The fall and rise of the SDLP?

The SDLP is down on its uppers. It defied those who predicted complete meltdown under the hammer blows of Sinn Fein and retained three Westminster seats. It’s often overshadowed by Sinn Fein’s superior party machine which some say has a certain military discipline, better fundraising and high profile visits to Downing Street as well as often criticised side deals to keep the party in the limelight.

Yet there is a feeling that Sinn Fein have overplayed their hand and could start to pay an electoral price for perceived arrogance, that Mark Durkan has begun to make his ..er .. mark as leader and that voters who were “borrowed” by Sinn Fein to boost the so-called doves against the hawks could come home.

That was certainly and not surprisingly the feeling of many at an unusual event the other night at the Commons. The SDLP launched a London support group and packed a room for a reception with its leaders and friends. It was the first time I have seen the SDLP do such an event in my near 20 years in the Commons.

The party has always been too shy about networking and fund-raising. John Hume may have commanded presidential attention for decades in DC but the party never got a decent fund-raising system in place. It was long a mainstay of internal debate at party conferences.

The launch shows that the party may have its back to the wall but is starting to fight back. One friend, John McFall – a former Northern Ireland minister –opined that it’s 25 years too late but better late than never.

An organiser slightly baulked at my suggestion that the SDLP’s day may come again – cannot think why. But they have a few tricks to learn. Glossy little cards were handed out on the SDLP’s “better way to a better Ireland” but no web site and no encouragement to hand over dosh. If the SDLP is to come back as the party of vision, as it sees itself, and rebuild the moderate centre with the Ulster Unionists it must sharpen itself up. But there’s still some life left in the old dog yet.

  • Reality bites

    Dump the arrogant b**tards that look down their nose at people, start co-operating with Sinn Féin when it makes sense instead of trying to shaft them at every opportunity (e.g. Opposing SF Fairtrade motion in Moyle), dump the ‘post-nationalists’ who quite clearly are unionists with a small ‘u’ except when they’re canvassing, and adopt radical policies instead of all the wishy-washy, middle-class, don’t get you hands dirty nonsense. As for Declan O’Loan writing a letter into the Irish News about how great the SDLP in Ballymena was for raising money for charity, well that just shows that it was a PR exercise in the first place and lets face it politics isn’t about charity, its about people and positive social change, something the SDLP has never got the hold of.

  • Glen Taisie

    Sinn Fein without the luxury of opposition have only been average.

    Young candidates and a return to it’s left of centre Civil Rights origins is the only path for the SDLP.

    A wise old neighbour told me in 1998 that the GFA came 15 years too late for the SDLP and 15 years too early for Sinn Fein. He was too far wrong

    .

  • Chris Donnelly

    Gary

    I just can’t see this ‘revival thing’ taking place. Let’s look at the facts.

    Prior to the 2005 elections, the SDLP were facing meltdown. You’re right to indicate that the 3 MP seats and 100 or so council seats (not counting those since resigned) continue to represent a sizeable section of the nationalist electorate.

    Yet I can’t help but view the 2005 elections as anything other than an electoral stay of execution for the SDLP. In fact, given the circumstances in which Sinn Fein contested that election, the SDLP ‘comeback’ becomes less impressive, as Sinn Fein actually continued to improve its share of the nationalist electorate.

    I believe it is more likely that the next stage of nationalist politics in the north will see the continued emasculation of the SDLP and eventual appearance on the scene of the southern heavyweights- probably led by Fianna Fail and Labour, and then followed by Fine Gael.

    Already, numerous SDLP activists/ supporters/ sitting councillors have publicly declared their support for a northern expansion by Fianna Fail (which in itself, by the way, is quite a statement of no confidence in their own party’s future prospects.)

    The Irish Labour Party has made moves through former Independent cllr Mark Langhammer to organise in the north- albeit with no real electoral ambitions yet- and the Greens, with a number of sitting councillors, are actually the second all-Ireland party behind Sinn Fein to have an electoral base across the island.

    Interestingly, the Green’s electoral base of South Down was built on the back of an election team consisting of many former republican activists who have coalesced quite successfully within the Green movement (and fair play to them.)

    Ironically, the SDLP’s demise will (IMO) expedite progression to all-Ireland politics, as those southern parties currently afraid of splitting the nationalist vote in the north (and failing to establish an immediate core support base) would be more likely to take the jump into northern politics, if only to counter the growing electoral appeal of Sinn Fein in the 26 counties.

    It is in this context that Sinn Fein’s all-Ireland electoral strategy can be viewed as representing a plausible strategy for attaining Irish unity, something which appeals very much to Irish nationalists- and something to which the SDLP, beyond the bluff and bluster, would appear to have no answer.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘Yet there is a feeling that Sinn Fein have overplayed their hand and could start to pay an electoral price for perceived arrogance……That was certainly and not surprisingly the feeling of many at an unusual event the other night at the Commons.’

    Westminister, it environs, and the creatures who inhabit it really do have their fingers on the pulse of the nationalist electorate and what way they are going to vote.

    Gary’s little heave up for the Stoops has been sunk, even before launch, by the intervention of Eddie Espie. Wonder if they saw that coming in their Commons crystal ball.

  • Garibaldy

    Chris,

    Rabbitte et al have already left one party to get away from northern politics. I can’t see them being keen to get involved in the north with Labour. Many labour activists who want to see the British Labour Party in NI would not welcome its Irish equivalent. And left nationalists would continue to vote for PSF, so they’d just end up being humiliated and wasting scarce resources.

    I doubt FF wants to stand in elections in the north, though having branches would appease those who want to see them in the north. They could always use the not wanting to split the nationalist vote as an excuse.

    If the SDLP does effectively disappear in about 20 years or so, PSF will become the equivalent of the old Nationalist Party, with a few people outside it.

    The major mistake the SDLP made at the last Assembly elections was in the simultaneous retirement of virtually the entire old guard in one fell swoop, I imagine with pressure from Durkan et al. This cost them votes and credibility. They would have been much better having them stand, and having them stand aside for nominated replacements over a staggered period. The catastrophic effect this had on their profile was because it had always been not so much a party as a series of fifedoms. No middle leadership existed, as with the UUP. Looking at some of the newer PSF people, I wonder if the replacements for the current leadership when the time comes in what 10-15 years at most will be much better.

  • Comrade Stalin

    a return to it’s left of centre Civil Rights origins

    What absolute nonsense. In case you haven’t noticed, it is no longer 1970. We are presently in a post Civil Rights era. Complaints about discrimination in jobs or housing are very thin on the ground.

    Sinn Fein have managed – almost impossibly – to ride out the McCartney and Northern Bank scandals and I suspect they will continue to consolidate their position. The Hume strategy was to bring the Provos into politics and that is exactly what they did. Unfortunately he forgot that the SDLP are little more than provos without guns.

  • Michael

    Hi Pat,
    I was at the Westminster do on tuesday,jammed to the rafters with mmmm nationalist voter types…do you think that the party’s first ever gathering there and Espie leaving at about the same time, amongst other moves are coincidental,mmmm….all I will say is watch this space dude!
    Michael.

  • Declan

    If they join with the right-wing Fianna Fail they will lose a huge section of support. SDLP should not be SF light. They should join with labour and form a genuine democratic socialist alternative in Northern Ireland.

  • CS Parnell

    The Sinn Fein bubble will burst, maybe not today or tomorrow but it will burst – after all everyone in the South loves to rave about how Lemass saved them, so there isn’t going to be much money in going back to the politics of DeV, which is basically what SF are about.

    In the North the Shinners have more or less reached their peak – where are the new SF votes going to come from?

    None of that means the SDLP have got anything more than a stay of execution. But, sure, weren’t there once a bunch of lads holed up in Kilmainham in the same situation? And didn’t they go on to found a state?

    Like the man said – decent nationalism hasn’t gone away, and it doesn’t matter how often the Shinners want to repeat their lies that the SDLP are really a bunch of unionists, that tripe has been seen through.

  • dave

    The SDLP have to do nothing more that..Wait… Wait for those who vote for IRA/SF to wake up and smell the coffee. The “other” community will not sit in power with a terrorist organisation. I have respect for the SDLP even though they wish for a united Ireland but at least they have and are going down the democratic road to achieve their goal.

    Some eighteen months ago I made a statement that the SDLP will eventually over take IRA/SF in the Ballot Box I am still of that opinion, I am just waiting for the “other” community to wake up and smell the coffee. Their is nothing wrong in sharing power and the blame with other democrats.

  • Labour Organiser

    Garibaldy says :- Many labour activists who want to see the British Labour Party in NI would not welcome its Irish equivalent.

    But a joint development will work.

    It is very interesting to see Durkan speaking at the Labour Conference in Dublin, the meeting in Westminster, and Sean Farren (?!!) speaking in Transport House on the Labour Movement’s contribution to 1916. Smacks of utter desperation, in which case it’s always best to seek some backings – some of you SDLP types might want to consider actually joining a union.

  • JD

    “have respect for the SDLP even though they wish for a united Ireland but at least they have and are going down the democratic road to achieve their goal.”

    And Sinn Fein are not? The SDLP did have a window of opportunity after the May 05 elections however I think they have squandered it and will now continue to slide towards oblivion. They are already being treated as an irrelevance by the two Governments, although the Irsh Government will always talk them up as part of their electoral battle with Sinn Fein. Politics, as with everything else, will be on an all Ireland basis and the SDLP will be left behind mostly because of their own arrogance and disorganisation.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Michael,

    given that you were at the event perhaps you could expand on the Kent analysis. Who exactly stated that SF had overplayed their hand and could pay an electoral price for their ‘arrogance’? There is absolutely nothing happening within the nationalist community to suggest this. Wishful thinking and the need to give the SDLP a helping hand may be one thing but it should be tempered with a dose of reality.

    Parnell

    The Sinn Fein bubble will burst, maybe not today or tomorrow but it will burst’

    One of those bland, meaningless statements that says absolutely nothing and is based solely on the fantasies of a frustrated SDLP supporter. The author will never be asked to stand over it, thus it is just a slogan. As for the comparison between the SDLP and the boys in Kilmainham, well, whatever you do don’t tell Eddie Mc Grady, after all he is getting on a bit.

    What Parnell should take on board (and this is perhaps why the SDLP is dying on it’s feet) SF represent decent nationalism, have you got that. The SDLP will have to fight SF for that vote.
    The fight for that vote cannot take place while the SDLP have next to no presence in many areas. The SDLP are incapable of the day to day political activism that involves contact on the doorsteps. The SDLP just don’t have the personnel.
    The voter registration drive is a case in point, the SDLP just don’t do that sort of thing, preferring to try and shore up the votes of their activists. SF hit every door in recognisable nationalist areas, thats where the new votes are coming from.

  • CS Parnell

    Pat me boy. If I could hail a passing Bank and get it to hand me £25 million then I could probably have someone knock on every door in the Western Hemisphere.

    Isn’t it funny that the Shinners have been able to out organise the stoops for probably a quarter of a century yet have only been in the lead for about five years?

    The reason is pretty obvious – it’s politics. And the republicanism of Sinn Fein is a dead end for the island of Ireland. Been there, done that, caught the boat to England.

    That is what will do for Sinn Fein – the fact that their politics stand for the exact opposite of everything that has made the country a success in the last twenty years.

    We obviously have a different view of what constitutes decency. Personally I have never been in favour of slaughtering dog fanciers and war veterans, children and pregnant mothers.

  • CS Parnell

    By the way, any one who thinks the British Labour Party is going to spend their last pennies on organising the remnants of the BICO needs their head examined.

  • Grouch

    The Shinners (or should that be spelt Sinners?) are spending too much time trying to knock the positives of the SDLP, of democratic policies and practices. Since when did they even understand what democracy really means – their version is controlling local communities by the ruling thugs. They ply their subtle messages and propaganda throughout the North. They attack every party that doesn’t agree with them – although most parties do this, the Sinners just baulk at doing what they do best – threaten them.

    I have been reading so many contributions to debate, to discussion, to progress and I have yet to find anything constructive to progress from SF or PSF as some quite rightly call them. They have stolen policies from other parties and have proved inept at cascading them to their party members or supporters – very few even know what they are. Ask them what their policy is on abortion for example. Ask Mitchell McLaughlin why he wants to raise Corporation Tax – is this to destroy the economy and cause a revolution which they will organise and orchestrate? Ask where all the money going into the SF controlled local community groups goes to – just look at their BMWs, their foreign holidays and fancy houses – then you will know.

    At least the SDLP have tried, and tried very hard to move the North into democracy, to rid it of politically organised and controlled thugs, thieves and gangs. They have tried to do what is best for all the people in this small island. They have tried to get progress on the institutions and on the funding for the education of our children, the health of our nation, for jobs and for the environment. It is bad enough being attacked for doing this by the unionists, but these so-called nationalists / republicans from SF who constantly attack the SDLP is hard to take. They do so out of fear. They do so out of a wish to control – they are not democrats. They are dictators, they are fascists and they are inept. God help Ireland should they get any stronger.

    They have over the last few generations destroyed the whole fabric of the North. The only party bringing any sanity, any progress has been the SDLP. Even SF have to admit that it was the SDLP through the efforts of John Hume who swung the balance in their army council towards the doves. He accepted their bona fides. But he was duped. SF did not play fair. They saw him as a way of gaining political control as the military campaign was only creating mayhem and stalemate.

    Come on, let’s get into real politics – unless SF don’t have the courage, capability or the will to do just that. Or maybe they are so bereft of ideas, they will wait for the SDLP to come up with the ideas and they will corrupt them to ply their own raw propaganda.

  • Snuff Box

    Grouch

    “where all the money going into the SF controlled local community groups goes to – just look at their BMWs, their foreign holidays and fancy houses – then you will know.”

    I could have chosen most of your speech to put holes in but chose the easiest. Substantiate this comment or withdraw it. People talk sense on this website.. mostly

  • Grouch

    At least some movement from a SF supporter which I presume Snuff Box is. I will accept your comment that most of what was said you could have put holes in – admission therefore that some you can’t – acceptance of something is better than denial of everything. Progress at least.

    As regards the ‘big do’ in Westminster on Tuesday, and the huge numbers I hear attended, at least the SDLP is now starting to think strategically and with a new found confidence. Their demise has been forecast many times, but I believe that they will come back stronger. Democrats usually do.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Parnell,

    the Stoops didn’t mind passing by the odd CIA slush fund to pick up the odd bit of funding and training, did they? Save the lectures for someone who doesn’t know your history

    Face the facts, no organisation, no activists and no hope. Get Kent to tell you there is a bit of hope while the people on the doorstep give you the reality.
    By all means wallow in the heady days of feifdom politics operated by your leading lights, time has moved on and left you people marooned. The SDLP conference looks like an excerpt from Pathe News.
    Caught the boat to England all right, to pick up the odd peerage and OBE.
    But you always have your faithful membership, then again Eddie Espie must have landed on all Stoop laps like a partcularly nasty dog turd.

  • Snuff Box

    It makes me smile that people within the sdlp and their supporters (as represented by Grouch) have an idea that they are somehow the party of ‘Decent Nationalists’. Something which Grouch’s rant against SF proves all too well. This tactic which was most evident during the mcCartney/ Northen Bank period bore little fruit electorally despite one of the most intense media campaigns against a political party ever.

    Having welcomed Sinn Fein down the democratic path under Hume and given all the developments on decommissioning they must recognise that the situation has changed. Emerging their heads from the sand periodically they attempt to throw enough mud at SF in the vain hope that some of it will stick. Perhaps they would be better trying to adjust to the new political distribution of power and stop clinging to the memory of past glories.

    It seems to me that far from SF attacking the sdlp at every opportunity the exact opposite is true. Devoid of influence with the two governments and with little bargaining power what else can they do?

  • CS Parnell

    The two standard SF tactics against the SDLP are now clearly on display here. The trouble is they run counter to one another.

    The first is to present SF as the party of principle, the grass roots. The second is to say SF are a better client of the Brits than the SDLP (that is what all this “influence” stuff means).

    As for the Northern Bank/McCartney affairs having no impact on the SDLP’s fortunes – tell that to Mitchell McLoughlin and Alasdair McDonnell.

    And Pat, what CIA slush fund? Presumably you mean money from the US Democrats. Well, northing wrong with that, especially if your opponents are rasing money through smuggling, intimidation and robbery. I know which I think is more legitimate and democratic. What about yourself?

  • Labour Organiser

    Parnell says “By the way, any one who thinks the British Labour Party is going to spend their last pennies on organising the remnants of the BICO needs their head examined. ”

    SDLP – heads firmly stuck in the sands of the seventies.

  • Declan

    I agree with Labour Organiser. The future of the SDLP is with the labour movement. They need to strengthen their trade union links and start making the labour forum-SDLP link a bit more formal.
    If the FF supporters leave the party, all the better. If you support Berties party then you are not a social democrat or socialist of any kind.
    Too many people joined the SDLP because they couldn’t stomach SF but wanted a nationalist party.
    Its time to look to the SDLP’s roots and think about its ideological purpose now that those for whom ideology never mattered have left.

  • J Kelly

    All this talk of SDLP revival in some way leads us to a debate on Sinn Fein and for some maybe their demise. If people would take the time, and I know this is of little interest to SDLP supporter because its all Ireland politics, to read latest opinion poll in the Sunday Business Post Sinn Fein are steadily growing in support.

    Again without repeating myself any party that relies on Alex Attwood as a party strategist has my sympathies. Political strategy should be based on ideology,principles and then tactics founded in realism. When you have the likes of AA whose only political outlook is to attack the opponents you are not going to go far. Example west Belfast. I am sure that every last person within the nationalist republican electorate knows a republican and doesn’t view them as criminals and scum. So when a politician who wants your vote constantly attacks your rlatives friends and neighbours the chances of you voting for them is limited. Thats the reason he has personally lost over 10000 votes in the last number of elections. His influence is corrupting within the SDLP.

    Some may argue that the SDLP lost ground due Humes close relationship with SF during the early of the peace process. I would argue that the reason was more down to thier inability to see the reality of what the Nationalist electorate wanted, for the first time ever liked the idea of nationalist unity and the prospect of standing up to unionism but what happened in the SDLP was that some of them are more interested in attacking SF. Hume couldn’t trust them.

    An SDLP revival is a long way off. In 16 out 18 constituencies they lost ground. Can anyone name any constituency that they will be challenging for at the next election. They will lose South Belfast and will have to fight hard to defend Foyle and South Down. With RPA they like all parties will lose council seats and the a large section of their activist base is centred around councillors and their families.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘As for the Northern Bank/McCartney affairs having no impact on the SDLP’s fortunes – tell that to Mitchell McLoughlin and Alasdair McDonnell.’

    Parnell go and have a look at the percentage breakdown by constituency in the last Westminster elections. In the race between SF and the SDLP look at who went up and who went down area by area. Even in your last two bastions things are on the slide.

  • The watcher

    As a Labour party member who attended the ‘big do’ I say fair play to the SDLP.

  • Dick Dastardly

    The SDLP held up strong in the Foyle Constituency because it was very well organised there. Their team canvased every door in the city numerous times and their press and public relations output was easily equal to if not better than Sinn Feins efforts.

    Prior to the election Sinn Fein were boasting to anybody who would listen that they were going to hammer Durkan by a landslide.

    They failed miserably and ran away with their taile well and truly between their legs. I would now expect Durkan and his party to return even stronger in any forthcoming elections and I can see no way back for Sinn Fein in Foyle.

    Next time round Durkan will be the incumbent and as John Hume proved time and again that is a near impossible position to change in Foyle.

    I expect to see the SDLP organise itself along the lines that it evidently used in their campaign in Foyle in 2005.

  • Paul

    Pat, the fact that those two events did not significantly dent the SF vote says something very significant about SF voters.But I wouldn’t brag about it if I were you.

  • J Kelly

    Paul
    because thousands of people do not let a hysterical media influence their thinking and vote for people who give proper representation you wish to question their integrity. Maybe this something very significant about you and how you feel you have the right to sit in judgement on 342000 people on this island.

  • George

    Labour are now socialist?
    Pat Rabbitte, immigrants anyone? Abolishing student fees for the middle class while the poor stew?

    Maybe somebody could point the Labour Party in the general direction of the poor areas of Dublin where they haven’t been seen for decades and where Sinn Fein have mobilised people to vote for the first time in a generation.

    Fianna Fail have far greater claims to the socialist tag than Labour, and that’s saying something.

    The SDLP seem a bit like the current Irish Labour Party alright, unwilling to get their hands dirty by heading into the constituencies and preferring instead to pronounce from on high.

    Networking in the House of Commons just doesn’t seem like the way forward when your main rival is networking in Dail Eireann.

  • D McM

    The problem the SDLP faces is finance. When going against Sinn Fein in an election it is difficult when Sinn Fein have an army of dormant IRA volunteers putting up posters on every nook and cranny. Sinn Fein has done well in a time of political uncertainty.
    The SDLP need to find a way to put extra finance into their election campaigns.
    The SDLP will not realise their potential until political progress is made with the Assembly. Until that is up and running again the hardline parties will continue to dominate.
    It is quite simple that those who vote Sinn Fein and the DUP are voting for a future with no progress.
    I see Tyrone lost its hospital services today.
    It seems that the Shinners did a good job there. Well done Bairbre and Pat. Maybe someday the knuckle heads that vote for the provo party might realise what they are actually voting for.

  • pol

    Dick Dastardly

    The reason why the Stoops held foyle was the canvassers told people on the doorstep that if they didnt vote, Sinn Féin would wipe them off the political map. Sorry to say it wasn’t there polices that stirred voters, it was the tears on the doorstep.
    Now if they need to rouse there vote in that fashion, what will they need to spin to get them out next time.

  • Yet there is a feeling that Sinn Fein have overplayed their hand and could start to pay an electoral price for perceived arrogance

    Standing up to British colonists isn’t arrogance. The SDLP lost a seat to Sinn Fein and won one from the UUP because of internal British colonial squabbling. Indigenous Irish nationalists who support an united Ireland free from British colonial rule know that the only political party working towards that future is Sinn Fein.

  • offer it up

    I agree with the sentiments made about some aspects of a function at Westminster being irrelevant to nationalist voters. Fair point, and I think to a certain extent that any goings-on in Westminster are not of much interest to nationalist voters.

    I do think, however, that SF are very much lagging behind the SDLP in terms of effective lobbying and networking in Westminster and across the political spectrum there. Gerry Adams said last week that a key challenge for SF was to build a movement for Irish unity in Britain. SF won’t do that by affiliating to and concentrating on the lunatic left elements of the Labour Party, who are completely irrelevant and do nothing to aid the cause of Irish unity amongst a) the Irish community in Britain b) the Labour Party and Labour movement c) the wider British political spectrum. I have to congratulate the SDLP in an effective campaign to engage with all three of these groups since May 2005. One thing about Wednesday night was that there were a lot of new faces. SF take note.

  • CS Parnell

    If Westminster was so irrelevant why did the Shinner make such a big deal about having their offices there. They even sent that messenger boy Conor Murphy over to say how great it was that the Brits had done a deal with them to let army (any army, they didn’t mind) killers off the hook?

    The Shinners seem to think our memories are no longer last last week (“not a bullet, not an ounce” anyone?)

    The Shinners were so dismissive of the event that I bet they never sent any spies to it, oh no, not at all.

    Indeed I seem to remember a certain president of Sinn Fein using his speech in the Mansion House to say that Britain was a priority for Sinn Fein. Did I just imagine that or has it been wiped off the face of the history books by the Adams School of Falisification?

    You guys can dish it out, fair paly to you. But your not so hot when it comes bouncing back.

  • CS Parnell

    Standing up to British colonists isn’t arrogance. The SDLP lost a seat to Sinn Fein and won one from the UUP because of internal British colonial squabbling. Indigenous Irish nationalists who support an united Ireland free from British colonial rule know that the only political party working towards that future is Sinn Fein.
    It’s good to see the spirit of 1798 lives on in Sinn Fein – the orangies better learn to swim when our la gets here, eh?

  • Brian Boru

    Maybe if they went All-Ireland like SF then they could win back support by stealing their “32 county” clothes. And if they abstained from Westminster like SF.

  • Paul

    J. Kelly, personally I would not vote for a party who give house room to murderers and people who turn a blind eye to murder, thieves and organised tax avoiders. If 324,000 want to it’s up to them. I am entitled to my opinion regarding their ethics.

  • Stewart

    The SDLP do need to wake up to the all Ireland dimension in Irish politics. Harnessing their links with the Party of European Socialists is the best way forward. The Greens have exploited the fact they are part of a pan European Party to form an all Ireland organisation.

    The SDLP should merge with Irish Labour as they would have more clout within such a party than they would be within FF which has no experience of mergers.

    As the Labour/DL merger showed the SDLP could influence the direction of the Labour Party by merging with it. Indeed given Pat Rabbitte’s disasterous link with Fine Gael, an SDLP/Labour merger might be the best thing for Labour to help it change direction. An all Ireland Labour Party (including the SDLP) would be more likely to coalesce with Fianna Fail. A Fianna Fail/Labour alliance could fight elections on an all Ireland basis.

    The most effective way for the SDLP to renew itself is to become part of a future all Ireland Fianna Fail/Labour coalition, which going on opinion polls in the south will be the most likely government after next year’s general election.

    Sinn Fein might get a surprise if it was faced with an all Ireland FF/Labour alliance in the local elections that are scheduled to take place both North & South in summer 2009. It would be the most effective way for the SDLP to renew itself.

  • CS Parnell

    The SDLP do need to wake up to the all Ireland dimension in Irish politics.

    Is that a joke? The SDLP created the all-Ireland dimension in modern Irish politics. Thirty years ago the Shinner were dismissing the South as a partitionist state that needed to be overthrown by the Army of the Republic.

  • Michael

    Hi Pat,
    Sorry didn’t get back to u earlier….Change in nationalist community outlook that your not seeing on the ground….mmmm…i’d get back out onto the ground and take another look …NY,Washington,London and Dublin supporter groups…did u see that one Pat,u lookin at the grass roots or the tea leaves…twas a great night man and we all got home safe…noone got hurt,imagine!
    Rgds
    Michael.

  • Dualta

    J Kelly said:

    [i]I would argue that the reason was more down to thier inability to see the reality of what the Nationalist electorate wanted, for the first time ever liked the idea of nationalist unity and the prospect of standing up to unionism but what happened in the SDLP was that some of them are more interested in attacking SF. [/i]

    Herein lies the reason behind the growth of Sinn Fein and the dilemma for the SDLP.

    ‘and the prospect of standing up to unionism’. Sinn Fein’s rise has been by playing the sectarian card. They have completely betrayed the republican ideal by evoking sectarianism for electoral gain.

    The parades issue is a major example of this. They opened up a sectarian interface and put themselves on the front line, the defenders of the poor, downtrodden Catholics against the hatefilled Orange hordes.

    Then they bombarded the local councils with motions designed to stoke sectarian tensions across the North, flags and emblems, the Irish language, their ‘equality agenda’. In Derry no election could be mentioned without the raising of the Derry/Londonderry issue.

    And, of course, the SDLP were caught on the hop with no idea of how to reply, beyond the ‘Two Ians campaign’ and their foray into the marching issue on the backs of SF. Hume said at the first raising of the marching issuing in Derry, “Let them march”.

    The principle of consent lays down the ground-rules for republican politics here. Even before it’s an undemocratic ploy by the Brits to hang on to the North, any nation’s legitimacy and stability comes from the williness of its inhabitants to support and work it.

    No all-island nation can hope to fulfill its full potential without the support of the Protestant people who live here and soiling the republican ideal with sectarianism is not going to win that support.

    So here is the choice for the SDLP. Do they continue to try to compete, albeit half-heartedly, with Sinn Fein on who can be the better taigs, or do they rise to the challenge of winning Protestant support for an all-island nation?

    It’s a no-brainer.

  • CS Parnell

    Dualta,

    You make a lot of good points. Certainly, the Enlightenment tradition of Irish politics (“Republicanism” is too tainted with the scars of murder, emmigration and failure by those who said it was theirs exclusively for me to willingly use) demands of us we regard everyone on the island as an equal citizen.

    The “Iammoreoppressedthanyou” competition being run between the Shinners and the DUP must be pretty disconcerting for many nationalists – as middle class Catholics may only be one generation our of the ghetto but they are perhaps the most pampered demographic segment in Western Europe and they also know what a complete bombsite the Shankill now is.

    Of course the dilemma is an all-Ireland one. How can a party of social democracy deal with the fact that economic success in the Republic has come (certainly in the last nine years) at a time of great social inequality. I don’t even see Sinn Fein dismissing the NHS as an agent of Brit Imperialism!

    It’s a contradictory thing being a progressive nationalist in the North. Proud of your nation’s achievements, detesting the way they have been won , wanting to find common cause with fellow citizens who too often seem still blinded by hate and bigotry and with the siren song of the physical force tradition blaring out all the while.

    The SDLP’s triumph has been it has done so much despite all of this. I am sure it can do more, but it’s never easy.

  • Paul

    Dualta, you have hit the nail on the head. SF are a narrow sectarian party, as of course are the DUP, but they don’t even try to hide it.SF still try to bluster their way as a socialist party. Personally I don’t know why they don’t go the full hog, all candidates in Celtic shirts and The Fields of Athenry as party anthem. If Wolfe Tone was around he would run a mile from them.