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New Left Review I/220, November-December 1996


Ronan Bennett

New Labour and Northern Ireland

Whatever else a Labour government under Tony Blair may or may not do, it already seems determined to repeat the mistakes every administration, Labour and Conservative, has made in Ireland since the 1960s. As with much of the rest of New Labour policy, few of the specifics are available—Ireland was not even debated at the party conference at Blackpool—but the tokens are, unmistakably, not good. The friendly noises Labour has been making to the Ulster Unionists may owe something to electoral considerations—party strategists undoubtedly have in mind the potential importance of Unionist parliamentary representation should the expected Blair victory at the general election produce either a small Labour majority or a minority government. The idea that there is a cold-hearted numbers game going on could be interpreted as indicating that Labour’s association with the Unionists is little more than a flirtation of convenience, and that should the Labour majority be sizeable enough, a Blair government would be in a position to withstand Unionist pressure and pursue the policies of its choice.

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