Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Eight "Labour" Candidates does this mean the time for NI Lib Dems to stand? #ae16

Firstly I must say I am writing this in a personal capacity and not in my role as Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, that it why it is being blogged her and not on the NI Lib Dems website. The reason for this is that there are differing opinions with the NI Lib Dems and the Federal Constitution does stipulate that until the local party decides otherwise and brings a constitutional amendment before conference we cannot stand candidates.

One thing that strikes me about the list of candidates for the NI Assembly elections for 2016 is that 8 of the 18 constituencies have a Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee member standing. There are also 10 constituencies where you can vote for the Conservatives.

While the latter are recognised by the national party, I understand that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was actually out canvassing with my local Conservative Candidate this afternoon. The former of course were recently not formally allowed to stand by the national executive of the Labour party, they appear to have done so anyway.

Political anoraks may be aware that the name Labour Representation Committee was the names used from 1900 until after the 1906 election by a group of candidates and activists that have since become the Labour Party. As far back as late 2010-11 when I was running the referendum campaign I became aware of the fact that Labour Party Members in Northern Ireland were looking at standing candidates for the Assembly elections and that they aimed to do this by 2016. I would appear that in eight seats they have managed to achieve this.

I have also noted that in his first speech as Deputy Prime Minister to a Liberal Democrat Conference in Autumn 2010 that Nick Clegg he intended for the party to stand in every seat in the Westminster election in 2015. Of course we didn't do that we didn't stand in any of the 18 Northern Ireland seats nor did we oppose the speaker seeking re-election.

Now I know that there are many in the Alliance who would consider themselves to be Liberal Democrats, some indeed would tend to vote that way if they life in the rest of the UK, some of course are dual members. There are others, most famously Naomi Long who after the 2010 election said she was not a Liberal Democrat and would not be taking the Lib Dem whip through that parliament, who would not.

I also know there are members within the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats who do see the need to stand for elections in Northern, who think we should continue to throw our all behind the Alliance. Others raise issues about how we would be able to fund it, would be have enough supporters to run it etc.

As for the fact of raising the level of membership and funding I have watched with interest the increase in activity of the Northern Ireland Labour Party over the last 5 years. They have expressed their desire to seek election, to stand up for a normalisation of politics and not stand on sectarian lines, something that some of their members see support of the SDLP and maintaining.

I have also for a number of years watch the Alliance fudge issues that would for a liberal be a matter of principle. But when one of the tenets of your existence is merely to be non-sectarian some of the Liberalism that the Northern Ireland Liberal party once stood  for, before the return of Direct Rule and formation of Alliance in the 1970s, is not in main reason for being.

People have often asked me why I don't stand here in Northern Ireland for the Alliance Party. The reason you most often here is "I am too liberal for them". Many of the Alliance representatives will tell you that I challenge them a lot on what I see as logical liberal steps long before they have come to a party position on them. Reading twitter in light of the recent abortion debate I think there is a large section of Northern Irish society that is now too liberal for most of the Northern Irish parties as well. It looks like I am not alone, it looks like there is a liberal heartland out there that has survived and is starting to rear its head as the Northern Irish parties continue to get bogged down with the politics of division so much that they fail to deal with everyday issues. Or one side or the other will attempt to block them despite it not being a sectarian matter.

The Conservative stepped up in the 1980s, Labour are stepping up in 2016, is it time as Liberal Democrats to consider standing up for the liberals that do exist in Northern Ireland and give them a real liberal voice for the future?

Reminder this article though written by the current chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the opinion of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats or the Liberal Democrats.

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