Saturday, April 11, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part XCV: Jenny Muir

Jenny lives in South Belfast with her husband Nick. Born in England, she moved to Belfast nine years ago, after twenty years living in London. She has worked as a bookseller and a local government officer, and is currently a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast with research interests in urban regeneration and housing. In London, Jenny was a member of the British Labour Party, including four years as a local councillor from 1986 – 1990. In Belfast she has been active in the Irish Labour Party, but has recently resigned, in response to their decision not to allow members to contest elections in Northern Ireland. Her blog is South Belfast Diary

What made you decide to start blogging?

I knew a few bloggers and had thought about joining them for some time, as I was aware of the potential - but I was doing a weekly commute to Glasgow and was short of spare thinking time. Then I got a job back home in Belfast and started South Belfast Diary in March 2007. Last year I was pleased to be asked to contribute to Irish Left Review, although I haven’t posted much recently due to lack of time:

What is your best blogging experience?

When I posted about having decided to leave the Irish Labour Party, it was lovely to get so many supportive comments:

And your worst?

The ‘Grandad’ episode: I came in for a lot of abuse on that post, both on SBD and elsewhere, and I don’t think it was worth it.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

The 2007 post ‘‘Normalising’ politics in Northern Ireland?’:

I’m working on a revised version at the moment.

Favourite blogs?

Favourite political blogs are:

Cedar Lounge Revolution:


Over the Bridge:

Roe Valley Socialist:

Your Friend in the North:

And, of course, my husband’s blog, on which I get a mention now and again!

What inspired you to go into politics?

I never really felt that I ‘went into politics’ as such. It seems to me that taking an interest in the political process, and ideally being a member of a political party, is part of being a responsible citizen. Whether we like it or not, the political process is how the world is run. But since I’ve been living in Northern Ireland, I understand better that for some people it’s not possible to find a political party they are happy to join.

How do you see the future for the Labour Parties in Northern Ireland?

I’m very pessimistic about this. The Irish Labour Party has very firmly closed the door on electoral activity, although they still allow membership. The British Labour Party, which has more members, is taking a long and cautious route towards standing for election. Both parties’ headquarters are keen to retain their good relationship with the SDLP. In the case of Irish Labour this is because under Eamon Gilmore they have become more overtly nationalist; and I think British Labour fundamentally don’t get that because the SDLP is a nationalist party as well as a democratic socialist party, many of us are not prepared to join or to vote for it.

Another possibility would be to start a separate Northern Ireland Labour Party, which has been done in the past with short-term success. However, although the old NILP started out as a cross-community party, it became associated with unionism in its later days and therefore became part of the problem rather than the solution. I’m not aware of any significant support for this option.

You recently blogged on the murders that took place in the province last month. Do you think this will affect Northern Ireland politics in the long term?

No. In the short term these murders bring together the 99.9% of the population who are disgusted by them. They give politicians a new platform, and have increased the number of recruits to the police service. The reason it won’t affect politics long-term is that we’re talking about a very small number of people with no significant community support, and organisations that are obviously heavily infiltrated by the police or security services in any case.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

San Francisco.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

I’ve been to Sydney three times, but would still go back at any opportunity. And a return visit to Chicago would be great too.

Who do you regard as the best Labour leader, and, if possible, the best First Minister?

Labour leaders are always caught between idealism and pragmatism, but in terms of achievement I would say Attlee for British Labour. Kevin Rudd seems to be doing a good job in Australia. We haven’t yet had a particularly distinguished First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?

I would love to be able to choose a woman, but women in politics generally seem to polarise into those who get co-opted, Blair’s Babes style, or who remain ineffectual rebels. So my inspiration is Tony Benn, for his radicalism and also because he shows politics doesn’t have to be determined by class background; and of course, recently, Barack Obama.

Favourite Bond movie?

I haven’t watched a Bond movie for at least thirty years!

Favourite Doctor Who?

In childhood it was Jon Pertwee, and now it’s David Tennant. I’m disappointed that his replacement isn’t a woman, though – I think the world is ready for a female Doctor.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

A mixture of all three, topped with chocolate sauce and chopped almonds.

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Dublin, Belfast, or Newry?

There are many other places I’d rather recommend! But Dublin still has more to offer, it’s on a different scale.

Favourite national newspaper?

The Independent in the UK and the Irish Times for the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland doesn’t have a reliable newspaper of record, unfortunately.

What would you say your hobbies were?

My hobby is making a list of all the hobbies I intend to take up when I retire.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books
(Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?


‘Land’ - Patti Smith

Cyprus Avenue’ - Van Morrison

‘Carey’ – Joni Mitchell


‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot

‘Dreams from My Father’ by Barack Obama

‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby

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