Alex For Europe?

It is surely getting to the stage where SDLP should be choosing the candidate for the European Elections in 2014. Will the Party Conference in November be the event at which the candidate is announced? Or will the candidate be chosen well ahead of that date?
Either way…the focus of Conference 2013 will be Europe.
As I blogged two months ago, Mark Durkan, the former Party Leader and currently MP for Foyle, is the favoured candidate of SDLP Youth.
But the two front runners seem to be Alex Attwod MLA and Colum Eastw ood MLA. That makes it interesting. Alex will soon be stepping down as Minister for Environment, to be replaced by Mark H Durkan. For the benefit of non-local readers, “Mark H” is the nephew of “Mark”.
While there will be a certain amount of jockeying for position within SDLP, the only relevant question is “who gets the most votes out?”. At best SDLP only has a slim chance of taking one of the three European seats available in Norn Iron.
The differences are geographical (Alex is in Belfast, Colum in Derry), emphasis (Colum is more “green” than Alex) but actually I think that the biggest difference is generational.
Colum Eastwood is around thirty and Alex is in his early fifties.
A reasonable question might be if this is one election too far for Alex and one election too early for Colum.
Losing with Alex might look like the Party is in decline. Yesterdays Men and Women.
Losing with Colum might look like the Party is on the rise.
Its about Perception. And laying down markers for Westminster 2015. And indeed Assembly 2016.
Colum, who attracted adverse letsgetalongerist publicity by attending the funeral of a dissident republican in Derry maybe wont do as well as Alex in South Belfast. Alex is a fierce and long-term critic of republican violence. He is unpopular with mainstream republican voters who are not likely to switch a vote from Sinn Fein. But that “soft republican” vote CAN be courted by Eastwood.
And Martina Anderson is a factor.
She is the current Sinn Fein MEP, co-opted to replace Bairbre de Brun, who is ill.
Also based in Derry, Martina Anderson and Colum Eastwood are old sparring partners. And rightly or wrongly, SDLP people believe he will do well against her. Martina, who has been convicted and imprisoned for her part in an IRA bombing campaign will be even less attractive than Colum in South Belfast.
Of course…a lot depends on who is backed by leading SDLP figures.
And the inevitable horse trading. And whether The promotion of “Mark H” to Environment is a factor in all this.
Conall McDevitt is Le Dauphin. He is the most likely person to replace Alasdair McDonnell as next Leader.
He does not “need” Europe and although likely to be closer to Alex, it would be wise if he stayed above the fray.
Alex can be a bit prickly. Or maybe, he is just prickly with me. But he is probably has the attributes to make a good MLA or Minister but doesnt quite have the precise attributes for a CANDIDATE.
This MIGHT be the Moment of Truth for SDLP.
Time for the veterans to step aside?

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25 Responses to Alex For Europe?

  1. Pepsi says:

    Attwood would be a disaster. He’s irritable, charmless, condescending and has little appeal. I still cringe thinking about his ‘WWI’ conference speech back in autumn 2010. Awful public speaker, and with a penchant for attacking cameramen.

    Young Eastwood would be a great candidate. As would Patsy McGlone – both are confident, very amiable and can well (re-)attract the green vote that’s been lent to SF over the past decade. I actually think Durks could win, and would probably enjoy the gig, but I think he’s much more use to the party at Westminster where he’s very well regarded by Brit MPs from all sides.
    To be honest, I don’t think there’s much point in winning this election anyway – it’d just mean sending a big-hitted off to irrelevance. I’d much rather keep the likes of Eastwood in Ireland where the can keep the SDLP fire burning in Foyle etc. A modest 5% increase in the vote share from 2009 would be enough to keep me happy. Keep the powder dry for the 2015 and (ridiculously ill-timed) 2016 elections.

  2. boondock says:

    Nothing against Attwood but I am always concerned at the state of the SDLP in West Belfast. Granted Joe Hendron was a tough act to follow but seriously the SDLP vote has imploded in a relatively short time to the point were people before profit may soon overtake the SDLP. I don’t know all the reasons why but surely that should be a warning enough to try someone else.

  3. I think the post nationalist carry on was the greatest disaster ever self inflicted by any political party – a lot lost then and never recovered

  4. Political Tourist says:

    It won’t matter a great if the ‘English’ voters decide to kick the EU into touch at a referendum.
    What then for the SDLP.

  5. Irish Aussie says:

    The SDLP is certainly facing a moment of truth, but its not the generational one you seem to think it is.
    I thought it interesting that you mentioned Sth Belfast and not West Belfast in your blog, because I think that is at the heart of the problems facing the SDLP and by any reasonable assessment the SDLP has problems, serious ones in my opinion.
    Whenever the Australian Labour Party gets its self into trouble which sadly it does from time to time, it always goes back to its roots to rebuild, it always reconnects with its core to start again.
    The SDLP’s roots are in West not South Belfast or at least used to be, plus there is a shit load more votes there.
    The SDLP needs to ask its self what does it stand for now and who is it going to represent going forward
    The SDLP needs to figure out quickly if its going to be the NI shirt wearing, MBE accepting, lapdogs of the unionists representing the Sth Belfast set or is it going to return to its roots as the moderate, reasonable and sensible voice of Nationalist aspirations in the North.
    When it answers that question the candidate will pick him/herself.

    • I think Generational is an issue for SDLP. Ive seen them at very close quarters for a while now.
      I dont know where you get the idea that SDLP accepts MBEs. The only case I can recall was Mary McSorley in early 1980s and she left Party soon after.
      The reason that I mentioned South Belfast was that the SDLP has a Derry-South Belfast axis.
      These are the areas along with South Down where the Party is strongest, actually out-voting Sinn Fein and Alliance.
      No coincidence that there is a strong network of branches and a lot of members.

  6. Political Tourist says:

    Which brings us back to the vague politics of the SDLP to go with the vague cold war name.

  7. Political Tourist says:

    The SDLP will no doubt be around for decades to come.
    There’s obviously a market for another nationalist party other than the provos and the baggage the provos bring with them.
    Having a vague name and vague politics probably helps.
    Was never convinced by the theory that the SDLP vote was a middle class vote.
    How would that explain the SDLP winning controlling Derry Council.
    Hardly a middle class town is it.

    • No…the SDLP is not a middle class Party.
      But there is something aspirational about it.
      In my day a lot of working class people. But their sons/daughters have seemed to do well.
      Not a bad thing.

  8. Political Tourist says:


    I notice you never mention Gerry Fitt.
    Was he not one of your political heroes?

    • Oh I think I have mentioned him.
      Indeed just a few weeks ago he was mentioned in a thread on Paddy Wilson.
      I will address it in a specific thread if you like.
      But it will be pretty limited as I really did not know him well.

  9. factual says:

    Do you think there could be a swing from SF to SDLP In this election? Would that be people actively switching, or just some stay-at-home SDLP types coming out if their candidate is good? SF have generally been increasing vote share against SDLP in the Euros for a long time, so would be interesting to see the contest. SDLP have never really recovered from John Hume who actually managed to increase the nationalist overall vote share because he brought people out who didn’t normally vote. But the SDLP don’t have a John Hume any more.

  10. factual says:

    How about one of the upcoming generation (such as for example Seamas de Faoite or Claire Hanna but I am sure there are others)? These MEP election situations are good opportunities to showcase an impressive upcoming talent that can take a later seat in Belfast or Dublin: SF did this with Mary Lou and Pearse Doherty south of the border.

    • Seamas is a good friend but a little too soon for him.
      He would need to build a profile. And is doing so.
      Claire is solidly South Belfast.
      Would be a great candidate as she has been the SDLPs International Secretary.
      Elected on to City Council in 2011, it is maybe five years too soon.

      • factual says:

        Declan O’Loan would perhaps be a good choice, as he is currently in want of a post.

      • What makes you say that? Do you know Declan?

      • factual says:

        No I don’t know him, but I remember noting he has a good academic pedigree.

      • Dont get carried away with academic pedigree.
        Academics dont necessarily make good public representatives. Declan is an excellent representative.
        But are you suggesting Declan will put his name forward?

      • factual says:

        He has a maths degree from Imperial College, London, and a postgraduate degree in maths from Cambridge as well, if I recall right. Maths needs brains. #respect

        No I don’t have any idea whether he will put his name forward.

  11. factual says:

    I still think Claire Hanna should be the candidate – left wing and not just another “grey” middle aged man.

    • The candidate should be the one likely to garner the most votes.
      Capable though Claire clearly is, she did not do well in Westminster in 2010, when she stood in Strangford.
      Clare represents Balmoral DEA, the heart of LetsGetALongerism wing in SDLP. Conall is Chair of the local Branch.
      She is probably the third most recognisable SDLP name in South Belfast…which is a bit unfair on Bernie Kelly, Pat McCarthy and Kate Mullan.
      In my humble view Bernie should have got the co-option instead of Conall when Carmel Hanna stood down.
      She had done the constituency time.
      To me South Belfast …SDLP cant hope to retain the two seats there if they run two Balmoral-ites..Conall and Clare in the event of Alasdair retiring. They would lose nationalist votes in Ormeau-Laganbank.
      Remember Conall has only stood in one election ever…2011…and it was a close run thing for him.
      Conall and Clare are both signatories to Platform for Change and all that nonsense…the only thing I can fault them on. Because they are excellent in every other respect.
      That kinda nonsense does however register with university types in South Belfast.
      The reality is that Clare cant totally connect with ALL SDLP voters in South Belfast. Neither can Conall.
      Alasdair has proved that he can.
      And if she cant connect with all of South Belfast….or next door in Strangford, then she simply wont connect in Derry or Coalisland or Ballycastle.
      She has been International Secretary of the Party…and a great one. And will certainly have support if she threw her hat in the ring. But she has a good ten years to make a name for herself in Belfast Council and probably Stormont.
      The time is not right…but it will be.

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