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Labour to avoid electoral confrontation with SDLP

By Liam Clarke

Published 16/11/2012

Labour looks set to strengthen its links with the SDLP, instead of authorising its local Constituency Labour Party to field candidates here.

A decision isn't due until January, but already there are straws in the wind.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, told his party conference that he was wary of getting involved in elections here in case it made it difficult for a future Labour government to be an "honest broker" in our disputes.

Labour's national executive committee has, since then, discussed the issue with the SDLP, which was, Labour sources say, "extremely hostile" to the idea of Labour contesting elections here.

This is in spite of two interviews in which Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP leader, said he wouldn't mind Labour standing in Assembly and council elections, but drew the line at Westminster.

Last week, Vernon Coaker, Labour's shadow secretary of state, attended the SDLP conference to pass on "the best wishes of my party leader, Ed Miliband", adding: "Like me, Ed really values the advice, support and friendship of Alasdair, the SDLP (and) your MPs Mark and Margaret."

In Westminster realpolitik, support from the SDLP's three MPs is of value to Labour.

It remains to be seen whether - and how - building closer links will fulfil Mr Miliband's stated aim of maintaining Labour's "honest broker" status in politics in Northern Ireland.

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