I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for over two years, in that time the party in Northern Ireland has faced a lot, from shifts in leadership to a group resignation of officers and the general indifference of our comrades over the water. That’s not even to mention the growing frustration among a significant portion of our rank and file members, myself included, at the continued ban on Labour candidates standing for election in Northern Ireland. So an obvious question is probably crossing the mind of anyone reading this: with so many issues and being unable to do the thing most typical of a political party, why am I still a member?
When telling a story it’s always best to start from the beginning, so I’m going to start with why I joined the party in the first place. There are two main reasons why I joined the party: the first reason will probably be the same for a lot of people who joined around the same time as me and that is the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. While that’s a bit cliché, it is hard to doubt the presence of someone who expressed views that I held but that I thought were not a feature of mainstream politics in pushing me towards the Labour party. The second reason requires an explanation of my character and the character of one of my friends, who will stay anonymous. I am very sure of my principles and when someone expresses an opinion I disagree with I generally try to persuade them to see the issue in the same way as I do, this was also true of my friend, although the set of principles were very different. This as you can imagine lead to a rather specular range of arguments, from a woman’s right to choose, to equal marriage, to whether refusing to make a cake was discrimination or not. It was at the end of one of the arguments that he said “you have all these values, but you’ll never make any difference unless you join a party”. I went to my first Labour party meeting later that week.
I’m a socialist, I’m a feminist and I’m a secularist, and because I haven’t come across any other party that is as dedicated to these principles, that has undoubtedly been a factor in keeping me in the Labour party. This also links very well to one of my core beliefs about Northern Ireland: that to truly have a future as a country we must pursue that future together; not as unionists or nationalists but as equals who have a shared interest in the success of our country. This is why I’m so committed to being a member of a party that is not just non-sectarian in principle but also, in practice, a party that can unite people from across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum towards a shared set of goals for a brighter future.
This is why I believe there is a real need for Labour politics in Northern Ireland. Not just for the principles of nationalisation and collective ownership that could help end rip off monopolies and democratise the work place, but for the practical steps such as investment in social and affordable housing, increased funding for the NHS to try and the undoing of damage done by years of cuts, and improved provision of mental health services, all of which could have a massive impact on the people of Northern Ireland. There are several strong examples of the impact this could have that can be found by looking at my home constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which has a suicide rate four times the national average but has seen no government prevention strategy. I’m not saying this issue has any easy answers, but if in trying to solve the issue we save just one life then it’s worth all the trying in the world. This is just one example of one issue in one constituency where the implementation of Labour politics over the existing sectarian narrative could have a real positive impact on normal people’s lives and, due to this issue and many other, I believe that the Labour Party could have a positive impact on people’s lives and is the reason that I will remain a member.
So, to summarise, despite all its issues, Labour has the potential to have a massive, positive impact on the people of Northern Ireland, through creating policies around people’s actual problems and not just about whose flag gets to fly where, but also by providing a vehicle for the values I have already laid out, which, while present among the people of Northern Ireland, have very rarely made it into the Stormont political sphere.
Jack is a 19 year old socialist and member of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland as well as QUB Labour