SDLP: Deputy Leader

So soon after the election and it seems inappropriate to be discussing the next Deputy Leader of SDLP. Fearghal McKinney has just lost his seat. He was an excellent Deputy Leader.

The Deputy Leader should come from within the Assembly Party, now reduced to just twelve people, six of them going into the Assembly for the first time but I think it is fair to say that one of the newcomers Nichola Mallon,,has experience of Stormont as a Special Advisor and I count her as a potential Deputy.

There are two ways of looking at the role of a Deputy Leader. It might be a person most likely to succeed the Leader…or it might be the traditional pair of safe hands, a conduit between Leader and Party. It is not perhaps a good idea to be overtly ambitious or even to be seen as ambitious.

This is particuarly the case with SDLP, who have a young Leader (about 34). If Colum Eastwood is a successful Leader, he might be leading SDLP in twenty years. Alternatively SDLP might be locked into a rather unfortunate system where lack of success, general discontent and ambition (a constant jockeying for position) means that we have Leadership elections every five years.

Indeed a successful Colum Eastwood might be the candidate for SDLP for Foyle at Westminster if Mark Durkan gives up that role. But that is at least four years away and an ambitious Deputy Leader, elected this year will have to wait four years, possibly ten for a chance to be Leader.
I do think SDLP should be electing a Deputy Leader. I do not think SDLP should be electing the “Leader We Want After Colum”. The Party needs a few years to think about that and should not be handing the advantage to someone unproven at Stormont.
Apart from Colum, there are eleven MLAs….McGlone and Attwood are veterans from 1998. Durkan (a fellow Derry man and therefore unlikely) is from 2011. McCrossan and Hanna are from late 2015. The other six (Mallon, Mullan, McPhillips, McGrath, McNulty and Bradley) were elected last week.
The word on the street…the metrotextual street suggests it could be Nichola Mallon or Claire Hanna. Excellent people.
But part of the movement behind them is on the basis of GENDER BALANCE. The logic suggests if the Leader is a man, the Deputy must be a woman. So with just three women (Nichola, Claire and Sinead Bradley) in the Assembly Party, that is very limiting.
If there had been just one woman in the successful twelve…should she be returned uncontested for Deputy Leader? I dont think so…after all we supported Dan McCrossan in West Tyrone on the (correct) basis that the he was the right person (male or female). we are a Party based on FAIRNESS….the right person for the right job.

A straight contest between Nichola and Claire does not do either justice. It trivialises the Deputy Leadership contest as a choice between “Baby SDLP” and “Scary SDLP”. Yet the election of either would install them as favourite as “Leader After Colum”. We are not ready for that.
The best way to advance the ambitions of Nichola and Claire is to limit them…for a few years.
Arguably there is no reason why Fearghal McKinney should not continue as Deputy. After all it is primarily a Deputy Leader is a conduit between the Leader and the SDLP membership. If it has to be a MLA….then Patsy McGlone is the man for the job. Staying in office for (say) three years would give the Nichola, Claire and maybe Daniel a chance to make their case.

Claire is quite properly a favourite with the Bloggerati but that does not necessarily mean she is well known in SDLP branches way out west. She does have a perceived weakness. Her statement that no Party is a perfect fit, you join the one that fits best ….that might be a good one liner but may not play too well with men and women who find the Party ok …and are suspicious of Claire for customising the Party to appease her “progressive” friends outside the Party.
No…Claire might be the leading contender…but at this stage …gaffe-prone. She still has a bit to learn. Deputy Leader is not the place for on-job training.

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17 Responses to SDLP: Deputy Leader

  1. Catholic Voter says:

    I think you are possibly being a bit hard on Claire. She is SDLP through and through in my opinion and I think it is quite deep in her background. I think she is one of these politicians who really attracts a lot of voters. And I think she actually has been quite patient, working very effectively to get elected on Belfast City Council and now elected with a good mandate to the Assembly. Though I think that Fearghal is a great guy, to be fair I think its correct to say he has never won an election to anything, so maybe he is actually better in a different role? I like him a lot but I am not sure he is a natural “vote getter”.

    • I didnt mean to be hard on Claire. Definitely not my intention. She reaches voters in the specific constituency that other SDLP people could not reach.
      She has SDLP DNA in a way that nobody else has. I think she has not yet been long enough on Six County stage to truly get a rapport with Fermanagh, Derry etc.

  2. Croiteir says:

    Her gaping mouthed and saucer eyed response to Nolan on the question on Irish unity exposed her as a lightweight to me. Okay on fluffy issues and progressive claptrap but useless when it comes to substantial issues. In a word. Shallow. I suspect Mallow would be the same Hamma and Mallow.

    • Catholic voter says:

      Cr oi te ir
      I think that’s not fair. Nolans style of question leaves little time to.develop the point. Most sserious poloticians give him a wide berth. On most tv shows she performs exceptionally well.

      I take the point that she is not the only candidate. I think the sdlp have a great team now . I feel that they need to use that team to focus on the next electoral test three short years away…

      European election, locals

      • Yes but crucially the Deputy Leader should be an experienced politician who has no personal ambition…..McGlone or Attwood.

      • Catholic voter says:

        I think both attwood and mc glone are good choices and they might offer…experience balance.

        I guess they could lead the party in the future if for some reason it was the best thing… They are leadership material. But they both have no ambitions now in that direction.

      • I dont think that either wants to be leade although they were candidates in 2011.

      • Precisely why you need an experienced politician. You need someone who can give the answer as experience would have taught the politician to prepare and thus had anticipated and rehearsed, just as a boxer spars to allow muscle memory to be the answer instead of reflex. That is why Hamma and Mallow are not leadership material yet. They need to earn their spurs no matter what the latte slurpers think.

      • There is no real reason for any politician to go on Nolan. If I was SDLP Assembly Group I would say …NO.
        He needs politicians to give him credibility.
        Politicians dont need Nolan.

      • And another thing, I don’t do fair. This is to serious for that. I do win.

    • I didnt see that so I cant comment.
      I suspect Nichola is more in touch with political reality than Claire.

  3. Catholic Voter says:

    Sometimes I think that the MLAs who crop up on Nolan a lot to talk about almost any minor question like Barry McElduff and Basil McCrea seem a little too transparently publicity seeking and actually it doesn’t really do them any good overall compared to the others who only do media when they have something substantial to say.

    • The myth is that the Nolan radio show sets the agenda.
      But really he is nothing more than a mediocre shock jock.
      About time some MLA told him.
      And time a political party said “none of our MLAs will be on your show”

      • Catholic Voter says:

        The Americans call this a “gotcha” question: A politician gets caught out not knowing something and the interviewer, instead of passing on to the next topic, just pounces on it to make the politician as embarrassed as possible. Gotcha!

        I think Nolan’s interview with G Diver was based on a single “gotcha” question.

        But do you think that Nolan made the difference to G Diver’s chances in Foyle ?

      • I dont think it helped…
        I have to admit I have NEVER listened to th Nolan show.
        I really think that people in Norn Iron are embedded with one Party.
        None of the big five Parties won seats last week and DUP, UUP and Alliance have exactly the same number of seats they had last time.
        Nationalists lost three seats. We are equally embedded but the nationalists voters are losing patience with the system.

  4. Vince says:

    It may well have done – certainly the odds on him getting elected drifted hugely just a couple of days later. He probably needed another 800 votes to get elected, or at least enough to get him ahead of Dr McCloskey by the time of his elimination (her transfers could well have got him ahead of McCann – we will never know) – would that one interview have cost so many votes? Don’t live in Foyle but suspect it may have cost more than that and certainly hit morale elsewhere.

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