No British Labour Candidates in Northern Ireland

For hundreds of years the people of Ireland have had to endure kings and queens, colonisers, missionaries, land grabbers, politicians and soldiers coming from Great Britain and telling the locals what is good for them. 

The “natives” have been told to forget their local land system, justice systems and the way they organise their society. They have been told the English know best and the Irish had better forget notions of self-organising.

We thought such colonialism and patronizing had come to end. Sadly, those who call for the British Labour Party to stand for elections in the north of Ireland are seeking to revive this tradition.

Now, it is the case that this call for a new British invasion has, this time, partly come from people in the North of Ireland. But history tells us that happens in colonial situations. In Ireland there has always been a minority who have asked their occupiers to stay, saying their “civilisation” is better than anything the “natives” could offer. The same thing happened in many other countries – in India and in “French” Algeria for example. 

But that should not become an instruction for socialists in the colonising country. And, it is to the credit of the international socialist movement and, for most of the time the British socialist movement, that they have opposed setting up branches of the British Labour parties in Ireland.

In the late nineteenth century the Socialist International turned down the request of the British Independent Labour Party to organise in Ireland. The International said it was up to the Irish people themselves to form their own organisation. That has been the position of the International ever since. 

That is why the International today recognises the SDLP as their representatives in the North. Other socialists there support other organisations, such as Sinn Fein or People Before Profit. What all these have in common is they are all home grown, run and controlled by sections of the Irish people. For the British Labour Party to seek to supplant such organisations, to say that they know best, they, the British offer a better model, is not just the height of arrogance, it is to peddle again the age-old myth of British superiority in Ireland.

In colonial situations it does not really matter if the foreign monarchs who seek to plant themselves in the colony are good or bad monarchs. Any Labour leader, however good, would still be head of a party controlled by those whose majority reside in what most of the Irish regard as a foreign country. Even the most right-wing leadership of the British Labour Party has never stood candidates in Ireland, or since the British imposed partition of the country, the North of Ireland.

In the North of Ireland at the last election a majority voted for Irish nationalist parties. That is the way the tide is flowing. The British Labour Party should not stand in its way. Rather than seeking to impose another British plantation on the Irish, we should support Irish self-organisation and self-determination.