Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP & MLA for South Belfast has been elected Leader of the SDLP. I was at the Ramada Hotel for the announcement just after 5pm.
The room was packed as might be expected and many of the charity and other stall holders who had packed up came into the back of the Hall.
All day everyone had been saying “too close to call” and while this is the thing that people tend to say on this kind of occasion …it was absolutely true in this case.
The general feeling was that there were two camps and that the McGlone/McDonnell camp led the McDevitt/Attwood camp by 60:40 but all would depend on transfers. The most interesting places to be were probably in rooms set aside for the Leadership teams upstairs. I think that in the end one camp opted for McDonnell and the other camp opted for Conall McDevitt.
Last nights Hustings (see my previous post) was the last of six events. When the contest began, I feared and I am sure others did…that it could prove divisive. Stangely the opposite happened. The longer the contest went on the greater the Unity…..although I wouldnt really want to test that theory by having an even longer contest. Of course it helped that there were no policy differences…it was a Leadership Contest and the Hustings tended to show that this was an intense seven week debate on what the SDLP is. Relief that the campaign was over?……certainly but actually a sense of greater relief that it hadn’t been a disaster but also a sense of deep satisfaction that the SDLP had learned quite a lot about itself in the past couple of months and actually liked what it had learned. It’s a very long time since the SDLP felt this good about itself.
As people tend to say on these occasions, all candidates brought something. In their own way each candidate was an inspiration. Alex Attwood Minister for the Environment, the sole Ministry the SDLP holds has Efficiency. Conall McDevitt has youth and communication skills………and he visibly matured as the contest progressed, less brash and has probably established himself as a serious candidate next time round. Patsy McGlone (the candidate backed by me) suffered thru being the “assassin who does not get the Crown” but in itself that was a service to the Party and Patsy can reach parts that other candidates cant. The belief that a composite candidate made up of the best parts of each candidate would be perfect soon became a cliché and maybe the delegates just decided that Alasdair had more of these qualities than any other. He has been referred to as the “bull who brings his own china shop with him” but frankly if the “letsgetalongerist” enemies of SDLP open a china shop Id be happy to let Alasdair loose in it.
For people who actually like the SDLP, this was an excellent day. For those who have sought to disparage the SDLP it was a bad day.
Incidently the Leadership contest overshadowed an excellent presentation on Collusion by the Pat Finnucane Centre which focussed on guns used by UDR/loyalists terrorists in the Murder Triangle.
One of the first things the SDLP need to do is conduct a stock-take of sorts of the talent available to it. Its not all on the platform. A recognition of the talent within its own ranks might be the first step that the SDLP can take to listening to its OWN rather than EXTERNAL voices. It is also time that the people who need and shamelessly use the SDLP to promote human rights, workers rights, health issues, Irish language issues, pensions issues, whatever ……put up or shut up. These people cant have it both ways.
I myself joined the SDLP (after a gap of 30 years) two months ago. And I was pretty impressed by the Hustings, some of which I attended. There was something about today which reminded me of SDLPs Conference in December 1973 at the Europa Hotel. I have only blogged here about public events and commented on public events in the campaign as it was only the right thing to do.………which leads me to say that apart from tying up loose ends, I will not be blogging on Slugger O’Toole as it is no longer reasonable to so do.
I have not misused the trust of my SDLP colleagues and will not do so. The dynamic of writing a blog independently and writing as a SDLP member is completely different.
Essentially today was a reminder for those who believe , no proof is necessary and for those who dont believe, no proof is possible. It was that kind of day.
There is something about SDLP Conferences that are essentially nostalgic. John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Austin Currie, Bríd Rodgers, Frank Feely, Sean Farren, Eddie McGrady were all there. Reminders of the Partys proud Past.
Yet curiously I was reminded of the heady atmosphere of that Party Conference in 1973 the first I ever attended. Teachers like Ben Caraher, doctors such as the late Raymond McClean from Derry, solicitors such as Paschal O’Hare.
Now I am not for one minute inviting the criticism that these people are “middle class” do-gooders. There was and are plenty of ordinary working class people in the SDLP. But theres always been a degree of “Catholic” or “Christian” or now maybe post -Catholic or post- Christian values in reforming parties…..eg “chapel” culture in Labour or Liberals in England.
Besides even Sinn Féin with allegedly impeccable working class credentials take policy advice from Health, Economic and Educational professionals.
The intriguing bit for me was those charity stall workers who came into the Hall. Obviously there was a sense of “news” about to happen. But the SDLP can take a lot of heart from the prolonged applause that greeted every speech. They were caught up in the moment too.
It strikes me that in the Bar Library there must be other men and women of the calibre of Alban Magennis or Alex Attwood. It strikes me that in health centres and hospitals there are doctors of the calibre of Alasdair McDonnell. It strikes me that in the private sector there are decent guys like Conall McDevitt. And in schools and GAA clubs there are men and women of the calibre of Patsy McGlone.
To date too many are not involved. Or joining pressure groups like Platform For Change that are actually a “cop out” because they dont like “Norn Iron” politics. “Please change Politics so that I can get involved” is not a credible stance.
The SDLP Conference responded totally to the fact that they had just witnessed four people whose hearts are in the right place…..on their sleeves.
It was really that simple.