I will be thirty-three years married this year. The surprising thing is maybe that the greatest sense of “being married” is not necessarily the happiest times. Yes, being present at the birth of your two children or times like being promoted at work or being at your childs graduation, wedding or holding a grandchild are happy and “together ” times or even having your wife in the audience in the Whitla Hall when you pick up your own degree aged fifty-seven is something to be treasured.
But having a husband or wife around when the timing belt on your car breaks up (last week) or doing a tour of the car showrooms on the Boucher Road (this week) is important. More so during the hospital stays, the miscarriages, the death of friends and relatives…parents and a grandchild…are equally times of “togetherness”.
A “happy marriage” is a great thing but not the most important thing. “Togetherness” overcomes unexpected long term illness, poverty and unexpected disability. Those lives together are hardly “happy” in any conventional sense of the word. But its the combination of good and bad stuff that is really important.
Before we got married, we went on a Catholic pre-marriage course. One little lesson was that the greatest danger in a marriage is the thing you love second most. It might be your birth family, an addiction (to drink, drugs and gambling), your career, your selfishness (guilty as charged!) or the ex-boyfriend or the new girl in the office or going out with your mates, or Manchester United (understandable) or spending too much money. You get the picture. If you’re thinking of getting married to your straight or gay boyfriend or girlfriend, it is a good idea to identify the thing that you love second most.
What has this got to do with Politics? Or SDLP for that matter?
Well…I am a member of SDLP. It is a kinda marriage….with about 1,400. Like in any marriage its never a good idea to talk about the things you love second most. Indeed it is not necessarily a good idea to say “we should talk about this”. Some couples revel in daily confrontation. Other couples dont.
So…talking to each other about “where do we go from here?” can be traumatic.
The really good thing about SDLP is that what they….we ….do is actually more for the benefit of other people. The marginalised. Is it worth it? Sometimes I wonder.
I am on record here as saying that things arent nearly as bad for SDLP as the narrative in the Media, the Fantasy Media (Slugger O’Toole) would have us believe.
The case is that there is just a general lethargy all around. Cruise Control. The glass is half full and it is half empty. There is no big idea and no big personality.
But talking about it is dangerous. It is like one of those discussions that married couples have. It always descends into “your mother never liked me”, “thats too much to spend on a wedding present” and the like.
SDLP does have that altruism though personal relationships are reputed to be poor. In times of trauma, take a look at what SDLP members love second most.
Take…that Party of European Socialists. We have the local franchise so we like them. In the European Parliament, there is no real rival for our affections.
But look at Scotland or (mostly North) Wales. Our so called sister party (the British Labour Party) lost out to the Scottish Nationalists. You wont find many (any ???) SDLP person who expressed regret. We love SNP …(left of centre and nationalist the SNP is our favourite Party). Any internationalists in SDLP are largely concentrated in South and West Belfast. They know better than to express regret at Scottish Labour’s humiliation.
Take a look at the Republic of Ireland. Again, the Irish Labour Party is our nominal sister party and we are obliged to sit thru their patronising fraternal greetings at the annual Conference. Most of the former Stickies in the Irish Labour Party have no time for us. Some are genuinely on our side. Of course some of us prefer Fianna Fáil but we tend to stick to the line that we want to have a relationship with all Southern Parties. But few in SDLP have a good word for the Fine Gael Blueshirts. In nationalist terms Fianna Fáil has a better record at standing up for northern nationalists.
But take Norn Iron itself. What Party in the North gets the #2 preference. Well the difficulty is that west of the Bann, SDLP really competes with Sinn Féin. In the Belfast suburbs SDLP competes with Alliance and maybe in a few constituencies like South Belfast and South Antrim both are serious rivals. In most parts of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry and Armagh, few SDLP people have ever seen an Alliance candidate. In Strangford and Lagan Valley, Sinn Féin are barely visible.
So discussing policy or direction can indicate a preference of a SDLP member for the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin, Green, Workers Party or even a Christian Socialist position.
The SDLP is a marriage….a coalition. The Diversity should be a strength. Talking about a single direction can be a big mistake.