Strange thing. I was at the SDLP Campaign Launch yesterday.
And it was…actually very good.
I am kinda surprised that I am saying that.
It was certainly the best day the SDLP have had in the three or four years that I have been associated with the party. I made this point to a senior former councillor and he said “that was the best day in ten years”.
The Launch was professional…Id expect that.
So..Waterfront Hall (Bar 2 to be precise). Martin Schulz,the Leader of the PES (the party of European Socialists) was on the train from Dublin, accompanied by several members of SDLP Youth. He was late…bomb scare on the railway line near Lurgan.
Sorry about the poor quality of the pics but I actually forgot to take pics at the event itself.
The Welcome that Martin received was more than dutiful, more than respect…it was affectionate. Dolores Kelly the Deputy Leader introduced Dr Alasdair McDonnell. Al is reputed not to be a good orator. Its not usually his thing. But he spoke with confidence and purpose. Easily the best speech I have heard him make.
Martin was next up.
There is usually an element of “show biz” about this kinda thing.
A bit like Donny Osmond or Garth Brooks telling the Belfast audience how “wunnerful (sic) it is to be in Belfast in your lil ole country”.
But Martin…Martin LIKED us. We LIKED him. He GOT us. And we GOT him.
Of course it helped that he had spent some hours on the train with SDLP Youth. They introduced him to “Free State Tayto”.
So that when he spoke about Tayto “crunch crisps” referencing the running joke that Southern Tayto tastes better than Northern Tayto and his experience of having to use a bus for part of the nominal train journey from Dublin, then he had already passed the test.
You know that “test” that we give “foreigners” to check if they get us.
You know the sorta thing where you travel to Texas and use words, accents, references to make sure the people around us “get us”.
Cos thats the joy of being Irish…people “get” us (and we like them) or dont “get” us and we dont give a feck.
So when he stepped into a rapturous welcome at the Waterfront, Martin Schulz had already passed these tests.
His speech had substance.
And thats good about European Politics. No Flegs…but the Red One.
If unionism and nationalism are relevant at Westminster, Stormont or eleven new councils, then it doesnt seem to matter much in Brussels.
This was BIG Politics not SMALL Politics.
Indeed I have heard enough “Labour NI” people (not standing in this election) claim that on this solitary European election, they are with SDLP. And the indication is that most Green votes will end up as transfers to SDLP.
Oddly I did not make notes.
Maybe I was caught up in the moment.
But Martin talked about being born into post-war Germany, where his parents worked for low wages, paid high taxes, had few days off. Part of a re- building process that people in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Britain happily did…to make the loves of their children better.
Now todays Europeans are being asked to make sacrifices…not for their children…but so that financial institutions could survive. So that the people and institutions who caused the crisis can remain in place.
Standards …trade union rights, working hours, wages are being lowered as Europeans are told that they must compete with economies in other continents, where there are few trade union rights, poor wages, poor conditions, including child labour.
The priority of the PES is to protect European standards and insist that other economies improve their standards to gain access to the European Market.
Referencing Greece, Martin spoke of real hardship and real hunger.
“We are Socialists…we feel pain”
There were of course refences to “my friend John Hume” and the SDLP and the Peace Process.
It was sincere.
Martin Schulz is on a pre-election tour of all twenty eight member states in the European Union.
He is almost certain to be the first democratically elected President of the Commission.
It strikes me that he will achieve this with or without the maximum of four Irish Labour votes or the maximum one SDLP vote.
He doesnt NEED us to boost him.
But He spent time with us…it boosted us.
It was not mere Duty…like a visit by a Democrat Presidential hopeful to Alaska. Or the visit of a Republican to Hawaii.
I surprise myself by coming back to a single word….Genuine.
Alex Attwood. His speech divided between European and Local Elections. Tributes to outgoing councillors like John Tierney, Kate Lagan and Bobby Loughran.
A sense of anticipation about the New Generation.
As Alasdair had earlier said 119 candidates and 35% are female.
Talk about Victims, Ballymurphy and La Mon…the two tragedies which Secretary of State Villiers wont allow to be examined by a Public Enquiry.
“NOT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST” surely the most unacceptable of all political expessions.
And reference of course to his and the local campaigns and doorstep reaction.
It was a very good day.
So what exactly is that feeling?