Belfast Telegraph

Why steady rise of far-Left could leave SF and the SDLP seeing red

By Nelson McCausland

We have seen the dramatic rise of the far-Left in the Labour Party in England with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and his appointment of John McDonnell as shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The latest revelation is that, in his younger days, McDonnell was a "star-guest of the Trotskyite Workers Revolutionary Party".

Corbyn has now appointed the controversial Guardian columnist Seumas Milne as his party's executive director of strategy and communications. That is a very grand title for what is commonly known as his spin doctor.

Milne was educated at Winchester College, a public school in Hampshire. However, his political journey took him from the privileged background of a British public school to the far-Left of British politics.

He even defended the record of communist regimes in the Soviet Union, claiming that the number of people murdered by communist dictators had been greatly exaggerated.

Nevertheless, he still managed to send his two children to selective grammar schools. Such has been the political journey of the Labour Party's spin doctor.

Corbyn has also appointed Andrew Fisher as his policy chief in spite of the fact that, during the general election, Fisher encouraged the voters of Croydon South to back Jon Bigger, an anarchist candidate from Class War, instead of Labour candidate Emily Benn.

Back in September 2014 he described the Labour Party's front bench as "the most abject collection of complete s****".

Now, just over a year later, the foul-mouthed Fisher is the Labour Party's policy chief.

Such is the extent of the shift to the far-Left.

On this side of the water we can also see some small advances for the far-Left as well, albeit on a more modest scale.

The election of Gerry Carroll as a councillor in the west of the city was certainly significant.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party, he stood under the label People Before Profit, and some of his success was due to a growing disillusionment with both Sinn Fein and the SDLP for failing to deliver for the area.

That may help to explain why Caral ni Chuilin, the Sinn Fein Arts Minister, has been so keen to throw money at the West Belfast Festival, Feile an Phobail.

Carroll, who is a Trotskyist and describes himself as a "revolutionary socialist", took 1,691 first-preference votes and was elected on the second count.

In the same area Sinn Fein took five seats and the SDLP candidate, Tim Attwood, got in on the seventh count.

Carroll also stood in West Belfast in the 2015 Westminster general election and came second behind Sinn Fein with 19.2% of the valid vote.

He got almost twice as many votes as SDLP candidate Alex Attwood, and on that basis he looks likely to take an Assembly seat next May.

However, the advance of the far-Left can also be seen in the world of trade unions and, in particular, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa), which is Northern Ireland's largest trade union. Nipsa members are currently voting on their new general secretary and they have a choice of two candidates, one of whom is a member of the Socialist Party, another Trotskyist group that was formerly known as Militant.

The winner of this election will take over in January from Brian Campfield, and so the far-Left member of the Communist Party could be replaced by a harder Left member of the Socialist Party.

This party has an abysmal record in elections in Northern Ireland and its candidates are unelected and unelectable, but it is capable of securing prominent positions in trade unions such as Nipsa.

The advance of the far-Left in Ulster is nothing compared with the rise of the Left in the Labour Party, but it could have an impact in West Belfast next year - and Sinn Fein and the SDLP could be the losers.

  • Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee.

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