With just over 24 hours to go before nominations close, it might have been expected that political anoraks like myself had more names to mull over. We dont. Therefore we speculate on the names and we speculate on the motives.
It was speculated over a week ago that Conall was “considering throwing his hat in the ring” (tweeted by Eamonn Mallie)…….which was of course a confirmation (strangely missed) that Margaret Ritchie had already told her inner circle she would not stand. I went public with the story on this Blog.
But about nine days has elapsed…..and no confirmation that McDevitt is in the race.
Yet we have had feverish activity in SDLP branches up and down the North. They are already nominating….Patsy McGlone, often in tandem with Dolores Kelly as Deputy Leader.
Its simply too late to get a serious nomination for either.
And all that is left is a marker for the Future.
But there are two entirely different kind of markers.
The first would be to stand as Leader or Deputy and lose. There might be a certain appeal in a balanced ticket to heal blood letting and/or bad blood. But McDevitt would lose.
The second option is to be on the sidelines and jump enthusiastically and publicly to his feet when the new Leader is announced at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast in November.
Whatever his long term ambitions, I think its fair to say that this Election in these circumstances are not part of the plan. He does have an understandable dilemna and if I was him, Id get my wife to phone Stormont and tell them I am sick (wisdom tooth maybe like John Major in 1990) and it would get all the journalists off my back. In the corridors of Stormont, journalists want a story and I am sure that more than one has sidled up to Conall and wanted a story “off the record”. And Conall from a background in PR is always available for an off the record briefing.
Conall perhaps needs a reality check. And the demise of Ritchie is an opportunity. By accident or design, he was catipulted into the first rank of SDLP figures……despite his junior status. He was co-opted to Stormont, replacing Carmel Hanna in early 2010. He fought his first election in May this year and narrowly held his seat.
He has now earned the right to be considered among the first six SDLP senior figures. But he is not the Number One or Number Two.
Margaret Ritchies decision to stand down has robbed the SDLP rank and file of their opportunity to hang her from the Ramada flagpole. Now the Party has to say it all with flowers in a tearful farewell.
Which is bad news for her closest advisors. Both Attwood and McDevitt. They are too closely associated with Failure. And McDevitt has about 12 years advantage over Attwood to change his fortunes.
There is a THIRD option ………whch is under the radar….but just as important. The elections to the Party Executive. The SDLP needs to purge it of at least some the pro-Ritchie element and Ritchie supporters would be well advised to organise themselves..if they havent already done so. Last year just 18 candidates contested 14 posts. There will be more this year.
And its in the nature of these things that branches only really “know” five or six names. The rest is all about sticking pins in the ballot paper and horse trading.
“Paddy Murphy nominated by Shantallow, seconded by Enniskillen……..Mary Daly nominated by Enniskillen seconded by Shantallow”.
I actually think thats where the real action will be.
Its not simply a matter of a getting rid of Margaret Ritchie …its a chance to get some root and branch reform. To some extent this is a Peasants Revolution in the SDLP. Not a good time to be part of the Old Guard. The “outreach” nonsense might have been noble but it was counter-productive. And the SDLP is only in the mood to listen to its own voices for a while. Rightly so.
I was thinking the other night that the Margaret Ritchie year/s were the worst moments for the SDLP. But in retrospect, I consider that the resignation of Seamus Mallon….ya know when he didnt “really” resign……he only “intended” to resign….it was an unconvincing sleight of hand that turned SDLP supporters stomaches. An act of “cute hoorism” albeit for the Greater Good of saving the Agreement. It was a lapse in standards.
But there was a fall in standards in SDLP and some of the tactics adopted by Ritchies campaign team left a bitter taste. As did she with the double jobbing.
And her exit strategy ……she wants to serve South Down at Westminster……is living proof that History is tragedy the first time…..and farce the second time……..we can all laugh at the sheer risible nonsense and cart her off with a bunch of flowers to Westminster and we will never have to listen to her again.
A line needs to be drawn under “cute hoorism”. It doesnt suit the SDLP. A bit of straight talking is whats needed.
And rightly or wrongly……Conall McDevitt doesnt give the impression of being a straight talker…..except of course to colleagues who are off-message.
As a PR professional he will appreciate the importance of “image”.