Going into conference, direction of travel of the UUP and the SDLP is not great…

Our own Gerry Lynch has details of today’s poll in the BelTel:

Needless to say, after a torid summer in which they were Billy No Mates in the media [same as it ever was – Ed], the DUP is very pleased today. And well they might. BUT (and it’s a big BUT), the sample size suggests that these results should be taken as somewhere in the +/- 6%. That even puts the SDLP’s measly 9% inside any notional margin of error.

So I would not plan anything too substantial by this poll. For Alliance to be 4 points ahead of the SDLP would require a recovery in their fortunes beyond greater Belfast of epic proportions.

An Alliance lead over the UUP is a great deal more plausible, since that party has all but abandoned greater Belfast and largely, though not entirely to Alliance.

Still, I cannot imagine anyone in the SDLP is happy with headlines like this. If nothing else it is a warning of the direction of travel.

A friend in Dublin politics told me if there was one thing he’s learned in politics is that things do not just get better until you hit the real bottom. At which point you have nothing to fight back with.

One of two fates faces the UUP and the SDLP, either one hits the buffers and the other may follow in short order, opening up a new space for other forces to fill it.

Or one wakes up to a concrete mission (and the other follows) and pursues a functional political purpose.

The inclusive nature of government has had a certain soporific effect on all parties, but it’s softly killing those without power faster than those with.

,

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Puts pro-Union parties on 60 per cent, nationalist parties on 36 per cent – haven’t seen a gap like that in a while. Certainly long since reached the point with SDLP and UUP where they are no longer seriously even putting up a respectable challenge within their respective blocks, let alone vying for leadership. I suspect the seeds of revival will only come, if from anywhere, from DUP or SF dropping the ball, rather than spontaneously erupting from the UUP or SDLP themselves.

    Easier to see DUP slipping up than SF, as SF have already done things more appalling than any other political party in Western Europe and apparently been forgiven by their constituency.

    The SDLP must despair, but it’s a bed Hume made for them by being treating the Provos and the security forces in the 70s, 80s and 90s as if they were morally equivalent. The SDLP’s strength ought to be having the moral high ground and being the real peace and reconciliation party – but they chose green over red and got out-greened. Limited sympathy from me.

    The UUP deserves a lot more sympathy and there are signs there is still intellectual life in there, but they just haven’t had the balls to go for a clear positioning away from the DUP as the place for modern, forward-looking and self-confident unionists – though the DUP has spread its umbrella out now in such a way as to make that harder than it once was. I just don’t see what the UUP has to lose now; and chasing the big prize of being a pan-unionist party is gone now for the time being. The way to get back to that, if there is one, is to grow from a solid, differentiated positioning on the ‘moderate’ side – and expand that organically, rather than trying to do appeal to every unionist from Day 1. That old version of the UUP is history now.

  • Red Lion

    suggested concrete mission and functional political purpose for the SDLP (or any party really)

    Tell it like it is – abandon the political dogma of trying to outgreen sinn fein but go off in a fairly fundamentally different direction – we believe in something akin to joint authority, we are happy enough in the general status quo though there is significant room for improvement, a realistic NI status within the Uk but with big North south dimensions – a NI which reflects reality where Irish can feel Irish not the Shinner narrow defined republican view, not the Union Jack and Orange Order brigade not a carve up truly go for the middle ground and so doing seek to expand the middle ground. Yes, its an acceptance that the union exists but those unicorns are trending gradually that way anyway, or call it a redefined united Ireland one which is so flexible as to include a soft union. Radical yes but it is a concrete reformed mission which most likely has a portion of the electorate quite naturally at one with it

    Oh and get shit hot on your policies for the economy and for public services.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Red Lion – I’d agree with you there (mind you I’m not one of their constituency). That’s a position that could be argued and would be much harder to counter than the rather easy pickings offered up by the SF slow learner brigade.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Given how Alban Maginnis has been trying to out-green Sinn Fein over parades, etc in north Belfast (regardless of potential street disorder and damage to community relations) it seems they are trying to appeal to the anti-SF/dissident/eirigi type Nationalist demographic which is slowly growing.

    Strange.

  • Red Lion

    MU Just seems that there is a political space to be occupied, which seems to have a foundation of a vote, which doesn’t seem to have a political voice. Even alliance fudge and shy away from constitutional issues (though they too could step up to the mark). But for the SDLP to make the acceptance of A union expicit but then define it on their own broad terms to encompass Irishness would be a refreshing and HONEST way to do business. Even call it a reformed Northern Irishness – many people of a unionist background would be relieved of a properly reflective-of-reality party to vote for. Stand back and watch the dishonest and focus-on-my-tribe only carve up slowly crumble, and genuine powersharing emerge

  • Reader

    Mainland Ulsterman: I just don’t see what the UUP has to lose now; and chasing the big prize of being a pan-unionist party is gone now for the time being. The way to get back to that, if there is one, is to grow from a solid, differentiated positioning on the ‘moderate’ side – and expand that organically, rather than trying to do appeal to every unionist from Day 1.
    Speaking from the cosy environment of Bangor, it seems to me that you are only telling the UPP what should have been blindingly obvious to them for the last 15 years. Yet they haven’t done it. So I can only conclude that either:
    1) Not everything is the way it seems from Bangor. OR
    2) The UUP is controlled by a load of blithering halfwits OR
    3) The UUP is controlled by a load of people who fear that the party might not survive the initial impact of biting the bullet, and who have hesitated for long enough to make their fears come true.

    I am also willing to consider a combination of the above.

  • oakleaf

    What is the point of this poll with such a large margin of error?

  • Lionel Hutz

    I can’t agree with this. The SDLP have been doing fairly well lately. There aren’t many opportunities for the party to look good but they are being used. A poll with a 6% margin of error doesn’t matter.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    …things do not just get better until you hit the real bottom…

    And, sometimes, the pit is bottomless.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Sorry, but who conducted this poll and on behalf of whom?
    I am one of the SDLP’s critics but they ain’t in this much trouble

  • Progressive Unionist

    Joint SDLP-UUP opposition surely the only way out?

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    PU,

    Even better; why don’t they disband and join Alliance?

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    Mick

    The research was carried out in June and July, so the effect of the “torrid summer” is irrelevant to these figures.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Less than 600 sample? For seven parties?

    This is the second poll in a few months Gerry has got quite excited about.

    Can you please explain the methodology? Were people stopped on the Ravenhill road?

    Alliance don’t even stand in half of the west!

    The SDLP have been getting fairly good headlines lately both politically and in terms of members/finances

    Why not put a poll bar on slugger? We’ll know the methodology ourselves. I’ll be surprised if it’s the same as this.

  • mjh

    Three caveats about the figures we have been given so far:

    1) As Mick has pointed out sample size makes the margin of error higher than the 3% normally quoted;
    2) We do not yet know who has conducted it or their methodology;
    3) Figures for polls leaked on Twitter often turn out to be different from the final figure. This can be due to communication error, or it can be because the final calculations and checks have not yet been completed.

    So until we see the full tables any comments must be provisional.

    If the poll comes from a reputable source and the leaked figures do not change there are a three interesting points.

    Lucid Talk’s poll in the BT last month was the first I have noticed which did not dramatically underreport SF and to a lesser extent DUP support. This would be the second poll to demonstrate that people are no longer shy to admit that they support these parties. That has to be politically significant since it appears to endorse the strategies (sometimes imperfectly implemented) of each. It also suggests that attitudes towards both parties may be changing within their own communities, which opens up new opportunities to gain votes from their smaller rivals.

    The SDLP figure looks like an outlier, since there is no obvious reason that their support should have dropped so much. We would need to see another couple of polls at similar levels before we take it too seriously. That having been said, the direction of travel since the Assembly Elections for each of the parties is the same in both last month’s poll and in the figures we have seen this evening. DUP and SF holding strong or even gaining, UUP and SDLP losing ground and Alliance gaining significantly.

    Thirdly, the effect of a drop of this level of UUP or SDLP support would be worse when translated from vote share into seats. The most likely outcome of an Assembly Election on these figures would put the DUP on 41 to the UUP’s 10 and SF on 31 to the SDLP’s 8. (Alliance would be 15.) What this demonstrates is the spiral downwards into which the UUP or the SDLP would fall if either of them were indeed to loose this level of support.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    To be honest it’s the first poll findings I’ve ever seen released via twitter.
    I will therefore regard it with the same degree of seriousness as most Twitter ramblings.
    The Bel Tel will will be headlining it next

  • mjh

    Bangordub,

    Actually it’s not at all unusual for poll figures to be leaked on Twitter. It’s sometimes done deliberately to create interest before the poll is published. (And sell more newspapers.) There was even one case last year where the political correspondent of a London newspaper leaked his own paper’s poll, but the figures had changed by the time it was published.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    mjh,
    That makes sense, I suppose it is a dark art.
    The first thing I always look at is who commissioned the damn thing. That usually determines the outcome

  • BluesJazz

    Probably realistic now that a majority of educated people no longer vote.
    The plebs that do probably are thick enough to think it makes any difference to their lives. Maybe it gives them a delusion of making a difference.

    The middle classes see the delusion and opt out. In fact they are embarassed by our politicians to the point of ridicule.
    But that’s ok, apart from milking the gravy train, they have absolutely no influence or relevance to our lives anyway. Westminster does a bit. The Dail is as utterly impotent as Stormont.
    I’m guessing a below 40% turnout for all future elections, and the fallout continuing. The only reason turnout is as high as 40% is because stupid people don’t emigrate and will vote for DLA parties.

  • Mick Fealty

    BD,

    That’s true over time in the US, but I think the size of the sample here is enough to make you wary. As for the SDLP doing better recently, I’m not sure it’s enough to affect the long term drift.

    The figure could be as high as 15%, but it might be better for them to talk this as a red light on the dashboard. Nothing less than a change in the general narrative will turn round theirs and the UUs fortunes.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There is general narrative growing with regards to Sinn Fein. Despite their enviable resources, which allow them to put ads in every local paper talking about how Mr/Mrs X MLA has lobbied for Y, Sinn Fein are losing touch. The parading issue this year has shown the SDLP in a good light, despite Gerry Kelly or Conor Maskey appearing on every topical current affairs program. The SDLP do seem to be an little bit ahead on that all. Monday will be interesting.

    The problem for the SDLP is that they will not get many big opportunities to change the narrative, particularly through the media, which understand concentrate on the big powers. They have to play a long game,building up trust at grass roots. It’s time the SDLP took a few chapters out of the Sinn Fein book, extract the good bits and adopt some of that strategy. Learning to play the long game is the most important lesson.

    The UUP, I suspect should do likewise. It seems to me that Unionism has a religious clique representing a broad church and a broad church representing a dwindling clique. There has to be a lot of mileage in exposing that side of the DUP, surely. I can’t think of one PUL person I know who is as fundamentalist as the most liberal of Unionist politicians

  • Lionel Hutz

    MJh makes the point about how SF DUP support seems no longer to be underestimated. It’s true that that time has long past. In rural communities on the nationalist side, Sinn Fein are now as part of “Official Ireland” as the GAA, particularly amongst the under 40s. Being an Sdlp supporter is a dirty thing. There are many places that I just would feel uncomfortable saying it.

    I don’t know if it’s the same with the UUP, who appear to retain more support in rural areas.

    Both parties need to relish being underdogs. Openly embrace not being the big beasts. To do so would undermine the claim that they still smart over their previous electoral dominance and decline.

  • http://sluggerotoole.com Belfast Gonzo

    The poll can be seen here: http://freepdfhosting.com/df2a02cb60.pdf

    It was apparently commissioned by “sources within Unionism”, which isn’t very enlightening, but I believe refers to some former UUP members. The Political Firm is run by a former UUP member, IIRC.

    It is a small sample, but polls here are so few and far between, they are always pored over. Read in conjunction with other polls, and using a bit of common sense and statistical knowledge, they can be of some use. But this one isn’t particularly definitive.

    Given it coincides with conference, it’s probably designed to nudge Nesbitt.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Lionel:

    The parading issue this year has shown the SDLP in a good light, despite Gerry Kelly or Conor Maskey appearing on every topical current affairs program. The SDLP do seem to be an little bit ahead on that all. Monday will be interesting.

    Genuine question Lionel – what’s the good light you are talking about and what is it precisely that favourably distinguishes the SDLP from SF on parades ?

  • PaddyReilly

    Lot of non-sequiturs here which ignore the fact that is a poll for first preference voting in the NI Assembly. As Alliance don’t come anywhere near a quota in any constituency which is not in or adjacent to Belfast, then their 1st prefs will transfer to other parties, leaving us exactly where we are already in terms of seats.

    That is, assuming that the poll is devastatingly accurate, which we have no reason to believe. Opinions polls conducted by pollsters in the Belfast region never seem to reflect the voting patterns in the other half of the province. One interesting factor which could lead to a change is the continued fall of the UUP with relation to Alliance. If this is genuine, and province wide, then the Euro results in 2 years time could be one seat each for SF, DUP and Alliance, in that order.

    In Westminster elections it would mean that Alliance will hold on to East Belfast.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think that SDLP took a completely reasonable position, and spoke well on it. This was made to look good because Sinn Fein looked poor, particularly when they called for the parade to be rerouted only to be rebuffed by the residents who didn’t want that at all. So on the one hand Sinn Fein were seen to use this as part of their own political game and they’re always talking about the great things they do.

    On the other hand, the SDLP were seen to take a reasonable position and they were talking about the good things the residents and clergy had done. They were not boastful and it can’t be seen as a part of a game.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Just to clarify, CS,

    I’m not saying that there was anything seismic. These are subtle things that I believe will be good in the long run for the party. I could be completely wrong though.

  • mjh

    That’s a fair point Lionel. But I’m not sure how much that makes the SDLP more desirable to vote for. That sort of reasonableness is probably already discounted in the price. In other words its what is expected from the SDLP, its what the SDLP does. So if it does not change perceptions of the party it will not change its vote share.

    From the beginning what the SDLP offered its voters was a strong, united, nationalist voice. During the years of the IRA campaign it stuck solidly, and adminably, to its principles of non-violence. The rise of SF meant that the SDLP could no longer offer its voters a united nationalist voice, but for a long time it was still the stronger voice. When it no longer spoke for the majority of nationalists it was its non-violent principles and history which continued to attract voters that SF could not reach.

    The question is how the detoxification of the SF brand, as shown by voters no longer being shy of saying that they support it, affects SDLP support in the future. It raises the possibility that those SDLP voters closest to SF are no longer inhibited from switching to SF. In exchange for doing so they get a stronger and more united nationalist voice. And I think we can conclude that that has been happening.

    And with SF doing more to detoxify, why should that process not go further?

    But the same changes in perception also present the SDLP with the danger of erosion on their other wing. Have some of its voters with a susceptibility to the Alliance message stuck with the SDLP because they saw the need to bolster the SDLP against SF? With SF no longer such a bogeyman, and looking to become less so all the time, will they be more open to moving to Alliance?

    None of this is predestined. Personally I believe that the SDLP is in a much better position to arrest its decline than the UUP. But it has to come up with something big to convince its voters to stay with it, and to win new ones. It will have to take risks and reinvent and reinvigorate itself. It’s hard to see how “more of the same”, and being ”reasonable “and “sensible” are going to hack it.

  • Neil

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-19682526

    Nesbitt’s regurgitating the old “UUP’s a party for everyone” schtick.” Yeah, they’ll probably get loads more votes out of that. It worked well last time out. Maybe he should get some Catholic Unionists in and try not to scare them off for a few months.

  • Lionel Hutz

    MJH,

    I believe that all depends on how you diagnose the problems that the SDLP have had. It’s easy to see the decline of the SDLP and UUP as two sides of the same coin. But I think the problems were very different.

    The UUP were torn apart along a fault line that was atleast strategic but probably ideological. It didn’t just bleed votes, it bled talent, with so many defections. The DUP didn’t just steal their clothes, they stole some of the body of the party. The UUP firstly have to convince talented people that the UUP is the right party to join to advance Unionism.

    I don’t think the SDLP have that problem, or atleast its not the same. The SDLP, as it seems to me, was populated by people professional people (the schoolteacher, doctor and lawyer party) who did politics as a part-time pursuit. The 1990s made politics a professional pursuit here and alot of that talent seemed to say “no thanks”. For every lawyer like Alban who decided to wind down his legal practice and go fulltime as apolitical, many more just dropped the politics. For every Alistair who wound down his GP commitments, many more dropped the politics.

    The SDLP have to convince that type of talent back into politics. Unionism generally has been better at that than Nationalism. I think the SDLP are showing signs of improving there, particularly with the youth party.

    What nationalism was left with was one party with over twice the funding of the other. That’s the other front. It’s actually quite admirable that SDLP have shores up alot of their support in the face of such a challenge. So appearing more effective with the ground operation is very important. The days of tolerating three Candidates fighting for one position in West Tyrone is over. They can’t afford to shoot themselves in the foot. I think they’ve appeared much more coherent in the last year.

  • mjh

    Lionel

    There is not much in your analysis that I would dispute. But we come to different conclusions.

    Agreed that the paths of the UUP and SDLP have not been identical. But to a large extent they faced the same problems – how to respond to the lose of dominance in their own communities in a political climate that has rewarded the concepts of “strength”, “unity” and “consolidation” above almost anything else. But as you say there are differences, which is why I think the UUP challenge is more daunting than the SDLP’s.

    The first difference you identify is that whereas the DUP was able to swallow whole parts of the UUP’s talent with numerous high level defections. You might have added that for the last 15 or more years it has also shown itself capable of attracting fresh new talent that would in the past have gone to the UUP. Not only has the SDLP had no such defection problem, a moments reflection says it is absolutely inconceivable that an Alistair or an Alban could ever have defected from the SDLP to SF. The reason, in my view, lies in the fundamental difference in principle historically between the members of the two parties on the issue of non-violence. This built an unclimbable wall between the SDLP activists and SF. On the other hand the boundary between DUP and UUP was much more porous.

    I believe it is this distinction which up until now has permitted the SDLP as you say “to shore up a lot of their support” despite the challenge of a better resourced SF.

    The problem for the SDLP is that point of difference from SF appears to be eroding every day in the eyes of the voters. When that goes what is left?

    Your question about the future Albans is very worth considering. Why should tomorrows Alban vote for, join or stand for election for the SDLP rather than SF?

    Indeed how inconceivable is it that the 18 year old Alban of 2015 should join SF?

    Your point about the withdrawal of talent from the SDLP in the 90’s (and possibly 80’s?) is an interesting one, and it would partly explain how SF made such rapid progress. It was a problem which also confronted other parties. But I suspect that talent, particularly young talent, will follow vision, ideals and the challenge of making things different.

    So yes, encourage the Youth wing. Yes, get administration and political organisation sharped to prevent self-inflicted wounds. Yes, get the ground operation more effective. But all these things are the simple basics of modern politics. They are not the things which motivate voters, members and activists. They are the means of delivering the message.

    But what is the distinctive message of the SDLP that SF cannot steal?

    That is what is need to give the party a chance for significant growth.

    All the rest is at best a recipe for well managed decline.

  • Lionel Hutz

    MJH,

    I don’t disagree with the idea that heavy lifting is needed on the policy front.

    There are some ideas that float around about the SDLP and UUPs needs that don’t really make sense though.

    For example, it is said that Stormont doesn’t offer the space for smaller parties to flourish. This despite the fact that in the 14 years of the assembly, two smaller parties did just that.

    It is said that the SDLP and UUP need come up with new policy to differentiate themselves. This despite the fact the DUP and Sinn Fein rose to prominence by trying to be the exact same as the parties they eclipsed.

    I’m not saying anything of it is wrong. But I think that the evidence shows that if you do the basics well,votes will come here.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Lionel,
    Success comes from small increments, work at ground level, delivery for the seemingly insignificant constituent, unacknowledged graft. These things are valued and pay off in time because word travels fast in these parts.
    The biggest mistake the SDLP can make is to look for a game changer too fast. Same goes for the UUP.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Also,
    For what it’s worth, surely the SDLP need a balanced ticket.
    Nominations for positions within the party executive close next week. Dolores Kelly and Alastair ain’t a working proposition.
    It would make things interesting if, for example, Patsy McGlone stood for deputy. He and Alastair would make a strong team.
    Now that might be a “game changer”.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Both parties need to generate excitement in the general population. What is there to get excited about? The principal drift is towards not even bothering to get off your arse and to go out to vote. People still haven’t recovered from the dreadful years, and, apart from the recreational rioters, (and some sinister people behind the scenes in both tribes), most just want a quiet life.

  • mjh

    Thanks for the informative exchange Lionel.

    I guess we will just have to more or less agree on the diagnosis but more or less disagree on the cure.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Joe,
    The problem is not lack of excitement, it’s getting excited about the wrong stuff

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    True, BD.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Taking up Bangor Dubs point…there are indeed no quick-fix game changers. Its a long hard slog over several years.
    The elections to the SDLP Executive will be very interesting. I must emphasise I will have no vote.
    But just by way of reference in 2010 there were about 18 nominations for 14 Executive posts.
    In 2011 there were about 35 nominations. It was a more keenly contested election, with pssibly too many candidates probably a reflection of the Leadership Contest itself.
    This year I would expect competition to be as keen but Id expect fewer nominations.
    Clearly last year some candidates were identified with a leadership contender and there may be a kinda pecking order established.

    Deputy Leadership? Thats an interesting thought. Dolores was unopposed last year. But along with Dolores, Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie, the four Leadership contenders established themselves as the leading seven people in the Party.
    It does not necessarily follow that the Party #2 should be the second most “powerful” figure in the Party. Indeed maybe there is a case to be made for the opposite.
    But a contest might well involve more than two people and have the effect of being divisive.
    SDLP got away with it last year……the contest was actually quite uplifting.
    We are now in a different process in the Party and a contest may not work.

  • BluesJazz

    Did the pollsters have a
    ‘Vote for none of the above’ option?
    This is the option that is fast growing and now a majority.

    Hopefully, and arguably probably, we are soon going to get to a 70% don’t vote election.
    And that will only increase.

    All the parochial parties are populist and their candidates ignorant and gravy train riders. They have no real power, beyond having expenses maintained offices in small towns who no-one goes to. That’s why anyone with political nous (who could) opted for the real parliament at Westminster.

  • BluesJazz

    That’s why, when Gove introduced the replacements to GCSE’s this week, O’Dowd (and his Welsh equivalent) sounded fury. They will have to fall in to line behind the *real* Education secretary and follow his lead (with some tiny amends to pretend/show we’re not really English).

    Some puerile debate in our sandpit assembly and then do what our parent tells us. They do control our pocket money, so that’s the way it goes.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Very good day for the SDLP today.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Teaser! Why is that, Lionel?

  • Lionel Hutz

    They led the debate today. They made a principled point on the role of Ministers vis a vis upholding the law. And all that the DUP could retort with was an hour or so reminding the public of the SDLPs civil rights movement foundation. Very good stuff and Sinn Fein were left looking like passengers.

    It’s interesting that Sinn Fein’s ministers abstained.

    The fact is that the SDLP have to make a bit trouble for Sinn Fein too,make them uncomfortable, which this whole episode succeeded in doing.

    And if the SDLP take one thing from this, it’s that to make life difficult for Sinn Fein, they need to go for the DUP.

  • Lionel Hutz

    And well played to David McClarty. That took some courage. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction to that. The UUP had a missed opportunity and might well learn from their ex MLA.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Lionel,

    Understood. I did not think the SDLP were all that visible over the issue on Clifton Street. Their line was the correct one, but really there was no other line to take. I don’t think Sinn Féin were seriously advocating a rerouting of that march – Paul Maskey made that comment, but I suspect he was speaking off the cuff and without the benefit of some of the local knowledge; contrast with Carál Ní Chuilín who did not deviate from the “all we are asking is that people stop abusing the church” line. The most strident voice I heard during the whole thing, interestingly, was that of the local priest.

    I’m still not impressed by the SDLP’s coddling of prisoner issues on behalf of the dissidents in the recent past, but we’ve talked about that already.

    I have to say Alban did well in the Assembly chamber yesterday, a stark contrast to the catcalling, back slapping and whataboutery from the benches opposite. I was also pleased that Alliance made the right choice to back the notion. I was fearful that hand wringing was going to ensue, especially when I read in the Irish News that the party was waiting for a meeting of the assembly group to decide what way it would go, but fortunately it did not happen and a bit of steel was on show.

    I am bitterly disappointed in the unionists these days. I had genuinely expected much better, and I had hoped that the experience both with devolution and with justice powers being devolved would have shown them that there really are few downsides to dealing straight up with nationalists. Had Nelson McCausland been successfully censured yesterday, it would have been a just outcome but I think the “don’t mention the war” truce that allows the DUP and SF to coexist in government could well have broken down completely and the political process would become, once again, a casualty of the Orange Order’s bloodymindedness. It angers me in particular that this problem was on the cusp of being solved and the solution was on the First Minister’s desk awaiting his signature – and then hearing them blaming other people for their own lack of leadership.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Id also like to commend Alliance Party, David McClarty and Steven Agnew.
    A good day for SDLP and I am obviously pleased but things need to be kept in proportion. (Incidently Jim Allisters motion on Special Advisors will be interesting to watch).
    DUP acted very badly and as Comrade Stalin observes abuse was their only tactic.
    UUP…straw men. Nesbitts “outreach” was exposed as a sham only 48 hours after UUP Conference.
    But really Basil McCrea and John McCallister who abstained did not cover themselves in Glory. Oddly McCallister was a Guest of Honour at the SDLP Youth Conference in Beechmount last March. Good speech, very personable…….but yesterday showed him up as lacking any real substance. I cant see him at the next SDLP Youth Conference……which is of course a very good thing.
    On one forum or another for nearly three years, I have been expressing concern at SDLPs over-eagerness to listen to every voice but its own.
    Of course in the Conflict Situation it was important to talk to and listen to “enemies” for the Greater Good. That could still be argued in a “Post Conflict-Reconciliation” phase……but as that phase is pointless and we just have to live with whatever we have got…….its time to ditch the nonsense.
    And I think thats what was best about yesterda. SDLP found its own voice. This is the motion. Support It or Oppose It.
    And importantly it was the culmination of a years work.

  • Lionel Hutz

    “the culmination of a years work”,

    I am intrigued by that comment and also slightly worried. You’re right to say that this shouldn’t be taken out of proportion, so surely it should not be seen as the culmination of anything. Surely it should be seen as an improvement and a sign of things to come…….

    I happen to think that the direction of travel of the SDLP is quite good recently. I think they are giving their own base a reason to vote for them, listening to what their own supporters want from them. There had been too little of that, leaving the generation that grew up with them wondering what the hell happened and the next generation wondering who the hell they are.

    Thats what I have found promising in the party in recent months. You get a sense that they are a much more united bunch, that they know what the point of them is and that, in time, they’ll be able to communicate that better to the electorate.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Hutz…..I think we are in broad agreement.
    The thread has to some extent taken off on a tangent but a reasonable one.
    Initially the focus was on an opinion poll but in fairness the non-partisan view might be that it bears little resemblance to what I might call “mood music” around the SDLP.
    The second focus develops that theme referencing the McCausland Debate.

    When I say culmination of a years work…..well I joined SDLP 13 or so months ago……not because I thought it was brilliant……….but rather because I thought it totally incapable of representing my principles/self interest.
    The first duty of a political party is to be effective and be electable.
    In my view …progress has been made.
    But my instinct says that over the past two weeks SDLP has been listening to people saying “why doesnt someone say something about the Orange Order and their apologists”?
    For their own strategic reasons (their alliance with DUP) SF had to be measured. But when the chips were down had to fall in line with the motion. And all that “outreach” talk by UUP and DUP has been exposed as hypocrisy.

  • Neil

    Oooops!

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/sdlp-chiefs-redfaced-over-pub-crawl-invite-to-university-freshers-16217339.html

    The SDLP has been left red-faced after its youth wing organised a £1-a-drink pub crawl for students.

    Leaflets emblazoned with official party logos were handed out to first year students attending the Queen’s University Freshers’ Fair and promoted on social networking sites including Twitter this week.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I saw that on a Facebook thread and thought that won’t go down well. Lol. Students will be students

  • FuturePhysicist

    These polls have backed the UUP to be a head of the DUP when the normal i.e right-wing politics of UCUNF were dominant and Sinn Féin first minister was likely.

    http://www.politics.ie/forum/northern-ireland/123761-belfast-telegraph-poll-sinn-fein-top.html

  • Comrade Stalin

    There have been three elections since then FP, and the UUP vote keeps dropping. But sure, keep on fantasizing if it makes you feel better.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think fitz is having a bit of wishful thinking. The SDLP took an opportunity that came up, but it’s pushing it to paint this as the outworking of some sort of clever strategy. In fact it works out quite nicely for Sinn Féin, as their own supporters want them to be taking a stand about the parading problems but it’s a bit awkward for them to be seen leading the charge against DUP ministers.

    I don’t think SF could have voted against that motion, any more than Alliance could have. It’s going to be the same with the upcoming gay marriage debate.

    Some clever dick in SDLP HQ thought that it was appropriate to stop newly recruited student members heading out for a drinking session. That alone looks rather to me like there still isn’t any serious joined-up strategic thinking going on at HQ.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Comrade Stalin makes a very reasoned point as to my thinking. My point was also reasoned
    Was musing on this a lot today……..yoof.
    It strikes me that nobody should be allowed to drink alcohol until they are 30.
    I made this proposal at a students meeting in QUB in 2006. It did not go down well.
    They say it takes years for our brains to fully join up……presumably this is something I can look forward to.
    A few years ago, I was at a meeting where people were asked for ideas for QUBSU newspaper The Gown. It was chaired by the Editor an occasional contributor on this very site.
    A young lady mentioned that a nearby Grammar School famed thru the city for the prettiness of half its kids should not be served in the Union Shop as it attracted a dirty old man element. I pointed out that the night before the Union had hosted a “Skool Disco” (sic) where young students dressed in stereotypical schoolgirl attire. Not joined up thinking in my view.
    And I tend to look on the Great Pub Crawl Controversy of 2012 in much the same way.
    I am all for political parties having Youth Sections. Indeed I consider myself good friends with several of the SDLP Youth.
    Its entirely understandable that people with a stake in society and who have a social conscience get politically involved in our political parties. Tuition fees, student accomodation……as well as broader social concern are powerful stimulants…..but my observation is that the Youth sections of political parties are effectively “Student” groups centred on third level education.
    I had two goes at being a student. First time round I was not a party-goer……….and second time around I was extremely social but never got invited to a party. And mature students are extremely marginalised at QUB. In fact I found QUB to be a hotbed of……..accountancy. Very boring.
    Now I am sure all the youth sections of political parties get involved in issues……it would be wrong if they were just regarded as “canvass fodder” and no doubt theres an element in all parties who see themselves as eventual politicians or building a portfolio to be a “political assistant”.
    For example the SDLP Youth campaign protesting the ban on gay blood donations should probably deserve as much credit as that pub crawl.
    And like I said Im sure all political youth groups have done similar.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    As someone else said “students are students”. Having been one myself I can attest to the fact that the ones just freed from the shackles of home and secondary school can be pretty silly for a while. Funny thing is, most settle down and become contributing members of society wherever their fancy happens to take the. Only a few never grow up and some of them can entertain us mightily

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Have the SDLP changed their policy on dealing with past terrorist offences pre-1998?

    Today’s Irish News reports SDLP councillor Pat Daly supported a Sinn Fein motion calling for the release of convicted sectarian terrorist Gerry McGeough put before Dungannon council.

    “… how could you vote to keep people in jail? I just think there is an anomaly in the system in that you had people released as part of the Good Friday Agreement.”

    Will Pat Daly be disciplined by the SDLP leadership or is this their new policy? (for catholic terrorists only, of course)

  • Neil

    Your moral outrage is a tad rich given your continued support for an active, armed terrorist group.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Neil,
    You’re wasting your time with this individual.