From Militant [UK], No. 1279, 7 June 1996.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
In a remarkable victory the recently formed Labour Coalition won two seats to the Northern Ireland Forum and has secured a place at the negotiating table. With 6,425 votes Labour finished about 3,000 votes ahead of its nearest challengers, the Greens, the Conservatives and the Workers’ Party, easily taking the final place on the Regional List and with it two seats.
This breakthrough came despite an extremely polarised election fought mainly on the issue of the constitution. The threat to exclude Sinn Fein from negotiations was a clear factor in the increase in their vote to 15.47%. In Catholic working-class areas they received a massive vote as people came out to register their protest at the obstinate attitude of the British government.
The new loyalist parties, especially the PUP (Progressive Unionist Party), polled well in the Protestant working-class areas in and around Belfast. Workers in the polling stations noted that the older voters tended to vote for the old established unionist parties, while the younger voters plumped for the PUP in particular.
All this plus the fact that with up to 24 parties on each ballot paper, votes tended to be split in many directions, adds to the significance of the Labour victory. The Labour Coalition came together only about six weeks before the election.
It is made up of four independent councillors, some prominent trade unionists and other individuals. The biggest single component within it is Militant Labour who provided some 30 of the 72 candidates and whose ideas were the major influence on the manifesto.
It was the radical nature of the campaign and certainly not the press profile which secured the victory. Throughout the campaign and even after the victory, the Labour challenge was either ignored or downplayed by the media.
Interviews done for various TV channels at the victory announcement were not carried. By contrast the Women’s Coalition, a loose and disparate group who ran on a “vote for women” ticket and who were formed at the same time as the Labour Coalition, received an incredible amount of coverage throughout. After the election local papers carried headlines praising their “remarkable result” in coming in one place and a mere 1,300 ahead of Labour.
Information from journalists confirmed that the news black-out was an editorial policy. It seems that some key figures in the British Labour Party used their media contacts and influence to ensure that there would be no coverage.
The Labour Coalition will be meeting later this week to discuss its representation in the Forum and the talks. As important as the question of who will take the seats is the issue of accountability. There is already an agreement that the £100 a day plus expenses will be handed back to the working-class movement.
When it comes to the allocation of the seats Militant Labour’s view is that it must be part of the Labour team at the talks.
But the real battle to re-establish the ideas of Labour and socialism will not be in the talks, it will be in the workplaces and in the working-class communities. Labour has won a political toehold. This must now be used as a platform to begin to build a mass socialist party which can unite the working class, Catholic and Protestant, in common political struggle.
Last updated: 29 April 2014