SDLP…That Was The Week That Was

Or an alternative headline…”SDLP …a  week is a long time in Politics”. It seems that this was a good week for SDLP. On Saturday, last week, we were all a bit nervy. This Saturday, we are more optimistic than we have been fora long time.

There was something about last weekends Leadership Election that makes me think we should have had “white smoke” coming out of a chimney to signify that the College of Cardinals …or SDLP delegates…had made a decision. A religious person might be tempted to think the Holy Spirit was involved.

For as I blogged a week before the election, this was not an election that would be decided by factions within SDLP…the strongest silent vote was rank and file SDLP members, who dont care much for either faction.

Hence  the balance…Colum Eastwood is Leader and Fearghal McKinney is Deputy Leader and better still, if I had hand-picked the Party Executive, I doubt if I could have been more pleased.

And of course, this week we had that “Deal” at Stormont…and a succession of Sinn Féin MLAs trying to turn Defeat into Victory…and the week ending with people actually wanting to join SDLP.

I am …dare I say it…a bit like the Holy Spirit. I move in mysterious ways.

The Conference is not about the “hall”. Rather, the actionis a series of ten minute conversations with some people I have got to know over the past five years. And people-watching.

Best moment of Conference was the speeches proposing and seconding reducing the voting age to sixteen. Conference debuts for Mr Ruairi McDonnell (17) and Ms Dearbhla McDonnell (16)…Alasdairs older kids….brilliant speeches it must be genetic (yes we all made the same joke).

Interesting to observe that there are some MLAs who seem to move around witha personal entourage. It is amusing to watch. Young folks obviously watching too much “The West Wing”.

Interestingly, the post which I recently wrote on the rise and rise of “staffers” went down well with veteran councillors and not so well with “staffers”. “Staffers is actually a very broad term. It covers HQ/Press Office staff, the highly political advisors attached to individual MLAs, the apolitical and brilliant constituency office people and a sprinkling of student types.

Increasingly, the actual councillors who are dealing with real issues like street lighting, garbage collection and housing problems look as if they have been usurped by political professionals and wannabe professionals, who are interested in “big issues”.

I am not sure if I like or dislike this new development. It is amusing to watch. At one level, HQ seems to think that rank and file members …especially uppity ones like me…are a pain in the arse and that SDLP would function better if it was left to them. There is something wonderfully chaotic about SDLP. We rely on our hearts rather than our heads. The professionals are effectively trying to herd cats.

It is all about …balance.

The extent to which the political professionals are committed to SDLP or a CV is variable. I have seen too many whizzkids who once seemed very central and somehow drifted into other employment …they have transferrable skills. When I run across them at seminars etc now and I ask them if they are still Party members, they shrug their shoulders. So there is a turnover of staffers and wannabees. But the trend seems to be that we are getting more in than we are losing.

A political party is a bit like a puppy…not just for Christmas.

Some might say that I am bitter and twisted because I have applied for “staff jobs” with SDLP in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and never even been shortlisted for interview. And some people who say that, might be absolutely right. Some might say that I know a fair bit about Politics…but I am too lazy to actually “do” anything. In my defence, I am 63 years old and just haven’t the energy.


This Blog gets no support from the “Party” but increasingly, I feel that it is a voice for “rank and file” people. I have more credibility with non-SDLP members when I am 90% “on message”. Mostly, I am too quirky to worry about how I am viewed within the SDLP. But there was one uncomfortable moment last weekend…it was both amusing and hurtful.

Take a look at the pic above. That is Alan from Slugger O’Toole, who along with David McCann was accredited as “Press”. Of course they sought accreditation and I didnt. Now leaving aside the very generois term “Press” to cover Blogging…they are facilitated more than I am. They get into Conference for “free”.

As a member I can attend private sessions. But the Conference brochure, annual reports etc costs me £15. It is “gold dust” to me, not least the list of runners and riders for Executive posts. Slugger does not get a copy of the brochure…but as I understand it, BBC have a copy.

The point I make here, is that …banter aside…Slugger O’Toole is not notoriously pro-SDLP. I feel that I am paying to actually blog in support of SDLP. The SDLP have a reputation for listening to other voices. I daresay thats a good thing…a feature of SDLP Conferences. Professor Deirdre Heenan, Rev Norman Hamilton this year. But sometimes it would be nice to listento our own voices.

Just three weeks ago, I was at the Lyric Theatre …a SDLP seminar on Civil Society. Deirdre was on the panel again, along with Ryan Feeney from the GAA. As far as I know neither are members of SDLP. And David McCann of Slugger O’Toole was on the panel…substituting for Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole.

Now here is the thing. Mick has a lot more experience in this field than I have. Fair play. But come on ….David McCann? It really makes no sense for SDLP people to be tweeting that BBC featured Eamonn McCann and Chris Donnelly on a Spotlight programme on Colum Eastwood. Can we really whinge about that when we do it ourselves.

That should be the first item on the agenda for Colum and Fearghal…OUR OWN VOICES.

Perhaps I am slightly marginalised in SDLP because I never identified with one faction or another.  Maybe too much of a loose cannon. But more likely it is because SDLP has not put too much effort into Blogging.

The marginalisation is irritating because there is a delicate balance. The last thing I would want is to be an “embedded SDLP blogger”. But frankly Id like just a wee bit more appreciation.

It will beinteresting to see how the Assembly Election campaign is planned.


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6 Responses to SDLP…That Was The Week That Was

  1. Political Tourist says:

    How many blogs are there with a SDLP slant, two maybe three?

    • The best SDLP voice across all platforms is “Kevin”, a reader of this Blog. He is great on Slugger and
      He is a scientist and very logical ….my blogs tend to be quirky.
      Not nearly enough SDLP bloggers …I dont think theres ever been a serious attempt to organise us.
      There was an excellent presentation on Social Media at the recent Conference. But Blogging in my view is very different from Twitter….a kinda “drive by” political forum.
      At one level Twitter is good for councillors to get messages out “road conditions in…..are very bad” and “good work by local charity”
      But the majority of political tweets originate in the bars and canteens at Queens University and are “banter” sent across the room to a table with other students from other parties.

  2. benmadigan says:

    very hard to blog with an SDLP slant – could never manage it myself (or any other slant to be honest).
    Well done FJH for supporting the SDLP with conviction, in face of little recognition or appreciation from your Party

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