity must be made. It will inevitably be nationalist and ‘revolutionary’. Possibly Eirigi in the future? I would argue the present ‘dissidents’ are apolitical and merely forcing ordinary nationalists to support the present arrangements.

I think both would be welcome additions to the polity.

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11. Garibaldy - April 30, 2010

well we have already seen the beginnings of the fraying of the all-class alliances along social lines, a process that might be acclerated by cuts being implemented by both nationalist and unionist. Nothing inevitable about it, but there is greater room for it than before.

I think myself left forces should believe in workers of all countries uniting rather than being nationalist. As for a left nationalist force. There hasn’t really been much sign of an appetite among northern nationalists for a ‘revolutionary’ left force when there is an all-class alternative.

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12. Jim Monaghan - April 30, 2010

I agree with B.

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13. B - May 1, 2010

Garibaldy,

I dont see it, other than ‘NI Labour’. That is hardly ‘class politics’.

I dont disagree, but surely we also settled the national question with Lenin and Connolly following 1914…

With regard the all class SF, I agree it will dominate, but there is room for something more radical politically (have you been to Derry? ;)), and it would help/force SF’s ability to move the process forward.

By nationalist and revolutionary, I dont mean it wont focus on social issues – something sadly lacking from Eirigi at the moment in the north. But the social and national are one – real social delivery (as opposed to social democracy) is surely only possible with sovereign power – and should therefore be our long term aim?

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14. Garibaldy - May 1, 2010

B,

I’m still not sure how urging class politics in NI somehow automatically results in ignoring the national question. I’m also not sure how I comes across as not thinking that there should be one soverign power – the people of Ireland – on the island given that I am a member of a party that explicity positions itself within the republican tradition and has as its long-term aim a democratic, secular, socialist unitary state on the island of Ireland, a Republic.

But given that the Irish people has overwhelmingly agreed that unity can take place only by persuasion and consent, then the strategy must reflect that. The reoublican means of entirely breaking the connection with England are the same as they always have been – forging the unity of the Irish people by removing sectarian identification.

Any attempt to persuade people to change their minds that is based in communal politics is not going to work. Nor, I have to say, do people based in communal politics seem that interested in persuasion. A few lines about it here and there, but not much happening by way of trying to work outside their traditional support base. I don’t expect any party that functions like this to be able to move the process forward where it matters most. Which is in persuading people to change their minds. Without the development of a significant socialist force north and south, the hard work on that needs to be done both within NI and by the large parties in the south, as they will ultimately set the framework for any unification project.

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15. i4ni - May 12, 2010

‘Next year’s elections for the Assembly and local government, where there are fewer than 10 members of the united community group, and no left members (the PUP’s Dawn Purvis probably being the most left-wing MLA), will see more candidates representative of non-sectarian and progressive politics, but without much hope of success. Eamonn McCann would be in with a strong chance of taking a council seat if Derry, but I’m not sure if he will stand for the council, and if the reform of local government goes ahead, cutting the number of councils to 11, the left’s task would become even more difficult. If the candidates committed to the united community group maintain their seats, that would probably be a good result, although the TUV’s presence may make it some gains more likely. We’ll have a better sense of that after the election.’ Well the dust has well and truly settled and after yesterdays mortar bombshell (wishful thinking )

in seriousness I wondered if you could elaborate on the difficulty of the task of the Left in the North .. at present there may only be Assembly elections to contend with http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8676395.stm TBH I am swinging between the two groupings B outlined.. likewise the.digger.notes on the outcome of that meeting in Derry could you forsee a PBPA or Right to Work campaign getting off the ground.

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16. LeftAtTheCross - May 12, 2010

Are you even tongue in cheek suggesting that a mortar attack on government offices in Britain somehow advances progressive politics? FFS.

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17. i4ni - May 12, 2010

No I am tongue in cheek suggesting that and abortive surge on the gates of leinster haus and malfunctioning mortars are somewhat alike.. FFS I am more interested in how you view the advancement of progressive politics electorally next year.. but while trawling youtube videos I came across these gems from Bernadette Devlin McAliskey:

http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=9214

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18. Garibaldy - May 13, 2010

i4ni,

The task facing the left is enormous. There are, I think, 582 councillors in the north. As far as I know, not one of them was elected with socialism as their primary designation. That should say something about the scale of the difficulty facing the left.

I take it you mean you are swinging between some form of NI labour group and an organisation like éirígí. I can’t see any equivalent of the old NILP emerging for a long time, though unlike B I don’t think it would be nominally unionist. I imagine it would take the same approach as Alliance.

As for éirígí or whoever. Personally, I think that in any attempt to blend nationalism with left politics, it is the nationalism that will win out. I think if you look at what has happened with éirígí since it began to expand in the north, it is following that pattern. Making itself part of the anti-agreement dissident circle is only liable to accelerate that. Its members certainly have a flair for the dramatic but.

I think some form of cooperation or electoral arrangement between various groups on the left may not be impossible in the not too distant future, but we’ll have to see. Certainly I can see more campaigning cooperation, something that is happening more already.

Regarding a right to work campaign or whatever. The trade union movement may well throw some its weight behind something like this in the north. Whether it gets off the ground or not, I’m not sure. I think that the Assembly parties would move to get involved if something did appear popular, and try to co-opt it.

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