The General Election result has come as a sickening blow to Labour members in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Hopes of a government that would produce a fairer, juster society have been dashed for now. Instead we are in for at least five years of Tory government led by Boris Johnson whose “One Nation Conservatism“ rhetoric will not take long to unravel .
In due course members in NI will need to produce a considered assessment of the factors that contributed to defeat, as well as plotting a route to recovery. It is hoped that such an assessment would be submitted by the CLP to Labour NEC.
It is inevitable that internecine recriminations are taking place , particularly in the instant, feverish and often incontinent commentary context of social media , with Leavers blaming Remainers; Blairites blaming Corbynistas etc.
However Labour’s top priority now must be to re-group, elect a new leader and unite behind that person. Balanced assessment of what went wrong and how to best move forward should then take place, hopefully without prolonged fratricidal in-fighting which could lead to a terminal fracturing of the party.
A large majority of NI CLP members voted for the Corbyn leadership and direction of policy travel. Many of us will feel indebted to Jeremy Corbyn despite the party’s continuing NI electoral ban. It seems unlikely that LPNI would support a knee jerk reversion to a radically more rightist policy agenda. But of course members will be able to express their views at our GM in January.
The key question to be going on with is :
“What happened that Labour was unable to surge on from the very creditable 2017 result , where it gained 40% of the vote? “
The obvious answers are to be found around :
- The party’s policy convolutions in response to Brexit and the threat of a Tory No Deal scenario;
- Public perception of the leader and party in the light of two and a half further years of unrelentingly vicious media attacks;
- The “For Real Change” manifesto and flurry of last minute add-ons;
- Campaign management issues.
In Northern Ireland there was a very significant 8.8% swing to the Alliance Party with Stephen Farry winning comfortably in North Down despite confident predictions from pundits that the DUP would prevail. In the end the DUP shed 5.4% of its overall vote . The other big story was the return of the SDLP to Westminster with two seats at the expense of the DUP and Sinn Fein . Interestingly an alliance of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party combined in support of the SDLP. Quite a “sisterhood”! Meanwhile , whilst abstentionist SF ousted Nigel Dodds , the DUP’s leader at Westminster , its vote dropped by 6.8 % .
Clearly many voters were expressing anger at the irresponsibly prolonged absence of SF and the DUP from Stormont at a time when the health service was descending into desperate crisis. Leading SF and DUP figures popped up on striking nurses’ picket lines despite the fact that their parties had supported ending pay parity with GB!
As the middle ground in NI expands it is clear that the need for a cross community Labour party politics remains as pressing as ever.
In the fervently polarised context of Fermanagh and South Tyrone , LPNI’s tireless health and social care campaigner Caroline Wheeler achieved a very creditable 754 votes after fighting a very impressive campaign . Caroline stood with the support of LPNI as an Independent on Labour and trade union policies and we are sure LPNI members will want to thank and congratulate her.
Further analysis and discussion will take place in due course at the next LPNI GM taking place in January.
Labour Party Northern Ireland Executive.