Andy Burnham would allow Labour candidates to stand in Northern Ireland

Andy Burnham

Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham has vowed to lift the party’s longstanding ban on putting up candidates in Northern Ireland’s elections.

Burnham said he was a long-time supporter of the principle that individual members of Labour who happen to live in the region should now be able to field official candidates.

Labour has a long-running ban on putting forward party members to stand as official Labour representatives for Westminster, assembly and local government elections. Instead, Labour has been historically aligned with the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party through the Socialist International.

In a message designed to win support from Labour members from Northern Ireland who will have a vote in the leadership battle, Burnham has written an opinion piece for Tuesday’s Belfast Telegraph.

Up to 1,000 registered Labour members’ votes from Northern Ireland are up for grabs in the leadership contest. The Northern Ireland Labour party has urged people to vote for Burnham.

On Labour fielding future candidates in Northern Ireland, Burnham states: “If those members decide that at election time the people of Northern Ireland need a socialist, non-sectarian party to vote for, a party that can appeal to people of all classes and to people of all faiths or none, then we should not stand in their way.

“If elected leader, I will support an immediate review of the current prohibition on Labour party candidates and will seek the views of the Irish Labour party and others, as to how best we can assist the very many Labour party members and supporters in Northern Ireland.”

Burnham added: “The uncomfortable truth is that too many people look at our party and see an out-of-touch Westminster elite. Unless we have a leader who can reconnect our party with the people whose trust we’ve lost, we won’t be implementing any of our policies – because nobody will be listening to what we have to offer. I want the people of Northern Ireland to make their voices heard in the Labour party and if I am elected leader, I’ll ensure that the party is listening.”

Any such move by the British Labour party to stand against the SDLP would be controversial given the former’s longstanding connections to the nationalist party.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th August 2015 08.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010