Mad Dog And English Woman

Red Action No. 74: Spring 1997. 

"He who forgets history is destined to repeat it" is a well-known truism that has particular resonance today with regard to the position of the Republican Movement in relation to the Labour Party. It seems that ever since this phase of the war broke out again back in 1969 the Labour Party, or sections of it, have been saying to those at the cutting edge of struggle in Ireland "Don't worry, as soon as we get power all will be resolved". All said with a nod and a wink. We have been hearing this for the past 27 years, indeed since the formation of the Labour Party in 1906, but never so loudly as since the cessation announcement of August 1994.
What do these promises mean? What will be sorted out? When will it be sorted out? To whose benefit? These are the pertinent questions but none are as pertinent as those suggested by the quote above. That is, what does history teach us of the attitude of the British Labour Movement and Party to the Irish people?
The contention of this article is that history tells us not only to expect little help but to anticipate that a Labour administration will continue to invigorate Brit intransigence and animosity towards the northern nationalist Irish in general and the Republican Movement in particular.
The strategy of the Labour Party has been to debase the Irish by continually operating the same con-trick. This essentially, and crudely states, "swing into line now, and in the future all things are possible..." All the time the demand has been that the Irish, whether Republicans or not, do their political work, lobbying and propaganda from within the Labour Movement. That the Labour Movement does not exist now, if it ever did, as anything more than a disparate group of organisations squabbling over the crumbs is of no matter. The notion of a Labour Movement is used as a tool to emasculate working class struggle, not invigorate it.
Initiatives set up by the Republican or/and the broader Irish community are brazenly entered by elements from this Labour Movement who apply a well tried and tested strategy of watering down any radical demands, driving a wedge between activists and the organisation, often taking over leadership and policy making roles. When this last is done those who were initially enthusiastic may as well stay at home - there is nothing more for them. The Troops Out Movement is a case in hand, set up with a clear purpose, one demand and enjoying large support as well as reflecting the view of a clear majority of the British public. So what's happened to it? It allegedly still exists, although its trademark Bloody Sunday march which became progressively smaller each year, due to a lack of commitment to building for it either in the Irish community or the class, allied to a confusion over its aims, has disappeared in all but name. Without that as a focus, it has no remit for other activities except to attend obscure pickets known to no-one but itself.
Never mind, its leadership has, as always, oriented to the Labour Movement, which can be evidenced by the support of trades union branches, trades councils and the normal rag-bag of `lefty' Labour Party members and MP's. Stunning. That TOM is of no significance and can no longer produce its magazine regularly is never questioned by its leadership. Whether consciously or not, it has been smothered.
More recently, Saoirse committees were launched to press for the transfer/release of Republican POW's following the IRA cessation of hostilities. A sentiment that had immediate resonance with many in the Irish community and beyond, attracting large numbers of people not seen in recent years at political meetings. With some panache these `new' activists managed to gain a great deal of credibility and confidence by highlighting the issue. No sooner had that been noticed as effective then the hacks moved in with a demand to orientate to Labour, and to get them on board. They were to be the target of the recruitment and propaganda. Forget the working class Irish of Kilburn and Cricklewood and other poor areas and concentrate on the people who matter in Hampstead, Primrose Hill and Walworth Road.
The `orienteers' moved in, took over the leadership, made policy and killed the enthusiasm of the ordinary member. The high-profile street level activities gaining media attention were replaced by the talking heads sitting at press conferences at the House of Commons. Needless to say these conferences were not reported by the media but lauded as a success because they got a Shinner into the Palace of Westminster to address a handful of press hacks. Inevitably, Saoirse closed down in an orgy of recriminations and lies perpetrated by its new leaders, alienating the activist majority. Now Fuascailt has emerged to replace it, (possibly having the lowest political profile of any pressure group still orientating to the Labour Movement) but no Labour Movement activists doing anything practical.
To move back in time a little to the 1980 and 1981 Hunger Strikes. These were obviously very emotional times and again had enormous potential to attract high numbers of people to Irish solidarity work. The Labour Movement again covered itself in glory. Whilst the situation in the H·Blocks was approaching crisis, the TUC and Labour Party ,were campaigning for more employment in England. They organised a huge national march and rally in London. The National H-Block/Armagh Committee was not allowed to participate on this with a banner. Nevertheless, a small group stood with banners and placards on Marble Arch as the march went past Hyde Park. The TUC stewards pointed them out to the police and demanded that they be removed. The police were only too happy to do this and the stewards contained any support for them within the march itself. Vilifying them to the very people it supposedly demands they go to for support.
That, however, wasn't the lowest point reached by organised Labour. Whilst Bobby Sands lay on his death bed, Don Concannon (Then Labour Party Northern Ireland spokesman) went to visit him to let him know that he and his party supported the Thatcher administration in its denial of political status and its intention to let the Republican prisoners die. As if that wasn't enough, a subsequent march was organised through Concannon's Mansfield constituency. He informed the press that `the IRA were to march through his constituency' and appealed for Orange elements to travel from Liverpool and Scotland to oppose the march. Are we really to be told to support Labour? If that was the reaction of both the Labour Party and the Labour Movement at a highly emotive time when it could be expected to throw aside the mantle of disguise that it purported hid its real agenda on Ireland, what can we expect now?
There is a mistaken belief within elements of the Republican Movement that the Labour Patty will adopt a progressive stance on Ireland. This it will not do. No more than it will on any of its own internal or domestic issues. Blair and newish Labour is no different to previous manifestations it is a non-democratic party operating happily within the bounds of a non-democratic state. All policy of the major (and most of the minor) parties is designed to maintain and build support for its position in the `50% plus 1' horse race that masquerades as democracy in Britain. This is no model for democrats, this is not what we want for Ireland, we should not give it the credibility by dealing with it. The Republican Movement calls for a united socialist 32 county Ireland, free of its former colonial masters of any and all parties. We should not allow colonialists to use us to bolster their own position.
The war in Ireland is the longest lasting struggle against British imperialism, not only in the 20th century in the past 800 years. The Labour Party has been conspicuous by its absence from the side of the oppressed since its inception. The cry that the war inhibits explicit support because of the taint of terrorism holds no water. Since the beginning of the century Britain's position in Ireland has been indefensible. But Labour defended it either overtly or by its silence.
In 1948 the man regarded as the great Labour Movement icon of socialism, Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee rightly denounced the Soviet Union's new imperialism. Not a word from him on the imperial presence in Ireland, nor of the gerrymandered constituencies, nor of the franchises which gave unionists multiple votes whilst nationalists didn't even qualify for even the semblance of democracy. Not a word of the inequity of housing, education, employment, health provision in the North of Ireland whereby Nationalists and Republicans were condemned to live in squalor and deprivation, subject to the routine sectarian pogroms instigated by the unionist hegemony. Atlee chose to ignore imperialism close to home despite a more than adequate parliamentary majority of 113. The Irish didn't even qualify for equality, let alone freedom.
Not only are they guilty by omission or by merely biding their time. It is Labour administrations which have distinguished themselves by over-seeing some of the most repressive and brutal events since 1969. Their attitude was not peculiar to Atlee amongst Labour leaders. It was Wilson, who sent the troops in in 1969.
Labour was still in power later in a 1974 when a state of emergency was declared. They oversaw the holding of political prisoners in Long Kesh in conditions which led to the camp being burned down by internees. 
In September 1976 the European Commission on Human Rights found Britain guilty of torture following the mass interment of 1971. Not even this could rock Labour's desire to be seen as responsible caretakers of Britain's imperial and colonial interests.
The same government ended political status with a view to criminalising the struggle. A change of Prime Minister to `Sunny Jim' Callaghan in April 1976 made no difference to policy. Just 5 months later on 15 September 1976 Kieran Nugent refused to wear the prison uniform. The policy of coercing the prisoners led swiftly to routine vicious beatings by the screws, which led to the no-wash protest and ultimately, to the 1981 Hunger Strike. 
As the Callaghan administration staggered to its conclusion it became steadily more repressive in Ireland. It abandoned any pretence of pandering to progressive forces either at home or abroad. Northern Ireland Secretary Roy Mason was directly responsible for the SAS `Shoot to Kill' policy which resulted in the deaths of 11 people between 1977 and 1978.
Winter 1978 saw a desperate attempt to cling to power. Callaghan cobbled together a deal with the Unionists in which he created an additional 3 `Ulster' seats in exchange for support. It was no harm when they lost power in June 1979.
In the seventeen years of opposition the Labour Party has succeeded in redefining the meaning of parliamentary opposition. The Labour Movement supported all aspects of Tory policy from its refusal to support the Hunger Strikers 5 demands to its shirt-tailing Thatcher's refusal to talk to Sinn Fein. In 1988 the Tory government sponsored the SAS execution of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Danny McCann in Gibraltar. Despite world-wide shock at this cynical abuse of law and order, the Labour opposition congratulated the government on the operation.
And so it continued through the leadership of Kinnock, Smith and now Blair. No perceptible difference between Conservative and Labour policy on Ireland. Except that at least Major authorised government contact with the Republican Movement leading to the 1994 cessation. This engendered a spirit of optimism that at last the war could be ended.
Campaigners canvassed the Labour Shadow NI Secretary, Mo Mowlem for her views. In a letter to Navan, County Meath Saoirse she replied; " is with regard to the suffering of the victims and their families and to rule of law that Labour does not support the release of terrorist prisoners". In the same letter she goes on to say, "Labour has no plans in government to close any of the Special Secure Units". These sentiments, expressed in the middle of the cease-fire, should not inspire hope or confidence in any future Labour administration. The difficulty with writing about the failures of Labour with relation to Ireland is not the paucity of information but rather sifting through the mountain of Labour duplicity with- regard to the war in Ireland.
Recently Mo Mowlem has been into Long Kesh to visit Loyalist prisoners. She congratulated them on their restraint in not advocating a return to random killings of working class nationalists. She also sought their advice on what the British and Irish governments should do in furtherance of their policies! She duly reported, without criticism, the Loyalist demand that there should be a crackdown on Sinn Fein and the Republican Movement on both sides of the border. The nature of the exchange exposed the quintessential relationship between Labour and Unionism-and- Labour and Republicanism.
Only a few weeks previously (15 October) all sections of the Labour Party had denounced and condemned Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn for accommodating Adams at the House of Commons. Remember that Adams is an ex-MP and has never been convicted of any paramilitary connections. Not one person was embarrassed or publicly recognised their duplicity over creating a furore and moral panic over meeting a representative of the Republican Movement and the widespread approval and congratulation when meeting sectarian fascist murderers who included Johnny Adair and Michael Stone.
The suggestion, as made by labour apologists, that Mowlem is merely `minding the job' whilst in opposition and that a more suitable person will take over after the election is patently nonsense. There is no-one more suitable. Kevin McNamara is often cited as the calibre required. It was McNamara who said in Parliament (7 March 1983) with regard to the Birmingham 6, "ordinary decent coppers using ordinary decent methods apprehended those responsible for the Birmingham outrages".
It is apparent that even under the most superficial scrutiny the Labour Party is not one to which either the Irish community and/or supporters of Irish Republicanism can give support. The promises given in the past have proven false and so will promises given now.