Is There Now An Appetite For Non-Sectarian Left Of Centre Politics In The North?
This question has featured in several blogs and tweets since the election breakthrough by People before Profit duo, Gerry Carroll and Eamonn McCann.
At one level they are indeed the 'Ronseal' candidates being exactly what they say they are on the tin - socialist and non-sectarian.
However, this conclusion needs to be well qualified. I would make five modest observations:
First, they did not get elected by calling for revolution. When McCann made his acceptance speech he refrained from quoting Trotsky and Marx. Instead he flagged up bread and butter issues that, in the course of his campaign he had observed that Derry had lost its postal sorting office and that the electoral office was under threat. It was the pledge to fight for jobs and against austerity that was the hallmark of his speech.
Secondly, it is interesting to speculate if either candidate would have got past the post on a Socialist Workers Party ticket. This reinforces that its raw issues, not stuffy ideology that wins votes.
Thirdly there is that youth vote thing. Both candidates ooze that principled passionate authenticity of men who are totally unconcerned with personal advancement or a vague party political 'project' that no one understands.
Youth recognises this authenticity and responds. They also score with youth as they are non sectarian in a real working class way, and what wins solidarity, is that they don't leave the doorsteps to get into the Volvo and speed back the leafy suburbs.
However, I would caution that the PBP message still has to be tested in a predominately Protestant working class constituency where the tribal dog whistle style politics may still prove potent.
Fourthly it is no coincidence that they have been elected in two of the most deprived Nationalist urban constituencies in the north. Select Sinn Fein and the SDLP cadres have may have benefited from the Peace Process, but these areas still cry for social justice by way of job creation, educational
underachievement and child poverty. If nothing else the PBP breakthrough may well chasten Sinn Fein into reviewing their Plan for Government and changing tune from the DUP's economic liberal hymn sheet.
Finally, commentators have compared the images of the young PBP activists in West Belfast with images of young Sinners back in the 1980s. We should rejoice that this generation of angry young men are making their political point via the ballot box and not the Armalite. That's progress. But it is also a sign that the opportunity to vote People before Profit is an act of calculated political dissent. A safety valve for the collective frustration of an entire generation who have been failed by the Sinn Fein project.