The problem with leaving it in neutral, Ed, is that it might roll down hill again
‘Given the situation in Northern Ireland, the most important thing the British government can be is an honest broker. It is very hard to be an honest broker if you are also an electoral candidate. Being a part of the electoral competition I don’t think is a great prescription for being the honest broker that we need.’
So said Ed Miliband yesterday (3 October 2012) when asked whether Labour would stand candidates in any future Northern Ireland elections.
This will bitterly disappoint Labour Party members in Northern Ireland who have fought long and hard for the right to join and form constituency parties this side of the Irish Sea. (I should make clear that I’m not among their number, despite my Labour sympathies.) But beyond the dismay of local Labourites, Miliband’s position is worrying because it is based upon a dangerous illusion that the British state and any government, Labour or otherwise, can be purely neutral on the question of Northern Ireland, or present themselves as mere ‘honest brokers’ refereeing the dispute between unionist and nationalism.
First of all, in what conceivable way could a future Labour government be neutral about a territory over which it will continue to exercise considerable political, economic and social control? What would ‘neutral’ policy and political decision making look like?
Secondly, how easy is it for neutrality to slip into disinterest and neglect? Unionism subjected Northern Ireland to corrupt and discriminatory government for decades until the civil rights movement brought the abuses to international attention. Unionist misrule happened while Westminster feigned neutrality, or was it disinterest or just plain neglect?
Neutral is a cop-out. Neutral is political cowardice. Neutral is potentially perilous in this context.
If politics in the North of Ireland is to progress towards anything approximating a functioning democracy – rather than the sectarian head counting it has at the moment – then it needs the sort of left-right politics that parties like Labour play a constitutive part in. Otherwise the place is doomed to endless political precarity at the hands of Stormont’s current Mafia of the Mediocre, who demonstrate regularly that they’re real forte is arguing over the issues of language and parades but they’re fuck all use at anything else.
So shit or get off the pot, Ed. Either sue of Irish unity or come up with an imaginative response to the new constitutional arrangements that the Belfast Agreement of 1998 heralded. There is a Labour party in Britain. There’s a Labour party in the Republic of Ireland and both are members of the Party of European Socialists. Northern Ireland is part of the UK. There is a North-South Ministerial Council, established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (1998), to ‘develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland’. There’s a British-Irish intergovernmental conference. Isn’t there a council of the Isles knocking around somewhere also, all provided for under the terms of the Agreement? Go look at the new constitutional arrangements that were negotiated – and which affect more than Northern Ireland – and come up with something more appropriate than ‘neutral’. Commit Labour to taking some democratic responsibility for and in Northern Ireland, or else fuck off out of it.