Can Caroline McNeill capture S. Belfast?

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South Belfast has been one of the few shining lights for the SDLP during its years on the sidelines. Where the party, overall, has hemorrhaged seats, members (and, of course, members’ dues), press interest and, consequently, political relevance and leverage since the early 2000s, South Belfast – a majority unionist constituency -has twice returned eventual and current Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell to Westminster. How did the SDLP buck its general trend in this neighborhood?

If John Hume had the single transferable speech, McDonnell has forged the party’s single transferable constituency strategy: Hard work; constituency work. It’s not what the stuff of great speeches are made of. It’s not vacuous champagne socialist rhetoric. It is, however, what explains the SDLP’s strength in South Belfast: A growing membership base, a reputation for delivery at local level, and, not least, a sense, if whispered, that politics can be more than the lines that divide neighbours; that it can be a resource for bringing people together to fix, slowly, steadily, quietly, the little things.

Constituency building is how trust is forged and votes are won. It’s how a Nationalist can transcend sectarian labels and get elected with the endorsement of a not insubstantial number of nominally Protestant electors – an indispensable requirement of any candidate who aspires to help build a new Ireland.

Against this backdrop, that one of the party’s BT9 MLAs has had to resign in suboptimal circumstances is, well, suboptimal. But the question of the successor is intriguing for reasons beyond the usual candidate-based speculation. There’s something deeper to look for here; less who’s next but rather what are the dynamics driving their selection?

The strategy behind the SDLP’s growing strength in South Belfast has, for many years now, doubled as a road map available to the rest of the party. Since McDonnell’s leadership, rising member subscriptions and growing branch numbers indicate his leadership’s focus. This new MLA opening in his own backyard offers yet one more test of what we might call the McDonnell Doctrine.

The McDonnell Doctrine, as I understand it, is quite simple. The reemergence of the politics of compromise, common sense, and common ground requires a strong SDLP. This, in turn, requires a strong, professional SDLP operation – hence the centrality of this leader’s fixation on internally marketing his South Belfast blueprint across the north.

If the McDonnell Doctrine is to really take root across the party, one simple performance metric is based on tracking the emergence of new talent. The dynamics driving the selection of S.Belfast’s new MLA will therefore help test his implementation and internal marketing success.

The leader’s bona fides as a promoter of youth are already established. Having appointed Mark H Durkan (previously one of the most popular local councilors on the island of Ireland) as the party’s sole Minister, McDonnell’s policy of embracing and promoting candidates who mix youth and hard graft is a welcome break from his party’s past.

What McDonnell constructed locally over many years was not built on flowery speeches or empty promises – which is why, presumably, its lasted. If he’s to use his leadership to roll-out S. Belfast’s successful operational lessons across the six counties then we can expect his tenure to concentrate first on stabalizing a membership base, then growing it, and then using the enthusiasm of the expanded and reinvigorated membership to win back – to earn back – the party’s punching power through sheer force of membership growth and local problem-solving.

Can one of the ever-growing number of young and new SDLP members seize the opportunity created by Wednesday’s turbulence in his own constituency? If yes, McDonnell has reason for optimism.

Who’s in the mix?

Some have suggested Nichola Mallon, Political Special Advisor to Mark H Durkan, as an obvious contender. It seems clear however that Mallon is committed to North Belfast for exactly the same local dedication reasons that have helped the party’s success in South Belfast.

The front runner, perhaps, is Derry born Fearghal Mc Kinney. Though the former UTV Presenter’s initial transition from TV newsman to political salesman was less smooth than several of his former media colleagues predicted, McKinney’s current party colleagues have been steadily won over by the his embrace of McDonnell’s insistence on a local grassroots work ethic. By all accounts McKinney has been a very effective Party Organiser and Vice Chair of the SDLP. As current Chair of Castlereagh Branch of the SDLP, he has a platform for pitching his candidacy in the currency all thinking members of the party now understand: a now proven talent for effective membership recruitment and local service delivery. He’ll be hard to beat.

Claire Hanna, should she run, will have her supporters too. She has an opportunity to demonstrate her McDonnell Doctrine buy-in by exemplifying the political maturity absent so many of her colleagues in recent elections; she can make it clear that the party’s retention of the South Belfast MP seat is mission critical; a priority for the constituents of the area who deserve a representative who will, you know, actually represent all of them. Should Hanna walk that talk, providing further proof of the leader’s “party first” mentality filtering down across the branches, she’ll deserve a fair hearing.

But there is a dark horse. A reputedly brilliant young barrister, Caroline McNeill, 28, a native of Finaghy, currently works in a strategic role as a policy officer in Stormont. Will she role the dice? Is she too young? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Whether McNeill has the smarts and the capacity to toil, party insiders have no doubt. But will she stake a claim? This is one more test of McDonnell’s talent recruitment drive. It’s not enough for the party to recruit intelligent and dedicated new members. The fresh members themselves need to impatiently and unapologetically remake the party anew – ‘waiting in line’ is for the takers not the makers. New members need to campaign, door-to-door, solving local problems relentlessly.

Shortly after he became leader I asked the SDLP leader for the point and purpose of his leadership. As the son of a farmer, his response was fitting. “The plants will only flower if the ground is worked properly – just don’t expect a bloom the morning after seeding.”

In fairness to McDonnell, if the contest for S.Belfast’s next MLA comes down to a challenge between McKinney and McNeill – two grafters, running on a mix of smarts, locally earned trust and, not least, a desire to use the seat as a platform for grassroots-driven change, then, whisper it, perhaps the seeds are taking root.

  • aquifer

    “How did the SDLP buck its general trend in this neighborhood?”

    The Catholic middle classes were not into murder, benefit dependency, or the tender mercies of a revolutionary junta, so do not vote Sinn Fein.

    Others recognise the sectarian nature and strategic failure of Unionism and vote for least bad options.

    Old labour will remember Devlin and Fitt and pay their dues.

    Ambition, and leaving losers and bigots behind, brought many new voters to South Belfast.

    A personable smart and maybe pushy careerist candidate could get this one OK, especially if they soft pedal on the nation once again guff.

    Barristers can be hard to beat. Carson, Blair, Thatcher.

  • boondock

    Good article and interesting to see who is in the mix. CMcD was very articulate something most of the local politicians can only dream of and he at least talked the talk how much substance was there is up for debate. I think all the people you have mentioned are capable. Alliance might be in with a chance of a seconf seat next time round but as the Westminster election shows alot of the Alliance votes are a pale shade of green so it could go either way. One last point South Belfast is not a majority Unionist constituency McDonnell in 2010 out polled all the unionist candidates by a massive 16 votes!

  • Charles_Gould

    Commentator saying the SDLP have lost their top talent; and most SDLP MLAs are happy about his departure. McDonnell will stand for Westminster, Fearghal McKinney is the MLA front runner and Claire Hanna number two. Alliance will take a second seat next time out, SDLP going down to one. McDevitt didn’t enjoy being in SDLP – they were rude to him and so McDevitt coming back to politics would not rejoin the SDLP because the SDLP did not treat him well, SDLP infighting viciuous vicious vicious. Claire Hanna and Fearghal McKinney have daggers drawn. Blood on the carpet.

  • cynic2

    ” Claire Hanna and Fearghal McKinney have daggers drawn. ”

    …..but purely in the interests of the community ….honestly

  • Charles_Gould

    Something shrunk yesterday when Conall left; it was a sense of what the SDLP stood for. The core founding values. He loved the SDLP’s values and history, but the SDLP did not love him.

  • FDM

    aquifer 5 September 2013 at 6:33 am

    “The Catholic middle classes were not into murder, benefit dependency, or the tender mercies of a revolutionary junta, so do not vote Sinn Fein.”

    Another day another toothless guming to death of Sinn Fein on slugger. Glad they continue to piss you off so much. It means they are doing their job.

    “Others recognise the sectarian nature and strategic failure of Unionism and vote for least bad options.” Yes unionism is indeed dead.

    “especially if they soft pedal on the nation once again guff”

    However lets have a swipe at nationlists as well while we are at it.

    “hard to beat. Carson, Blair, Thatcher”

    Don’t you just love war mongers whose careers all resulted in abject failure. [save the bland retort about all political...]

    “South Belfast has been one of the few shining lights for the SDLP during its years on the sidelines” says Ruarai.

    Interesting. How did Sinn Fein poll in the 2010 parliamentary election in South Belfast? Just in case you don’t know, or don’t want to know it was ZERO votes. They got ZERO votes in SB. Why is that now? They did not run a candidate.

    Now juxtaposition that beside the Assembly elections of 2011 where Alex Maskey polled 12.5% of the votes cast, with only 500 less first perference votes than the encumbent MP for the last 6 years! The same MP who is only an MP at the grace and favour of Sinn Fein.

    South Belfast was a Unionist parliamentary seat for over 100 years. South Belfast is now a pretty safe nationalist seat, as long as Sinn Fein want it to be. Even a combined UUP/DUP candidate would not have been enough to unseat dear Alasdair. Given demographic change since then that can only be done by a single unionist candidate who takes a couple of thousand votes away from Alliance at the same time as mopping-up every unionist vote cast in SB. The only thing that can unseat Alasdair in SB is Sinn Fein. A fact he knows very well indeed, but has refused to acknowledge on mutliple occassions even though it bleeding obvious. SF can not win that seat, yet, but they can stop the SDLP from taking it at any election they choose.

    For all this great constituency work, the assembly election poll results just don’t seem to bear that out. SB the shining light for the SDLP? The SDLP wins in races when Sinn Fein have a day in the stands.

  • boondock

    Some valid points FDM but the McDonnell vote is a little bit more complicated than you believe. There is no doubt he benefitted from SF votes but the fact is in the areas where SF poll well the turnout in 2010 was exceptionally low so alot of SF voters actually didnt lend their vote at all they just didnt vote. McDonnell seems to get a wide coalition of votes which includes Alliance, SF, Socialists, Greens and even some moderate Unionists – how I dont know as he has zero charisma but I guess the alternatives who can actually win are pretty atrocious. I believe that the SDLP are pretty safe here for 2015 as SF no matter how much they dislike McDonnell would not want to be seen risking a nationalist seat by fielding a candidate. NB – The SDLP stance in FST ended up costing them an Assembly seat!

  • son of sam

    The most notable thing many would have thought is the dog that hasn’t barked.Maybe I’ve missed radio interviews with the party leader but thus far,it seems to have been left to Mark Durkan M P and some former M L A s to deal with broadcast media.

  • Charles_Gould

    McDonnell gets votes across the board because they know he is totally opposed to the kind of politics represented by Sinn Féin.

  • FDM

    Charles_Gould 5 September 2013 at 10:39 am

    McDonnell gets votes across the board because they know he is totally opposed to the kind of politics represented by Sinn Féin.
    —————–

    That right Charles? Since we are post-conflict, and have been for 15 years, can you explain in explicit terms the distinction in the policies and politics of SF and the SDLP now?

  • Scáth Shéamais

    The same MP who is only an MP at the grace and favour of Sinn Fein.

    I’m not sure the figures support that, FDM. In the last Westminster election, McDonnell won by a margin of 6,000 votes. In Sinn Féin’s best result in the constituency (2011 Assembly election) Alex Maskey, the sole SF candidate, polled 4,038 first preference votes. That suggests that even had Maskey stood, McDonnell may well have won anyway.

    Plus, the actual reason for SF not standing in South Belfast was so that they could put pressure on the SDLP over Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

  • mjh

    Son of Sam

    McDonnell would be mad to give interviews, or to make any statement beyond the bare minimum. There is simply no benefit to him or the party in keeping this pot boiling.

    If party discipline is good they will all keep silent.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Since we are post-conflict …”

    You cannot be serious, FDM :)

  • FDM

    áth Shéamais 5 September 2013 at 11:03 am

    The same MP who is only an MP at the grace and favour of Sinn Fein.

    I’m not sure the figures support that, FDM. In the last Westminster election, McDonnell won by a margin of 6,000 votes. In Sinn Féin’s best result in the constituency (2011 Assembly election) Alex Maskey, the sole SF candidate, polled 4,038 first preference votes. That suggests that even had Maskey stood, McDonnell may well have won anyway.

    Plus, the actual reason for SF not standing in South Belfast was so that they could put pressure on the SDLP over Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

    ———————

    Sure all of life is about Quid Pro Quos. If Sinn Fein said they WERE going to stand, what are the odds on a Unionist unity candidate in South Belfast? I would say it was as certain as death and taxes. Hence Alasdair would be grass by about 4,000 votes.

    If Sinn Fein don’t run against Alasdair, then even a unionist unity candidate can’t win. Hence the tipping weight on whether or not Alasdair wins that seat is the Sinn Fein decision making. Looking at the stats tell me I am wrong now?

    FST? Errmm did the SDLP not field a certain high profile Fearghal McKinney in FST which came within in 4 votes of handing the seat to a unity OO candidate? SDLP at their best.

    Fortunately the people of FST were not as stupid as the SDLP leadership.

    I hope to see the same common sense appraoch applied by the nationalist population, in the post-conflict situation we are in now, to help Gerry Kelly unseat deputy dawg and the OO in North Belfast.

  • FDM

    Nevin 5 September 2013 at 11:16 am

    “Since we are post-conflict …”

    You cannot be serious, FDM
    ————————————

    Actually nationalists of all hues, for instance the two mainstream parties, are both committed to a peaceful politics. This has been the case for going on two decades?

    When are you unconstructed unionist types going to catch up? It is 2013 after all.

  • boondock

    FDM
    I cant see SDLP standing aside in North Belfast. I am almost certain Unionist will have a unity candidate next time although in reality the UUP will only add 1500 odd votes so SF are still going to be in with a shout even more so if Alban was to step down as any successor for the SDLP wont have such a big personal vote. Unionists need to realise that unity candidates are of limited use, only NB as mentioned and maybe Upper Bann in the future to stop SF coming through the middle of a split vote, SB and FST are already gone

  • FDM

    boondock 5 September 2013 at 11:50 am

    FDM
    I cant see SDLP standing aside in North Belfast. I am almost certain Unionist will have a unity candidate next time although in reality the UUP will only add 1500 odd votes so SF are still going to be in with a shout even more so if Alban was to step down as any successor for the SDLP wont have such a big personal vote. Unionists need to realise that unity candidates are of limited use, only NB as mentioned and maybe Upper Bann in the future to stop SF coming through the middle of a split vote, SB and FST are already gone

    ——————————

    All sound enough logic to me. I would add that a LOT of people in NB are REALLY hacked-off with Deputy Dawg, Redsky McCausland and Gutless Spence. Not to mention Ruth losing her way from Balmoral and showing up at Twaddell refugee camp.

    The rabble-rousing and LCD activities of the above, hand in hand with the shennaigans of the OO, have been giving one of the hardest hit area and people of the troubles more to worry about.

    I can see life-long Alban/SDLP faithful sticking the two fingers to the aforementioned individuals with their vote, lending it to Gerry to see the look on Doddsy’s face. I hope to see a scene similar to when Willie McCrea senior was given his marching by one Marty McG.

    Also the census, if you dig into the detail of North Belfast, it has shown big shifts that don’t look good for Unionists in any ward that I looked at. Open to correction if someone has a different interpretation of those stats.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Actually nationalists of all hues .. are both committed to a peaceful politics.”

    The ‘war of attrition’ post-1994 would be more aptly labelled confrontational politics. “The type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit” is the antithesis of the overall sentiment of the 1998 Agreement and naturally inhibits political progress and economic prosperity.

  • FDM

    Nevin 5 September 2013 at 12:18 pm

    The ‘war of attrition’ post-1994 would be more aptly labelled confrontational politics. “The type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit” is the antithesis of the overall sentiment of the 1998 Agreement and naturally inhibits political progress and economic prosperity.
    ———————-

    Let me guess Nevin, its THEMMUNS fault again!

    So new! So refreshing! It is so 1690 but so 2013 don’t you think?

  • Charles_Gould

    The SDLP would not stand aside for SF because it makes clear it does not stand for the type of politics represented by SF.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “its THEMMUNS fault again!”

    You seem to be reduced to guesswork, FDM :)

    “a desire to use the seat as a platform for grassroots-driven change, then, whisper it, perhaps the seeds are taking root.” .. Ruarai

    It was a South Belfast SDLP staffer a few years back who lamented President McAleese’s endorsement of the cross-paramilitary Finaghy Crossroads Group. The staffer felt that this intervention weakened the position of constitutional SDLP politicians.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Charles_Gould (profile) 5 September 2013 at 12:49 pm

    “The SDLP would not stand aside for SF because it makes clear it does not stand for the type of politics represented by SF.”

    Charles is it not a Unionist type of politics.

  • FDM

    FDM (profile)

    5 September 2013 at 11:02 am

    Charles_Gould 5 September 2013 at 10:39 am

    McDonnell gets votes across the board because they know he is totally opposed to the kind of politics represented by Sinn Féin.
    —————–

    That right Charles? Since we are post-conflict, and have been for 15 years, can you explain in explicit terms the distinction in the policies and politics of SF and the SDLP now?

    ————————

    Any chance of answering the question which was prompted by your rather reaching comment?

  • FDM

    Nevin 5 September 2013 at 1:00 pm

    You seem to be reduced to guesswork, FDM
    —————————-
    A really obtuse comment? It simply makes no sense.

    I have seen the “introduce tangential/obtuse comment then run away” defence before. I can’t for the life of me understand why making yourself look like an eejit is ever the best course of action. You could always just say nothing before taking to the hills?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Poor FDM – reduced to man-playing mode. Haven’t you read and understood the Slugger guidelines ;)

  • FDM

    Nevin 5 September 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Poor FDM – reduced to man-playing mode. Haven’t you read and understood the Slugger guidelines
    ——————————
    By all means Nevin. If you have reduced yourself to writing spam then I do not have to engage with you.

    It is not like you ever contributed anything that I personally felt worthy of reading anyway.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “roll-out S. Belfast’s successful operational lessons”

    That’s not a picture I get from the last two sets of Assembly and local election results. In terms of approximate percentage points, APNI is up 7, DUP down 1, SF down 2, SDLP down 3 and UUP down 4. What has been APNI’s recipe for success, especially against less strident/muscular forms of unionism and nationalism.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “If you have reduced yourself to writing spam”

    FDM, Gerry Adams’ quotations are to be classified as spam? He will be impressed :)

  • Gopher

    Personally speaking after having an actual look at the wards in South Belfast I would not rule out an NI 21 gain. Immigration, gentryfication, non voting and poor unionist candidates has skewed the constituency out of any claim.

    Conal was vital to the SDLP for the younger voters.

  • FDM

    Nevin 5 September 2013 at 1:59 pm

    FDM, Gerry Adams’ quotations are to be classified as spam? He will be impressed
    ——————————
    Tumbleweed.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Nevin, you have a fantastic ability to wreck a thread. Like a toxic leak.

    Anyway, can anyone shed light on the logistics of choosing a replacement: is it there a convention for party members within the constituency or what?

  • Scáth Shéamais

    - Sure all of life is about Quid Pro Quos. If Sinn Fein said they WERE going to stand, what are the odds on a Unionist unity candidate in South Belfast? I would say it was as certain as death and taxes. Hence Alasdair would be grass by about 4,000 votes.

    There was talk of a few unionist unity candidates in 2010, there’s no guarantee that one would have materialised in South Belfast since none materialised outside of FST.

    FST? Errmm did the SDLP not field a certain high profile Fearghal McKinney in FST which came within in 4 votes of handing the seat to a unity OO candidate? SDLP at their best.

    The point is that SF tried to get the SDLP to step down in FST, which didn’t happen. Unsurprisingly, the SDLP got badly squeezed in the election.

    I hope to see the same common sense appraoch applied by the nationalist population, in the post-conflict situation we are in now, to help Gerry Kelly unseat deputy dawg and the OO in North Belfast.

    So you think that nationalist voters should only have one party to vote for? I’ve no time for the SDLP and very little for Sinn Féin but it would be terrible if there was only one green party to vote for, for the simple sectarian purpose of getting “them” out.

    What will be interesting in an area like North Belfast is if the growing dissatisfaction among working class republicans around Ardoyne finds some kind of electoral outlet. It’s very doubtful in the short term but who knows how things will work out?

  • son of sam

    Ruairi
    For a Washington based person,you seem re markedly well informed on the runners and riders in the succession stakes.Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder!Clearly the contest will be be conducted in the usual civilised manner!!

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Indeed son of sam – I’d love to know who asked Ruairí to tout Caroline.

    There will be a bloodbath indeed, to paraphrase Brian Feeney’s comments in today’s Irish News, if Ms Hanna does not emerge as Conall’s successor.

  • FDM

    Scáth Shéamais 5 September 2013 at 3:05 pm

    “there’s no guarantee that one would have materialised in South Belfast since none materialised outside of FST”

    And in the next parliamentary election in the region what did they do even in a seat they new they couldn’t win? If there was blood in the water do you think they would flinch for a minute in South Belfast to reach a similar pact? Do you think for instance there is any chance that the UUP will stand someone against Doddsy in North Belfast at the next outing? I don’t.

    “The point is that SF tried to get the SDLP to step down in FST, which didn’t happen. Unsurprisingly, the SDLP got badly squeezed in the election.”

    For the very good reason that the SDLP asked them to do something which they didn’t support. The electorate spoke I wonder to the SDLP listen? I can see the exact thing happening in North Belfast.

    “So you think that nationalist voters should only have one party to vote for?”

    No, but if Doddsy, Redsky McCausland, Gusty Spence and Ruth want to act the wag in North Belfast then I think they should reap what they sow. My prediction is exactly that for 2016 in North Belfast.

    My additional prediction is that Nigel won’t even stick it out to take the defeat and will be moved to another consitutency, like for instance… East Belfast.

  • FDM

    *knew

  • cynic2

    “A reputedly brilliant young barrister, Caroline McNeill”

    If she is a brilliant young barrister why is she not at the bar?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Tir Chonaill Gael, I merely challenged the use of the term ‘post-conflict’. Is it a sacred cow? I also queried the SDLP’s electoral success when the statistics show that APNI was the only party on the Executive to grow its share of the vote in the Assembly and local elections post-2005.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    cynic2 (profile) 5 September 2013 at 5:18 pm
    “A reputedly brilliant young barrister, Caroline McNeill”

    If she is a brilliant young barrister why is she not at the bar?

    ______________________________________

    Presumably because she’s a ‘brilliant young barrister’ and not a ‘young brilliant barrister’

  • Mark

    “FDM Gerry Adams’ quotations are to be classified as spam ? He will be impressed ” ( insert smilie )

    Do you quote Gerry much when debating politics Nevin ? And who was it said imitation was the higgest form etc ……( insert smilie again ).

  • RyanAdams

    My two cents – Don’t fancy a co-optee and a newbie holding 2 seats. That is of course, if Alasdair wants to remain an MP as opposed to an MLA.

    Reckon Alliance or NI21 take this seat. More critically for NI21, as I believe this liberal seat plays host to the key demographic they are trying to attract. That said, I would not want to be taking on a ticket led by Anna Lo who took a huge chunk of the vote last time out. The DUP will be trying to get an elusive second seat here, but if they do it will be from the UUP. There are not 3 hardline unionist quotas left here any longer, at least not 3 quota’s under a DUP/UUP orange axis anyway. NI21 may change that, but again this is a seat where Alliance are strong.

    This could also allow SF a chance to grow if they were to stand Ó Muilleoir. I think recent election results show Alex Maskey has taken the SF project as far as he can go with it here, and it’s time to let someone new take it further here – especially in a seat with a very upward socially mobile nationalist population.

  • Charles_Gould

    Caroline McNeill was an intern in Hilary Clinton’s office, which is surely good background for SDLP politics.

  • Charles_Gould

    Mark Devenport has stated on Radio Ulster that the 2nd SDLP seat is under threat from Alliance.

  • Reader

    Mc Slaggart: Charles is it not a Unionist type of politics.

    Scáth Shéamais: Plus, the actual reason for SF not standing in South Belfast was so that they could put pressure on the SDLP over Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
    Well, Mc Slaggart, either SF is more unionist than the SDLP, or it’s not really a unionist type of politics, since it seems to be a game that SF is very keen to play.

  • Mark

    Charles if Miley Cyrus decided to run as an independant , that seat would be in danger .

  • Charles_Gould

    Does anyone know if Caroline McNeill is as committed to Labour politics as Claire?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    ‘Caroline McNeill was an intern in Hilary Clinton’s office, which is surely good background for SDLP politics.’

    How, exactly? Spell it out for us Charles, what’s your logic here?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    People really need to catch a grip – NI21 will take a seat in South Belfast, seriously? They have no operational set-up there whatsoever. And they’d need an outstanding candidate to stand a minimal chance: who’s that going to be?

    Alliance could push at the SDLP’s second seat, no doubt about that, but it’s far from certain. In 2011, Alliance took 20% – SDLP took 24%. And I doubt if Anna Lo’s doggedly pro-abortion stance will go down quite so well among the Catholic middle-class in the area – not to mention her pretty intolerant comments directed at anyone who dared question her stance.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think that SDLP’s anti-choice attitude would go down very poorly in one of the best-educated constituencies in NI.

  • Charles_Gould

    ………however it is to be hoped that SDLP will select candidates who are pro-choice for the South Belfast constituency.

  • boondock

    Agree with Tir Chonaill Gael it will be far too early for NI21 to have any impact in South Belfast. Their best hope is to retain the 2 seats they have. Basil should be comfortable but Im afraid its going to be tough for McAllister who is going to need some serious transfers from other Unionsts. As I mentioned earlier there seems to be quite a number of voters in South Belfast who switch between SDLP and Alliance depending on the election so who will win the second seat is anyone’s guess

  • Charles_Gould

    It all depends on the candidates. Claire Hanna seems to have the right kind of politics – politics of the left – to make inroads in South Belfast.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s funny watching the stoops all trampling over the still-warm corpse of a political career to get themselves nominated. I find this public jockeying to be unseemly.

    Famously, of course, such public jockeying occurred in Alliance a number of years ago over the issue of the Speaker nomination. But the SDLP seem to be making a habit out of it and certainly I get the impression that a significant cohort within the party appear to be obsessed with getting themselves appointed or elected to some sort of salaried position or getting themselves on the gravy train for a junket. McDonnell should be getting this under control but I don’t get the sense he’s interested.

    I also have to laugh at all the stoops here talking about how they’re diametrically opposed to Sinn Féin’s IRA violence etc. Someone might want to mention the McCreesh play park thing and the SDLP’s little role in that matter. Or the rather larger matter of John Hume aborting the fledgling peace process in the early 90s in order to bring Sinn Féin into it.

    I do have to respect the SDLP for refusing to play the game of electoral pacts. There is no point in having a political party which is not prepared to stand up for its idea of what the alternative is. If, of course, the SDLP and SF joined with some of the rest of us to support reform of Westminster elections it might help to avoid such rows.

    Sinn Féin are unlikely to ever run against McDonnell or any future strong SDLP candidate for the South Belfast Westminster seat. As such even a joint unionist candidate has little or no prospect of winning the constituency. Doubtless the DUP and UUP will field a joint candidate anyway.

    People who think that Anna Lo’s views on abortion are going to count against her are very much out of touch. The tide is turning against the abortion extremists, we are seeing this happening in a concrete way in the Irish republic, and voters across the community will be looking to politicians who advocate reform with an eye on consensus. I would hazard a guess that at least one of the three candidates being mooted in public to replace Conall in South Belfast will be a supporter of at the very least a conversation about reforming our broken abortion laws.

    Charles:

    I am really not sure at all where you are coming from. You’re talking about Labour politics – Labour politics in the SDLP died a generation ago when they expelled Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin. The SDLP front bench consists of Catholic businessmen, doctors, schoolteachers and legal professionals. There is nothing wrong with that but I do wish people would drop this idea that the SDLP are people who are down with the proles – or that their outlook is not intentionally skewed towards a rather Catholic perspective.

    You also go on to talk about Hilary Clinton. There are 108 MLAs who got elected without having done an internship for Hilary. I really doubt that silly nonsense like this is going to be anything to do with someone getting a seat.

    Frankly McDonnell will probably present the person who represents the least threat to his own position. And whoever it is has a couple of years to build themselves up before the next election.

    TCG:

    I would not predict an Alliance second seat just yet. The seat is there but it has to be worked for.

    Count Bisto :

    Presumably because she’s a ‘brilliant young barrister’ and not a ‘young brilliant barrister’

    Or maybe just a “young barrister”. They don’t make any money.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS: I would argue that the SDLP does have labour/left members and elected representatives. I count Mark Durkan among them, who carries such politics to his speeches and voting at Westminster. Same for Margaret Ritchie. Conal was of that mould; and Claire Hanna will be if she becomes a legislator. There are others too.

  • gaygael

    Ni21 to stand Tina Mckenzie for Europe and follow that up with a pitch at south belfast.
    The uup ran two candidates and combined just reached quota, which was 4616, alliance had 1800 over quota.
    The uup seat is at risk as demographics will make this seat solid for 2 SDLP and sf, and alliance and one dup. I can’t see he uup loading up, and if ni21 enter I think it’s theirs. Lots of caveats and an interesting 3 years to see.

  • Charles_Gould

    “Ni21 to stand Tina Mckenzie for Europe and follow that up with a pitch at south belfast”

    Is that a prediction or a statement of fact? Tina seems a very credible professional person, but I think her business career is successful enough that she may wish to remain a chair, rather than an elected politician. I admit I don’t know.

    The talk about NI21 is a bit premature yet as we know very little about who will stand for them. They have two very likeable candidates (John and Basil) but we are too premature to make any calls for South Belfast. Also I don’t really know if they are left or right on economics, yet.

  • Charles_Gould

    Hilary Clinton is a progressive and very impressive politician. To have done an intern for her will be an empowering, and confidence-instilling experience, as well as a chance to learn from the very best.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Charles_Gould: how many times do you think a Senate intern sits in the same room as their master during an average six or nine month internship: two times? Three times? And what if that Senator happens to be Hillary Clinton?

    And roughly how many northern Irish people have done internships on Capitol Hill through WiP?

    Really, don’t be so naive.

  • Charles_Gould

    It isn’t just “sitting with” Hilary Clinton, it is being part of the team. Internships are an excellent thing; I did several and they helped to inspire me within my own profession.

  • RyanAdams

    “People really need to catch a grip – NI21 will take a seat in South Belfast, seriously? They have no operational set-up there whatsoever. And they’d need an outstanding candidate to stand a minimal chance: who’s that going to be? ”

    There is talk of Assembly elections being deferred to 2016. That allows for a European, Council and Westminster election beforehand – allowing for benchmarking and candidates to settle. Lets not forget Alliance virtually took a seat here overnight in 2007. They almost lost the deposit in 2003, and the large liberal contingent vote here is quite volatile, much alike that in North Down.

    “And I doubt if Anna Lo’s doggedly pro-abortion stance will go down quite so well among the Catholic middle-class in the area”

    Well … ugh that’s the genius of a second candidate isn’t it … To be honest I didn’t even know Anna Lo was pro choice. Any how … middle class catholics do not equal conservative catholics and you would do well to remember the difference.

  • Charles_Gould

    “Lets not forget Alliance virtually took a seat here [South Belfast] overnight in 2007.”

    A bit outrageous, Ryan! Alliance has been strong in South Belfast back to the 1970s. The 1990s were a bad spell but perhaps because the peace process made them relatively irrelevant at that time.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think its too soon to say about NI21; they have not really got going yet. After a few election campaigns we will be better able to judge them – I don’t even know yet whether they are left or right on economics.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Ryan – Alliance had candidates in South Belfast elected during the Troubles, as they did to the Forum in 1996. And they really should have had their man elected in 1998. The 2003 vote was an aberration. So I can’t agree that Lo came from nowhere in 2007.
    As for Lo’s pro-abortion stance – it will hardly be a massive issue, I agree, and I don’t really disagree with her in principle. But it will affect some Catholic voters, and in a tight constituency where Alliance field two candidates as opposed to one, it could make a difference. If Alliance are to take a second seat in South Belfast then it’s more likely to be at the expense of the UUP.

  • RyanAdams

    Charles,

    It is hardly outrageous. There was nothing going on between 2003 and 2007 only barred negotiations between DUP and SF.

    It is a bit early to call on NI21, but lets be realistic, in terms of target seats – Do you think NI21 will resonate better up the Lendaoon or up the Malone Road?

    Right on economics. Seem all about the business and private sector. Left on social policy – bar Academic selection. They seem to be in favor of that.

  • RyanAdams

    Tir Chonaill Gael,

    The DUP already have eyes on the UUP seat and South Belfast is at 2.65 unionist quotas. That would require a huge collapse on the unionist side to give that result. Given how unsettled many loyalist areas are, I can’t see turnout dropping to facilitate that happening. If anything, splinter loyalist candidates will only bring more of them out inflating the vote. South Belfast will be 2 Nationalist, 2 Unionist, 1 Alliance and 1 tight seat for the foreseeable future.

  • Gopher

    SF’s seat in South Belfast is far from a gimme when you look at the decline of the nationalist working class population in the area. The. final seat is too close to call presently and if Alliance field two candidates with NI21 now in the fray everyone bar Anna Lo will be looking over their shoulder. Transfers are mysterious things and you still have to be in the count to get them.

  • FDM

    I think that Ryan Adams’s suggestion above of SF freshening up South Belfast with the introduction of the current Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is an absolute jewel of a suggestion. Similarly the comment about Alex, really insightful. Máirtín has been doning a terrific job leading BCC and has really energized the office. Gavin Robinson, his DUP predecessor, had been seen in the previous term to do a decent, if far from charismatic, job of leading the council. Yet has since fallen back into gutter sectarian politics, i.e. core DUP values. His stock has plummeted accordingly.

    I would concur that Alex has done what he can in South Belfast. I think the parachuting of Máirtín into South Belfast would scare the bayjessus out of the SDLP. It is worth it for the comedy value alone. Perhaps Máirtín can pull along another in his wake and make it two SF MLA seats in that constituency? Put it up to the SDLP there. Lets see if they are doing the great job they are saying they are doing in South Belfast.

    Just a note, working class people aren’t the only people who vote for Sinn Fein. To suggest or imply that, as someone did above, is utter stupidity.

  • Gopher

    People get touchy on here. The core vote for SF comes from nationalist working class areas just like the DUP core vote comes from religious fundies. Both are in decline in South Belfast. Hence the DUP and SF have the most idiotic candidates for the nature of the constituency. Think the Lord Mayor is a no brainier for SF in South Belfast especially when the middle classes rarely like letting the “Bouncer run the pub” let alone drinking in a club that has bouncers.

  • Morpheus

    If there is an opening for SF to drop in a profile candidate and possibly gain an extra seat then surely they would take it just to get up to the magic 30 POC number.

    The SDLP under this current leadership slips further and further into oblivion and are being consumed by SF across the board so why not continue the trend in South Belfast.

  • Charles_Gould

    Ruari

    “A reputedly brilliant young barrister, Caroline McNeill, 28, a native of Finaghy, currently works in a strategic role as a policy officer in Stormont. Will she role the dice? Is she too young? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Whether McNeill has the smarts and the capacity to toil, party insiders have no doubt. But will she stake a claim? This is one more test of McDonnell’s talent recruitment drive. It’s not enough for the party to recruit smart and dedicated new members.”

    I don’t think any of us have heard of her before. I find your article a little too keen on her, there is no real evidence here. It seems imbalanced – just a bit too positive – in the way it talks about McNeill.

    It is great that good candidates are being drawn to Labour politics. But what can you tell me about her attitudes to traditional left political issues? Would she back a wealth tax?

  • Charles_Gould

    I should say “many” not “any” when I say : “I don’t think any of us have heard of her before.”

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

    I find Mairtin O’ Muilleoirs selection and performance interesting.
    As we have seen this week…four SInn Fein councillors have resigned, four to be co-opted…and they have no problem re-cycling their people to various duties.
    While being a believer in co-option, I think SF have really abused the system.
    The interesting thing about the Mayor is not any acceptance by the middle class voter in South Belfast, which might turn a SF marginal into a safe seat.
    The really interesting thing is his acceptance among the arty crowd as a Renaissance Man and his tweets being lovingly re-tweeted.
    I am not sure that acceptance on Twitter translates as votes in the ballot box.
    While there might be people content to go along witha Sinn Fein Flow, in the context of a Six County Election….the reality of life is not a poetry reading or opening of an art gallery….the reality is parades in Castlederg and iron bars in Crossmaglen.
    Thats not so easy to get a re-tweet.

  • Charles_Gould

    “the reality of life is not a poetry reading or opening of an art gallery….the reality is parades in Castlederg and iron bars in Crossmaglen”

    The real reality is high unemployment, emigration, zero hours contracts, crisis in the NHS, low educational attainment for working class people, and widening economic inequality.

  • Charles_Gould

    fjh

    Perhaps someone could tweet Mairtin to ask why SF have dropped a wealth tax from its policies , south of the border.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles,

    Ryan is right. Alliance in fact came close to folding completely in the early 2000s. The fact that it did not is due to a significant extent to the convictions of the current party leader. Anna’s result in 2007 shows what you can do with a good candidate and a good campaign (likewise East Belfast, Westminster 2010).

    Máirtín Ó Muilleoir – that’s a pretty sharp idea for South Belfast, I agree. If I were in South Belfast I’d certainly transfer to him ahead of “I’m blinded here” McDonnell.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles,

    I don’t know what you mean by Labour politics. I like Mark Durkan but he’s another lawyer. I don’t mind lawyers but lawyers are not Labour men.

    When someone says “Labour man” I assume it means manual labour and the traditional trade unions. Very few and far between in the SDLP these days.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS – fair points regarding Alliance, though I think it only fair that I pointed out that Alliance did have a tradition in South Belfast that went before.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS -by labour politics I mean politics of the left, a concern for equality of economic outcome; a concern for the conditions, health, education, of the people; investment in public services, the NHS, education financed by tax; on those who *can* pay, and a strong concern for the conditions of working people. Conall McDevitt always articulated these values. He will be missed.

  • Gopher

    The UUP since the advent of NI21 would need to be electorally insane to run two candidates in South Belfast (I imagine this will also apply in other Constituencies). I’m still not sure whether Alliance have the balls to run two candidates.

  • Charles_Gould

    Gopher, I wonder if they have a charismatic second candidate to put on the list?

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

    Mr Gould,
    If I was a betting man Id say that Age might be a factor in Alliance line up in Sputh Belfast in 2016.
    Anna Lo or Cathy Curran if they run one.
    Cathy Curran and Naomi Long if they run two.

  • Charles_Gould

    Excellent point Fitzjameshorse1745

    Thanks for notifying me of Ms Cathy Curran.

    She topped the poll in Lagan Bank from what I see; is highly articulate and liberal values.

    I think a Lo-Curran ticket should do well in South Belfast.

    Predict Lo will be tempted at another go; will still only be in her 60s in 2016.

  • Charles_Gould

    Cathy Curran, just listening to her speaking on You Tube, seems a good prospect. She worked in South Belfast constituency office for the Assembly for Anna Lo before being elected to council.

  • Charles_Gould

    She is very articulate on the abortion issue, for example, 20 minutes in

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1IP_U9ihsQ

    Encouraging.

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

    No a Lo-Curran ticket wouldnt do well.
    only one would win a seat.
    A defeated Long (2015) might be tempted to South Belfast, where a certain sympathy would get her a seat and at least have a decent chance of bringing Curran in.

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

    Well….I dont particuarly want to listen to her for 20 minutes so I will have to take it as “factual” Mr Gould.

  • Charles_Gould

    fitzjameshorse1745 you can click straight to the 20 minute mark!

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

    I could…but I wont.
    Im happy enough watching old TV westerns on youtube.

  • Morpheus

    I think you are reading way, way too much into it and assuming that the electorate, even the SB electorate, will actually go to the trouble of looking at manifestos, policies, researching the views of the politicians on key issues and making a rational, well researched, well planned decision based on that. Sadly, in reality, on election day in the privacy of a polling both I think it will come down to who is the most articulate, high-profile candidate that belongs to ‘their’ camp.

    If everyone sat down and put as much thought into their public representatives as demonstrated above do you think we would have this current shower in Stormont?

  • Charles_Gould

    “No a Lo-Curran ticket wouldnt do well.”

    Too liberal?

  • Ruarai

    Charles,

    glad you’re excited to hear more about Caroline.

    Stay tuned.

  • Charles_Gould

    Caroline does sound exciting, but at the moment it feels like tantalisation.

  • Charles_Gould

    ……….and what I mean by that is I don’t have a lot of information on her as of yet.

  • son of sam

    Comrade Stalin
    Mark Durkan another lawyer!I don’t think so.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Not sure why FJH thinks a two-seat Alliance victory would depend on the candidates. Provided they’re both electable, the biggest challenge is to get the vote out, and the second biggest challenge is to then make sure it balances properly.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BTW FJH, Cathy is your biggest fan.

  • Charles_Gould

    Hi CS

    Perhaps what FJH was getting at is if the two candidates are “close substitutes” versus “complements”. There are synergies in the latter case. If two candidates are complements (one appeals to people that the other does not and vv) then the total vote gains. Perhaps Cathy and Anna are similar in terms of some key political attribute.

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

    Ms Curran has not given me that impression when we have met.

  • Charles_Gould

    According to Ken Reid the …”rush is on for Conall McDevitt’s replacement. Electoral Office want name by next Friday. SDLP South Belfast Convention on Thursday night”.

    It’s a battle royal!