Under Keir Starmer, Labour has become the official party for centre-right flag shaggers. Now, a member of its National Executive Committee (NEC) – the notorious Luke Akehurst – and the branch office in the North of Ireland are pushing the idea of Labour fielding candidates there. This toxic idea has provoked an angry reaction among some people – with one group calling it “just another British plantation policy”.
Labour in the North of Ireland
In the North of Ireland, Labour hasn’t stood candidates in elections for decades. It instead has what some may mockingly call a ‘branch office’: the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI). This is much like the Scottish Labour Party, in that UK Labour pats it on the head, tells it it’s a good boy, and gives it a treat every so often – but ultimately, it’s owned by the party and has to be obedient to it.
However, the LPNI is clearly not happy about its master only taking it out for brief ‘walkies’ and allowing it to play fetch at the occasional conference. Last year, as LabourList wrote, members of the branch office called on Labour to let them stand in elections:
Gerard Gallagher – a Labour Party in Northern Ireland member and creator of the Right to Stand campaign group – said: “We have sizeable support from all communities and from all across Northern Ireland. Almost 40% of people say they would give us a vote.
“That’s incredible. And frankly, I just don’t understand how Labour can continue to ignore us any longer. I think these results speak for themself. Northern Ireland wants the Labour Party to fight for things that matter.”
Labour reviews its policy on the North of Ireland once every parliamentary term. That review is happening again – so, Akehurst and an English Labour MP decided that they should have a say in it.
Akehurst: poking his nose into the Six Counties
Labour MP George Howarth and Akehurst penned a piece for LabourList on why the party should “take some cautious steps” towards standing candidates in elections. In it, they say that:
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There are two compelling reasons why we have arrived at that conclusion. First, there is growing evidence that, post the Good Friday Agreement, there is a sizable group of people in Northern Ireland who, regardless of their religious and constitutional preferences, increasingly want the option to vote for parties not rooted in the sectarianism of the past.
It is, of course, laughable for Akehurst and Howarth to imply the Labour Party isn’t “rooted in the sectarianism of the past”. For example, it was Labour PM Clement Attlee who – via his 1949 Ireland Act – inadvertently cemented the so-called ‘Unionist Veto’ in British law. This gave North of Ireland MPs the power to block legislation, and some people also consider the act to have sparked the IRA’s campaign.
People on Twitter pointed out the other problems with the idea of Labour not being sectarian:
This is an embarrassment. The Labour Party in England has much to be proud of in facilitating the Good Friday Agreement, but can never be seen as an impartial actor in the history of the North of Ireland. Under our watch we imposed troops and internment. We've no place here.
— Mike McCusker 🇮🇪 (@MikeMcCusker15) July 31, 2023
Labour is an avowed unionist party. 🤷♂️
— Bo Diddley Dobbin (@DaddyPobbin) July 31, 2023
However, one group summed up the problems with Akehurst and Howarth’s unionist drivel the best.
‘Bordering on anti-Irish racism’
that seeks to campaign in the British labour movement and the Irish community in Britain for the re-unification of Ireland on a basis to be decided by the people of Ireland.
LFIU’s response to Akehurst and Howarth was scathing. It said that their sectarian comment was:
culturally debasing of not just unionist but, more importantly, Irish nationalist and republican voters and parties, is exactly the rationale which British colonialists have always employed in justifying their occupation of Ireland – and of course of many other countries. Thus, the “natives” are backward and need a good dose of British civilisation to sort them out. For Howarth and Akehurst this should be the British Labour Party.
LFIU also said that the pair had a “scant or totally erroneous knowledge of Ireland”. Akehurst knowing nothing about something he’s providing verbal diarrhea on may come as a shock, we know. But as LFIU said:
Irish republicanism was founded in the late 18th century in an explicit attempt to unite Protestants and Catholics to campaign for Irish self-determination and end the British occupation. The United Irishmen, who led the 1798 Rising were actually founded by Belfast Protestants. Irish nationalism in the nineteen century was often led by Protestants, such as Issac Butt and Charles Parnell. The revolutionary wing of Irish nationalism was informed by great Irish Protestant writers such as Thomas Davis. Sinn Fein today is an inheritor of these traditions. To say it or these voters are “rooted in sectarianism” is not only inaccurate but bordering on anti-Irish racism.
The group is not the only Labour movement to come out against the idea. The Labour Party Irish Society executive also wrote a piece for LabourList where it said of the possible plan:
The demand for it is negligible, the electoral reward is low, and the political risks are great.
‘Implicit unionism and colonialism’ from Labour
Over on Twitter, many people were ripping the idea (and Akehurst) to shreds:
All I want is for UK Labour people who don’t know anything to kindly shut the fuck up about Northern Ireland https://t.co/lEPwUNmJzJ
— Jack Boag (@taysiderinspace) July 31, 2023
Akehusrt wants 'Labour' to run for election in the north of Ireland…🤣🤡🤣🤡🤣🤡 https://t.co/Hhd9SYPakD
— M #ItWasAScam #StarmerOut (@Derrygirl1976) August 1, 2023
This is embarrassing even by Luke the Nuke's standard.
— marc alcock (@CHOPPERalcock) July 31, 2023
seeing that a bag of vomit co-authored this pic.twitter.com/NyaVFQXDAn
— 🌍🌹☪️ (@nPoliticalGlobe) July 31, 2023
As LFIU summed up:
Those who wish Labour to stand in Northern Ireland are taking an explicit and implicit unionist and colonialist position. They are telling the Northern Irish that their future belongs in a party controlled by a British majority and, from that, in a British state.
They are implying that the Irish/Northern Irish do not have the capability to organise themselves politically as well as a British party. It is a repeat of the old colonial message to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland that British is best – in this instance that the British Labour Party is superior to anything the ‘mere Irish’ can produce.
It is incomprehensible that Labour would even entertain the idea of fielding candidates in the North of Ireland. Clearly though, the political dullards pushing this notion think that by some miracle they may actually win seats. But as one person summed up on Twitter:
Labour could definitely stand candidates in the north, assuming they don't mind losing all their deposits.
— Eoin Christ (@Papillons888) July 31, 2023
Akehurst is a liability – so he fits right into Starmer’s Labour Party, now. What a mess.
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