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2 November 2014 Edition

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British Labour should mobilise on living standards and Peace Process

In England, the growth of UKIP has negatively shifted the political agenda to the Right

EVERY POSITION and statement by all the parties in England, Scotland and Wales is being taken with an eye to the outcome of next May’s general election. And recent by-election results in England have added to this, in particular the response to the growth of UKIP, which has negatively shifted the political agenda to the Right.

Responding to UKIP by rushed proposals to ‘tighten up’ on immigration has been the order of day from the mainstream. But, as Labour MP Diane Abbott has pointed out, instead of blaming migrants for the economic problems of ordinary people, progressive parties (and Labour in particular) should be mobilising its own support by putting forward policies to defend living standards. 

Scapegoating immigrants is divisive and a diversion from those who are really responsible.

In Ireland, Sinn Féin has had the approach – often against the prevailing grain – that there needs to be an entirely different framework in terms of our economic policy. 

Cuts and austerity have made the crisis worse. Despite Secretary of State Theresa Villiers’s assertions that the Tories have been proven right on the economy and that there is a recovery, this is not the case. This is a recovery only for a tiny minority. 

Most people’s real pay (after inflation) and living standards are continuing to fall. The same case can be made around Enda Kenny’s claims of economic recovery in Ireland.

In the British state, and affecting the Six Counties, the economic divide is sharper than ever. According a recent report, top directors get 120 times what their average employees earn (Incomes Data Services survey). This is up from 2000, where the figure was 47 times more. Whilst the Tory-led government is quibbling over a 1% pay rise due to health workers, top executives are getting record pay rises.

The Tories want to make this worse for us in the Six Counties by forcing the Assembly to implement the welfare cuts which are already biting in England and Wales.

We have stood firmly against austerity and in favour of a pro-investment policy to stimulate growth. This has to be state-investment led and cannot simply be left to a dependence on the private sector. Our position is not only right for the economy – it is proving electorally popular, with our vote continuing to steadily increase.

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Conor Murphy

Similarly on social issues, such as opposing racism, we have consistently stood squarely against scapegoating people. We have celebrated our multicultural communities. Immigration is central to economic growth and we know from our own experience the role of emigrants in other parts of the world in building the economic development of those countries. Capitulating to racism and xenophobia out of fear of losing votes is not only false but will simply serve to fuel support for those who are the furthest to the Right. There are some clear parallels on both these issues for the political debate in Britain.

For us, the discourse around the Peace Process (dominant at the fringe debates at the party conferences that myself and other Sinn Féin MPs spoke at) is absolutely central. However, this was absent from the floor of the main conference discussions. 

The Good Friday Agreement has been under some concerted attack now for some time, facilitated by decisions taken by the current British Government. This is at odds with the immense support in Britain for the Peace Process. But this support has been fairly passive and silent in recent years, and there is failure to grasp just how serious a threat exists to the Agreement. 

We urgently need a pro-Agreement axis that asserts itself, including at an international level and particularly in Britain. This can exert some much-needed influence on the British Government and impact on the general election. And, for the British Labour Party, this would be a hugely popular policy issue, given the support that exists for the Peace Process on the ground.

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