Matt Beeching is a member of a political party you may have heard of, and one quite a lot of us voted for in the 2017 general election. Nothing unusual about that; except he’s something of a rarity: he’s a member of a political party that fields no candidates in either local or national elections, because Mr Beeching lives in Northern Ireland (originally from Eastleigh, Southampton UK); And he’s a member of a party with one of the biggest affiliations in Europe – the Labour Party. And because of what he sees as terrible wrongs he’s making a stand.
Matt Beeching is presently on hunger protest. He served as the Secretary of the Upper Bann Labour branch. Labour agreed a pact not to field candidates against the SDLP in the six counties, and it’s this that’s at the heart of his decision. He posted a statement to Facebook on Monday the 17th at midday declaring his intentions, citing both the status of abortion in Northern Ireland (illegal, a stance backed by the DUP, Sinn Fein, and the SDLP), and the inability of the Northern Ireland Executive to discharge its duties in something approaching a fair and democratic manner.
“The SDLP is no longer a party of the working class,” Beeching told me on the phone earlier from his Portadown home. “They have no interest in the trade union movement. Labour do care about the working classes, and about unionising workers, but without funding or resources we can’t effectively help people.”
As Matt’s Facebook statement goes on to say: “I firmly believe that there is a large cross section of voters in Northern Ireland that are grossly under-represented that truly desire a different approach to the standard orange and green politics. I am not angry, I am not upset, I am calm and reserved. Therefore, I am prepared to take this action to its ultimate end, however I am hopeful and trustful that the powers that be, that can meet these demands and do not allow this to get to that point. The ball is in their court.”
Beeching, a resident in Northern Ireland for seventeen years, is passionate, articulate and sincere. He clearly cares about what is happening to the people of the province, but feels being on the periphery is meaningless. “The Labour party has 3,000 members in Northern Ireland, which is amazing, but without influence we’re not taken seriously. There’s people here who need us and it’s wrong.” And so he feels he has no choice, that this is a cause “worth dying for”, as his Facebook statement put it. His calmness was astonishing.
His hunger protest demands are as follows:
• Labour UK to allow Labour Party Northern Ireland members to stand candidates for elections at all levels of government in Northern Ireland including Local, Regional Assembly and General Elections;
• Labour Party UK to give Labour Party Northern Ireland full regional status and all support, funding and representatives on NEC as per Welsh and Scottish Labour;
• Labour UK to furnish Labour Party in Northern Ireland members full parity in benefits and support as with the other regions;
• Sinn Fein Northern Ireland and The Democratic Unionist Party to come to an agreement and form the Northern Ireland Executive and to start Northern Ireland Assembly parliament as quickly as possible, and to start representing the people that elected them.
So as Labour carries on with yet more scrutiny of its passive role in Northern Ireland politics, Beeching isn’t confident that much will change. “Yes, there’s a review underway at the moment, thanks to the surge in support for Labour in the province, but there’s no timetable, no clear process, no criteria.” For Beeching, the Labour-shaped hole is proving to be a real issue.
And so he has been forced to take extreme measures. “From midnight tonight (17th July 2017) I will refuse to eat any food solids, of any kind, until such time as the…demands have been met in full,” his Facebook statement reads. “This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but feel passionately that it is the only course of action left to take.”
I asked Beeching about the Labour response. “They are aware of it. And yes they’re worried, but this was my decision; I didn’t seek permission from the executive. I am a committed Labour activist and Corbyn supporter. I wish no harm to him or Labour or what the party represents.”
Such is the perceived political vacuum in Northern Ireland, that it requires principled people to do something like this, and not for the first time, of course. This stand means something significant. It goes far beyond petty party politics and cosy table-top agreements and post-meeting drinks. As Beeching says: ”People are suffering harshly from Tory austerity… people are suffering now, as we speak but it’s going unchallenged and I don’t think the SDLP are effective in doing that because they only appeal to middle-class nationalists.”
For the sake of Beeching – and every working-class resident of Northern Ireland – I hope this courageous decision to face down against injustice and unfairness changes things, both within the Labour movement and within all corners of our austerity-ridden, blighted country. If we are to bring about change in the United Kingdom, we should recognise the failings in Northern Ireland to the people and especially to those who vote Labour and want to vote Labour but cannot do so.
“Labour’s National Executive Committee is currently undergoing a consultation process on the issue of putting up candidates and it is right that it runs its full course” adds Matt. However, we desperately hope that Beeching is taken seriously and not treated with any form of contempt, for it would be a far more dangerous game to play should his efforts be passed off as anything other than serious. This is indeed a very precarious situation. We would ask for representatives from the Labour Party to speak with Beeching in the hope of bringing his hunger protest to an early and satisfactory conclusion.
Max Webster is the editor of Political Provocateur, in which this article first appeared.
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