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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  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Is writing your when you mean you’re a misspelling or an inability to distinguish between homonyms?

  • Reader

    Skibo: “Can you see what 05OCT68 is referring to now?”
    If unionists had compelled the whole of Ireland to stay in the UK then 05OCT68 would have had a point. However, they didn’t. It was nationalists that tried to insist on having the whole cake.

  • Reader

    Declan Doyle: a balanced workforce between both sides means nothing
    If only there was a balanced workforce between South and West Belfast…

  • Declan Doyle

    If only there was a balanced workforce between North Down and North Belfast

  • Reader

    Well, that’s straightforward. There aren’t that many jobs in North Down – it’s just part of the Belfast commuter belt. Thousands of people leave Bangor every morning to go into Belfast, by car and train and bus. For instance, because I walk part of the way, my commute takes an hour, and still costs me over £1000 per year.
    A North (or West) Belfast worker with my skills and attitude could undercut me on price and travel time and get my job. But it hasn’t happened so far.
    Westies have a choice. Travel and compete, or elect a representative who can deliver jobs to their doorstep.

  • Declan Doyle

    Provide the stats

  • Skibo

    Reader, can you see what I am referring to? The fact that Unionism demand democracy of Northern Ireland to be respected when they had no intentions at the start of the last century of recognising the democracy of the whole of Ireland. They used the threat of violence to set up a sectarian state where the headcount would allow them one hundred years to establish NI as a country.
    As the political strength of the Nationalist community rises, so too with the push for reunification.
    Eventually the Unionist community will realise it is a foregone conclusion and will either migrate to GB or will find solace with their Nationalist neighbours and the country will be stronger together.