Derry or Londonderry?

Even the BBC can’t decide.

Tuning in to the BBC late last night, I watched a report about the Saville inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, 1972, during which the studio presenter referred to the Northern Irish city of "Londonderry". When we went to a report from the area, however, the name of "Derry" was used. Naturally, there are historical resonances attached to both versions.

Unionists -- and especially their supporters in England -- have a strong preference for Londonderry, as it was renamed in recognition of its connections with City of London livery companies during the Plantation of Ulster in the 1600s.

Nationalists tend to prefer the name that served perfectly well for centuries before the inhabitants of the large island next door decided to occupy the neighbouring lands across the Irish Sea -- "ye that have harried and held/ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!", as Patrick Pearse, leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, called them in his poem "The Rebel".

As Saville is going to be in the news in the coming days, there is a significance in the nomenclature used in reports. The Guardian style guide, for instance, states firmly: "Derry, Co Derry. Not Londonderry." A BBC press officer tells me she doesn't think the corporation has any internal guidelines.

The Independent's letters editor and style supremo, Guy Keleny, says that paper would aim to be "non-tendentious and even-handed as regards the history of Northern Ireland". So, the local authority, which voted to revert to the original name of Derry in 1984, "has the right to call itself whatever it wants". However, the high court ruled in 2007 that Londonderry is in the city's royal charter and remains its legal name.

An old edition of the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors lists Derry as a "postally acceptable abbreviation" of Londonderry, while I gather the comedian Dara O'Briain makes light of the competing versions when he performs in the city by opening his show with the line: "Hello, my name is Dara, or if you prefer, you can call me Londondara."

You can find quite a history of the dispute on Wikipedia here, although some of its statements are questionable. It says, for instance, that "The Londonderry Air" ("Danny Boy") is "seldom" called "The Derry Air". Not so "seldom" in southern Irish circles, that's for sure.

Keleny adds: "there ought to be a Platonic ideal" for the name of the actual place -- but that is still only an aspiration. As Éamonn Ó Ciardha of the University of Ulster says: "The Ulster Plantation may have been 400 years ago but its impact is still being felt at home and abroad." Not least in the findings of the Saville inquiry, which are published today.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett's "When the Lights Went Out".

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.