The peerless Mick Fealty has an interesting piece on Slugger O’Toole (partner of Stratagem which advises Rowntree which has given £98,000 to the Alliance Party over the past few years) …..in which he compares and contrasts the very public nature of the UUP Leadership contest with the “behind closed doors” nature of the SDLP Leadership contest.
I am not sure that Leadership Elections…obviously a private matter…should be expected to be some kinda spectatator sport for the amusement of political anoraks like myself.
Leadership contests have the potential to divide political parties….or to unite them. Mick Fealty makes the point that he has heard an observation that the SDLP Leadership brought about a kinda camaraderie. I am not really a member of the SDLP long enough to know if this is true…….but it is interesting. I joined the SDLP on the resignation of Margaret Ritchie as I wanted to be part of the SDLP “project” (an awful term) as I had been from 1973 to 1982. The leading people in the SDLP are not well known by me.
Certainly I feared that a divisive Leadership contest would be very damaging. And was rather relieved when it was not. I attended hustings in Belfast (twice), Newry and in Lurgan and I think there was a palpable sense of relief at the last husting (the Friday night of the Conference in the Ramada Hotel) that the hustings had passed off well. I can say with a certain amount of satisfaction (and relief) that there was more which united the four candidates than actually divided them.
I have often made the point that the SDLP has listened to too many voices that are not SDLP voices or SDLP-supporting voices. This was the thing that the SDLP got “right” last year. It listened to…or was forced to listen to SDLP voices…..the consequence of which was the election of Alasdair McDonnell on a platform which was frankly not much different to the other candidates.
No doubt this process …….a conversation…….is taking place within the SDLP. But it is clearly a conversation which should be confined to those who have paid a subscription to take part…..a conversation to take place behind a “pay wall” . The next stage of that conversation must be to engage SDLP supporters outside the “party” and bring the debate to the electorate in due course.