Q&A: Ed Miliband on corporation tax, the SDLP and fielding labour candidates in Northern Ireland
It’s not every day you have the Opposition leader in your own backyard.
In fact this was only the second time Ed Miliband has been in Northern Ireland since becoming Labour leader in September 2010.
In the way of these things, he did not have time for a full sit down interview. I think he blew me out for a meeting with members of the local constituency association.
Which was, to be fair, a wise decision since to do otherwise risked turning his whistle-stop trip into a whistle-blowing complaint - from his own supporters.
And so it was that in the course of a snatched telephone call as he was hurled towards the airport, Mr Milliband reiterated the party will review its policy of not running candidates in Northern Ireland elections in the next Parliament.
Here is our complete conversation:
Q - Your whole theme in coming to Northern Ireland today has been equality, yet people here are denied the most fundamental equality, in that they cannot vote for your party.
A - I have met just now with representatives of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and discussed this whole issue with them. I understand the view that some people take on this.
But the position we have always taken is that we must be honest brokers in terms of the peace process and political negotiations and running candidates in the election would run against that.
The Conservatives if you remember tried to get involved her in a partnership (with the Ulster Unionists) in 2010 and I don’t think that was very successful.
Q - Labour has always said its sister party is the SDLP but doesn’t that just alienate at least half the voters in Northern Ireland, namely unionists who will not vote for the SDLP ?
A - Look I completely understand the feelings of some people on this. They want to have more of a voice. But the SDLP is our sister party and I don’t think it is right to say that alienates people.
Q - But what do you say to people who argue Labour does not have any legitimacy in Northern Ireland because it refuses to run its own candidates here ?
A - Most people I have met here today have praised the role of the Labour Government in terms of the peace process and the contribution that previous Labour governments have made in the past. But I continue to listen to people on this issue and we have said we will review the situation once every Parliament. That would be in the next Parliament now.
Q - You have said Labour will support the legislation on Corporation Tax, but you still appear to have reservations about the policy ? What are they ?
A - Yes I think I have heard the feeling of people here about that and from all the parties and it is strong, so that is why we have said we will not oppose the legislation when it is introduced into Parliament, which I think is to be next week, and will facilitate its passage through Parliament.
That said, we still want to make sure the conditions are right, not just in terms of the impact implementing the introduction of Corporation Tax will have in terms of the Block Grant for Northern Ireland but its impact, adverse or otherwise, on the rest of the United Kingdom.
Q - Those in favour of course include your sister party, the SDLP. Isn’t the point though that as the potential incoming Government in the next election, or even as an opposition, you should be championing the potential for Northern Ireland which we are told Corporation Tax is ?
A - Yes and that is why as I say we will be allowing the legislation to pass through without opposition and we are very sympathetic towards it. The parties here have all left me in no doubt they regard this as important.
Q - How often have you actually been in Northern Ireland since becoming Labour leader in September 2010 ?
A - Well I came here quite soon after my election as leader and I am back here again today.
Q - So only twice in more than four years. Is that enough ?
A - Obviously I have also met the First Minister (Peter Robinson) and the Deputy First Minister (Martin McGuinness) on a number of occasions outside Northern Ireland. But I have made the point that the Labour Party is engaged in Northern Ireland, and will continue to be so.
Q - And yet have you heard the criticism that the Heenan-Anderson exercise (which is examining the “root causes of intergenerational economic marginalisation and deprivation in Northern Ireland) is more about Labour wanting to be able to be seen to be doing something in Northern Ireland rather than actually hoping to bring about real change ?
A - I haven’t heard that. Infact if you were at the meeting I held at the Ulster University campus (in Belfast) this morning you will have heard a lot of voices in favour of what we are trying to do. There were a lot of people there interested in what we are trying to do and recognising it is a genuine and worthwhile process.?
Q - Do you think Northern Ireland has now reached the stage - in terms of being more peaceful and moving towards a normal society - where the bi-partisan policy between the two main national parties could be revised ?
A - In relation to Northern Ireland I am afraid I do not think we should change the bi-partisan approach which I think has served the peace process and the province well. I think that is in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
I find it incredibly inspiring to be here. I remember that in the 1970s and 80s in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was just a by-word for trouble and conflict. But there has been a magnificent transformation.