My boycott of newspapers is now eight weeks old. I have not of course read the story myself but I understand from Slugger O’Toole that there is an interview with David Ford, Leader of the Alliance Party in today’s Irish News.
I wonder how that was set up. There are three possibilities. The first possibility is that a journalist from the Irish News…on a slow day…phoned the Alliance Party Press Office and said “I want ian interview with David Ford”
The second possibility is that the Alliance Party Press Office phoned the Irish News and offered David Ford.
The third is that it is part of a media charm offensive by Ford and Alliance, possibly prompted by discontent that Ford was invisible for several weeks and Naomi Long effectively became Leader. Dthe the men in grey coats or his key advisors tell him to get his arse out there and say something…because his performance has been so awful.
Ford might well turn out to be the biggest casualty of this Flegs Dispute. His luck is running out. Of course the Irish News is a nationalist paper, leaning to SDLP traditionally but aware of a large Sinn Fein readership…probably 49% SDLP, 49% SF..re this reflecting newspapers being generally read by older people. I can’t imagine that Irish News is the paper of choice of many Alliance voters…despite having far too many anti-nationalist columnists.
So is Fords attack on SDLP in today’s paper a surprise? No….he thinks the SDLP can’t deal with the ideological splits within it. I make no apology for being a member of SDLP. I am a nationalist, a republican and a socialist. I believe in civil rights. All SDLP members tick those boxes but understandably the mix is different for different people. There are of course SDLP people who would only plump for SDLP and never give a transfer to any other party. Others …like me would happily give #2 to Sinn Fein and not vote outside that. Others would give a #2 to Alliance. I would do nothing to assist Alliance…ever.
Alliance I considers itself in the middle ground. Understandably it targets “soft” unionist and nationalist votes in UPP and SDLP. But to attract those votes it needs slippage from those parties AND it needs the erosion of votes from UUP and SDLP to be in tandem.
But there IS a problem. By common consent…UUP is disappearing like snow off a ditch. By common consent 2012 was a good year and even the most biased anti SDLP commentator would probably say that the SDLP has steadied the ship from May 2011.
The defections to Alliance from UUP….Harry Hamilton, Paula Bradshaw, David Sims and serial defector Ian Parsley have made Alliance more unionist and conservative. These people will be influential in any upcoming Leadership contest.
So what is Ford up to?
He is hardly trying to engage with nationalists in Mid Ulster, West Tyrone, Foyle, Fermanagh-south Tyrone, West Belfast, Newry-Armagh and South Down.
Even the most optimistic Alliance eejit would hardly think that SDLP seats in East Derry, Upper Bann and North Belast are vulnerable…even if they talked that nonsense up in 2011.
North Antrim…neither SDLP or Alliance have aseat but SDLP are quietly confident of a gain.
So really it can only be about seven seats. Alliance hold seats in them all. There is no serious SDLP presence in North Down and East Belfast but certainly in the latter where Chris Lyttle and Judith Cochrane seem out of their depth, nationalist transfers will be vital to keeping that second seat. t is hardly about East Antrim either.
An imploding UUP strengthens Ford in South Antrim…making Ford safer but where does that leave a likely Ford surplus. Even with a modest SDLP revival, South Antrim is Iin the game. Possibly Lagan Valley is beyond SDLP at next election.
But look at Strangford….a modest SDLP revival next time round.
But it about South Belfast? The Alliance Party was quick to assert that the Flegs dispute was all about East Belfast but it looks to me that Alliance strategists have worked out that South Belfast is a viable target for both Westminster and Assembly gain.
Wnhy? Well at 2011, Alliance probably underestimated their strength. Running a second candidate for the Assembly might have taken a SDLP seat. Next time round double-jobbing wont help Alasdair McDonnell, UUP melt down will boost Alliance anyway and in Metro-Textual Land the criticism of Newry SDLP councillors about the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park will certainly resonate.