SDLP – One Woman Party or Just the Nature of the Beast?

When the SDLP require a representative for a media appearance, who are they going to call? Claire Hanna.

It’s become obvious over the last number of months that as and when the SDLP need to present their party position to the electorate, if at all possible they will turn to just one person – time after time.

Claire Hanna has been ever-present in the press for most of 2016, even more so in the run up to the Assembly election, EU Referendum and since. Claire is a superb debater, a formidable opponent and is arguably their best performer in the adversarial arena of the Northern Irish media.

When I first noticed this I interpreted it as perhaps a failing of the SDLP as a whole; 12 MLAs but you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a one-woman-party. Considering the matter further though, it’s perhaps the nature of the beast that has created this situation.

As a society, we have but one format for political discourse: adversarial. It’s not enough to have a politician appear on the media and explain or discuss a topic; it has to be a duel, or more often, a melee.

The View, Sunday Politics, UTV Live Tonight, the Frank Mitchell phone-in on U105, the Nolan Show, Talkback… all the usual talking shops for politicians to speak to the public and they are almost always mano a mano. Of course vigorous debate over serious topics is essential in politics but the by-product of requiring only proficient combatants is that we lose variety of voice.

Claire Hanna being the SDLP point person for debates allows for their views to be presented in the most effective way but then the wider electorate never get properly introduced to elected representatives such as Sinead Bradley, Colin McGrath, Richie McPhillips or Gerry Mullan.

This is the era of opposition. The SDLP have aspirations of one day being a senior party in the Executive, as they all do, those above-named MLAs could well be ministers in future with their own departments and serious responsibilities… but the party appear to have no faith in even letting them discuss the topics of the day on the BBC?

It is worth remembering that Gerard Diver stepped in to the Colosseum to discuss the SDLP Assembly election manifesto, took a public humiliation and left battered and bruised before losing his Foyle seat as well. So perhaps it is what it is, but we can aspire to better, to hear from all corners. We have 108 MLAs, in the not too distant future that will be 85 – it would be great to hear the range of speakers we have before we lose 22% of the speakers.

Additionally, it’s been 128 days since the SDLP Deputy Leader position became vacant and there is still no sign of a replacement for the short-lived residency of Ferghal McKinney – you could be forgiven for assuming Claire Hanna, as the de facto public face of the party, has already assumed the position.

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