Every so often, I sign into this Blog. It is mostly about “maintenance”. The Czar of Russia, Donald Trump, DUP, letsgetalongerists still need to be watched but I am no longer the man to do it.
As I started the blog in August 2011, I was aware that the early days are critical. I had maybe two failed blogs under my belt. I was at that time NOT a member of SDLP who had just had an unsuccessful election under Margaret Ritchie. And the first real story that this Blog covered was in November 2011…the election of a successor to Margaret Ritchie.
So during 2011, I started to engage with SDLP people.
In fact I was at the 2010 (November) SDLP Conference and was asking a question during a fringe meeting when a SDLP member was taking photos and I joked that I was a blogger and happily anonymous. Later he approached me and asked if I would identify myself to him….he was a member of National Union of Journalists and therefore ethical…and I told him that I was “Fitzjames Horse” as seen on Slugger O’Toole. He immediately extended his hand and said that “we love your stuff….but not all of it”.
As it turned out, the identity of FJH was much talked about in SDLP HQ. A totally innocent SDLP veteran was assumed to be “FJH”.
I suppose staying under the radar was never really an option. As there was an Assembly election in May 2011, a senior SDLP person requested a meeting with me. They liked the stuff that I put on Slugger O’Toole but wanted me “onside”. I would be tipped off about talking points and would head up a rebuttal team of enthusiastic SDLP Youth members.
I was flattered.
But the odd thing was that nothing ever happened. No tip offs. No talking points. No young team of online warriors.
It was my first experience of being “played”.
Why did that happen? The senior SDLP person who “played” me was a shrewd operator. He did not bring me on board. But he effectively neutralised me, the Czar posts and the comments I made on Slugger.
He was smarter than me.
SDLP members have encouraged me, patronised me and if I had been “played” just once, then I would put it all down to experience. “Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me”.
As I write this, I recall that I actually met with SDLP people in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 but they were good at ideas but not very good on action. I even applied for jobs with SDLP in 2013 and 2014. But I was never short-listed or interviewed. I am really slow at getting a message.
And I was “played” again in 2015. So…yes…Shame on Me!
This post is really about three things. First…I cant deny that I have become very bitter about my SDLP experiences. Second…..next month I will as usual vote SDLP, in part because I admire our local team but maybe I am voting not because of what SDLP does. Rather I am voting IN SPITE of what SDLP does.
They make History and are lousy at paying tribute to great servants from the 1970s. It is run by cliques and entourages and there’s always an alternative leader with a clique and entourage.
Yet SDLP is needed. Nobody represents the under-privileged better. But councillors who are the backbone of the Party are side-lined. And jobs have been lost by blameless office staff thru years of leadership incompetence.
SDLP is curiously friendless in the Media. Once you are cast out like Brian Feeney, you are dead to the Party. Other columnists like Patrick Murphy don’t seem too far removed from the thinking of SDLP but the Party seems to prefer journos who have never offered the Party any support.
It has never looked more divided.
The guy who plays you, relies on your not calling him out. I can’t imagine you were really neutralized? I got stick once on twitter for being anonymous and using a handle just because I criticized their prized liberal message. The way I see it, if you know me, you’d make the connection but if you don’t, then I’m anonymous anyway. I fear the worst for the SDLP in this election. Maybe they need to disintegrate to let something better emerge.
I think they might do better than people expect. The commentators have been predicting near wipe out for years and maybe this time they are right.
But SDLP themselves are pessimistic.
But I think BREXIT helps. And maybe SDLP vote is already as bad as it gets. Just old people like me.
Happy Easter John, welcome back.
As a long-time SDLP voter and someone who wishes them well it has been really frustrating to watch developments over the past few years. I am not a politician, “commentator” or student of politics and therefore probably know nothing. However, to my mind, the party continues to make simple mistakes, some big, some small, none of which they can afford in a competitive market against opponents with greater resources. In no particular order these include;
1. The continual running of Alex Attwood in WB when it was obvious from 2001 that it wasn’t working – this included a missed opportunity to trial a new, young, able Lower Falls councillor (Colin Keenan) in a Westminster by-election in 2011.
2. Selecting the same Alex Attwood, who despite his undoubted virtues is not voter-friendly, for the Euros in 2014.
3. Not maintaining the clearest possible Pro-Life message. The party remains constitutionally pro-life and 10 of the 12 MLAs are pro-life but frustratingly the party allowed the leader (Colum Eastwood) and Claire Hanna to dominate the media with a very different viewpoint. A very clear distinction with SF & Alliance is therefore somewhat blunted.
4. The party has allowed the 30% who do not approve of the FF partnership to do their own thing in this current election campaign – they should have been urged to either get behind the policy or respectfully asked to leave.
5. Too many in the party, and it seems to be a particular affliction in South Belfast and the Youth Group, have an unhealthy obsession with the Irish Labour Party. Again I know little of politics but my suspicion is that this is not a vote-winning strategy. We are about to get the answer on May 2nd since under the influence of Claire Hanna, the SDLP seem to be running a left/Irish Labour campaign in Balmoral, Botanic and Lisnasharagh. I genuinely hope that it works there but I fear that it won’t – the left is a very crowded place, Greens, PBP, WP, Labour Alternative etc.
6. Related to 5, pictures with Joan Baez might pull votes in Baltimore USA but I have my doubts about Belfast. Ditto pics with Michael D Higgins might work great in Galway but less so on the Lisburn Road.
7. The emphasis that Alasdair McDonnell put on organisation was correct. He also drew in new, strong candidates such as Sharon McAleer, Margaret McKillop, Daniel McCrossan etc. Building a broad tent is essential – Alasdair didn’t get the credit he deserved for this and that work needs to continue (Nichola Mallon does it in N Belfast, Daniel in West Tyrone). Alasdair was unceremoniously dumped – he actually did a decent job in the last locals in 2014 & under him they held 3 WM seats in 2015. I also think, although again I hope that I am wrong, that he is actually a significantly better vote getter than Claire Hanna in S Belfast.
8. Just recently they have selected C Eastwood as the Euro candidate. This is a reasonable decision but a better choice would have been Nichola Mallon. She would have drawn votes from both SF & Alliance which have to be the target markets.
9. I know there is little money about but they have to run candidates in places like Ballymoney, Bangor, Bushvale and Larne. Leaving potential voters high and dry and giving an open field to others is a mistake. It also gives a self-inflicted kick to the vote share and now won’t help with the Euro campaign.
10. They need better candidate selection – people who do stuff, make stuff, work in health and education. This gives a stronger basis to their candidacy and keeps them more in touch with voter needs and concerns. In my own constituency in the last few years there have been some really poor candidates unsuited to the job in hand.
The next 5 weeks are critical for the SDLP. If they fall to <40 council seats and/or Colum Eastwood is eliminated before Naomi Long in the Euros then they will need a new leader – Nichola Mallon is the only possible candidate with any hope of recovery – and it may already be game over.
There is a lot there Vince. I will go thru it tomorrow. Good post.
Vince, I will unpack a few of those points now and return to other points later. Back in 2011, I certainly thought that Colin Keenan had talent and he was it seemed groomed as a potential MLA. I think that he was unlucky with the DEA changes for 2014. I have not seen him since then. The problem for young candidates is often that employment in say civil service means that political involvement is not good. I don’t know if this is the case with Colin.
I don’t think the Attwood Brothers stewardship of West Belfast has been good. It means a lot to me as I was Secretary of the Falls Branch for a year in the 1970s. About six months ago there was a tribute to Paddy Devlin hosted by Claire Hanna (obviously!) and attended by Seamus Lynch (Workers Party) who said that thanks to Paddy and Gerry Fitt, the Republican Clubs as they were then called, knew more about SDLP than SDLP members. This greatly amused some SDLP members at the tribute but to me (and we always knew this anyway) it was not so funny.
Years ago, I mentioned a former SDLP MLA for WEst Belfast to a senior West Belfast SDLP member. He had never heard of him.
As I have often said, SDLP is very bad at its own history. West Belfast SDLP is lousy at it. I could say more but I wont.
It is Boucher Road Syndrome…..the SDLP on either side of the Boucher Road has its own agenda. Semi Detached.
The worst aspect of the Pro Life and Pro Rights issue is generational and it is an issue where there is no nuance.
I was in West Belfast on Good Friday. I didn’t recognise the names on SDLP posters in Lower Falls (Court) and Middle Falls (Black Mountain). The old Tim Attwood seat is lost.
SDLP had seven seats in 2014. Thanks to their own mishandling of an abortion related issue, three councillors were expelled. So effectively they start with just four councillors in 2019 and Id be almost certain Attwoods seat is lost
Lisnasharragh should be safe SDLP territory and expelled Kate Mullan is a good councillor. I don’t think Seamus can take the seat. He first stood in 2011 as an 18 year old and exuded the confidence of a 30 year old (although slightly naïve). Not sure he has really made the transition to “senior hurling”.
But look at the Castle DEA in North Belfast. It should be a safe SDLP seat. But expelled Pat Convery is the incumbent. And former SDLP Chair Cathal Mullaghan is running as an Independent.
Cathal was one of the few SDLP senior people who encouraged me.
But there are two more SDLP candidates…Heather Wilson, who is not from a nationalist background and Carl Whyte who is one of Eastwoods advisors. I have also met him back in 2015. Advising Colum Eastwood is not a recommendation. It is a matter for concern.
So finding one seat (hopefully Ms Wilson) in that four way “internal” battle not to mention Green, Alliance and Sinn Féin is a lottery.
I will come back later in the day Vince.
Agree on the Attwood stewardship of W Belfast. Really poor – fell off a cliff after Joe Hendron stepped aside. Danger of a repeat in S Belfast so hope that Alasdair sticks around for a while. Paul Doherty may actually be a decent candidate in Blackmountain – can only live in hope.
In terms of the abortion issue, I think the 3 councillors were suspended but ultimately resigned. Irrespective, the outcome has been disastrous. In Castle, I believe that they will actually hold a seat through the efforts of Nichola Mallon & Heather Wilson seems to be a really good young candidate. In Botanic, Alliance will make a gain unless the SDLP candidate is ahead of Declan Boyle on the first count (a big ask) – and even then he may not make it.
The 30% Dissenters.
In a way I feel 70% ok with the Fianna Fáil link up and 30% uncomfortable. The Party feels much the same way. If SDLP were to win back the Foyle seat in a General Election, then the FF link would quietly end. All parties…..Conservative, Labour are potentially falling apart. Even Aontú is a breakaway.
So staying together and working to get past the current incompetence in SDLP is important.
Leadership? Well its actually Colum, Nichola and their entourage. And an alternative of Claire and her entourage.
Theoretically the 12 MLAs are a tier of leadership and maybe around 60 councillors but this election will reduce it to say 55 but maybe only 30 are senior in the sense of two or more terms and most are happy in their local areas. Collectively the Party looks weaker. Maybe Mallon, Rodgers, Farren should have been sidelined a decade ago but they have now left the scene and there is nobody stepping up.
Youth? A busted flush. Its not really the right word…Its not “Youth”. Its Students. They were always under the influence of McDevitt and/or Hanna but while some of them were/are genuinely talented and stayed beyond QUB, most are not that good.
The most successful moment that SDLP Youth had was actually their worst. They used their influence to have about ten elected to the Party Executive. Two years later, I was talking to two of them at the Conference and told them straight that they had over-stretched themselves. One an office-holder didn’t get it but his colleague did.
The Youth dominated Executive was awful.
Simply put senior figures like to hear an 18 year old make a speech with the confidence of a 30 year old. …its cute. we say “awww he/she is all grown up” But when the same 30 year old sounds like an 18 year old, then we just say “for GODs sake ..grow up ya eejit”. Theres a lot of that in SDLP.
They seem obsessed with certain issues, don’t seem to have proper jobs & really don’t seem to know how to campaign in an effective way that gets people out to vote. In many cases one wonders how/why they ended up in SDLP. Why not the Greens or PBP to name but two?
I certainly liked Alasdair..another SDLP person who encouraged me but a lot of SDLP people did not like him. He was too unsophisticated for their coffee morning tastes. So they would never give him credit for anything. At a Central Council meeting in 2012, a few months after his election as leader, he said it was disgraceful that SDLP did not even try to compete in some DEAs. He mentioned all around Belfast Lough…from Carrick to Bangor. And here we are again in 2019…Comber, Ballygowan, Jordanstown, Millisle, Bangor…what choice do nationalists have. A disgrace!
Agreed on the empty DEAs. Now he is far from perfect but my goodness he knows how to campaign on the ground. How he won in 2015 in the face of a sustained smear campaign from SF was remarkable.
A better man than any of his detractors.
How about another couple of posts John? Reasons to be cheerful & media bias in “commentary”/politics here?
Its the wrong time Vince. In a few days I will have a lot to say.
No problem John.
Anything to say on ….
EDITED I don’t do gossip.