SDLP Leadership Contest

Deja vu? When this Blog started, the SDLP was having a Leadership Contest following the resignatin of Margaret Ritchie after poor results in 2011 Assembly contest. This was in August 2011 and while I supported Patsy McGlone, I was pretty happy with the result …Alasdair McDonnell won.

Alasdair may not be popular with Norn Iron’s metrotextual blogger-bubble (Slugger O’Toole passim) and he has a solid rump of maybe 30 per cent of SDLP members against him but I think he has done pretty well in his four years in charge of the Party.

Basically Alasdair set out the challenges at a conference on 10th March 2012. He pledged to re-organise the Party and this has been largely achieved. There have been good conferences on Tourism, Victims, Health, Agriculture, Education etc…I have attended most of them and reported on many in this Blog. New Blood….Fearghal McKinney, Roisín Lynch, Daniel McCrossan, Justin McNulty, Margaret Anne McKillop and Stephanie Quigley to name just a few.

Election results…well …actually we are doing ok. While Sinn Féin lost ten council seats in 2014 and Alliance lost two (from a smaller base than SDLP), the SDLP lost just one seat. Likewise in the Westminster elections in May, Sinn Féin lost one seat and Alliance lost Saint Naomi….and SDLP held its three seats.

Importantly the Leadership seemed settled. Conall McDevitt was the heir apparent from 2011 thru to his shock resignation in August 2013. I think that was a period of relative calm.

Double-Jobbing meant Alasdair gave up his Assembly seat earlier in the summer and Claire Hanna is already making an impact as his replacement. Obviously she is personally ambitious but she is also doing a lot of good for SDLP.

Alasdair McDonnell holds the view that there is no reason why a SDLP Leader should not be a Westminster MP (Al is one of three SDLP MPs) and does not agree that the SDLP Leader should be based at Stormont (where the Party has 14 MLAs). It is a perfectly legitimate view…as is the alternative view.

For the record, I believe that the Leader should be based at Stormont. Alasdair has weakened his own position as Party Leader by not resigning or at least signalling his exit after the Assembly Election in May.


For the record, Alasdair McDonnell has been unfailingly decent to me since I started this blog and joined the SDLP. Maybe if I had remained a member after 1982 and not been away from SDLP for thirty years, I would understand or even give a damn about the personal issues involved.

I dont do factions.

Colum Eastwood was thought to be considering a run against Dolores Kelly for Deputy Leader last year so his endorsement by Brid Rodgers, who is close to Dolores seems a suprise. Is it possible that Dolores has decided to stand down as Deputy Leader, which would clear the way for….oh lets see….Claire Hanna, who is a new MLA but has vast experience and much admired by that whole “progressive”, cross-party metrotextuals crowd. And Claire has endorsed Colum.

Colum, on the other hand is regarded as on the nationalist wing of SDLP. A political balance. a gender balance and of course an East-West balance and with Derry and South Belfast carrying a lot of weight in SDLP…which added to the “Anyone But Alasdair” faction…might be enough.

I think the pairing is the one that SDLP want. The Dream Ticket. They will re-vitalise the Party.

Colum has talked about the post-Good Friday Agreement generation. Maybe its time. But I think this transition could be better handled and I still hope that it is.

Alasdair is simply a better man than any of his detractors inside and outside SDLP.

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6 Responses to SDLP Leadership Contest

  1. If the SDLP really want to revitalise the party they need to stretch their wings beyond the Northern Pale. Being the inheritors to Wee Joe Devlin, however far removed, is not going to sustain an electoral future, not in the long run. Go south young man! 😉

    • The base is too narrow, emphasised by the fact of geographical differences, family loyalty and personal issues. Perhaps surprisingly the political roots …nationalist, liberal, republican, socialist….dont seem as divisive as the personal.
      I think the political systems north and south would need to be more compatible.

      • Even in the border counties? I know that would be in SF’s territory but there would surely be a vote there for an SDLP candidate on 3rd/4th preferences from SF/FF/Lab voters. Some of the ex-Lab folk would be a goodish SDLP fit. The new SocDems could easily be an SDLP team. I think SDLP folk are too easily daunted by the mountain they would have to climb, considering the potential reward they could reap by being players regionally and nationally.

      • Its the old story…travel at the speed of the slowest horse in the troop.
        I think you are right…but not enough people go for it.
        There is too much deference to FF/FG and Labour but I actually see that changing over the last two or three years.
        Did younote Seamus Mallon saying that SF were allowed into Govt too quickley and that the two governments were pushing too hard.
        I dont know if thats right or wrong but I think SDLP needs to look at their own actions in the five or six years after
        1998. Too deferential.
        Since the Stormont House Agreement, I think the Party is not anxious to repeat that mistake.

  2. zig70 says:

    You seemed resigned to the fact that Alasdair will lose? I hadn’t thought to rule him out. Working the floor seemed to be his strength.

    • I dont know.
      I think that there are SDLP membrs who will vote for anyone against Alasdair. i over-stated it at 30 per cent.
      But Colum Eastwood has his own following, would probably be the next Leader anyway and there is a group who would be legitimately concerned about the Westminster role.
      I am 63 and I am not convinced that every answer is to be found in Youth but there is an electoral advantage potentially.
      I think that the Party would welcome an end to the bad blood. And Colum offers a chance.
      To be clear there is no (so far as I am aware no contest for Deputy Leader) but I make the point that Brid Rodgers backed Margaret and Conall and has been quick out of the blocks to back Colum.

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