Did the SDLP wipe Gerry’s eye, or not?

The SDLP get a double whammy from Peter and Iris Robinson for the refusal of the Assembly party to back to the budget and the Programme for Govenment. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are painting the party as ‘absolutely and totally confused’. And, as commenter J Kelly points out, the often SDLP supporting Derry Journal has a stiff piece of editorial saying that the SDLP, “has to make up its mind if it wants to be a party of government or if they want to be a party of opposition”. The singular exception seems to be Liam Clarke, who notes that they may have had good teachers:

In politics it pays to be awkward unless you are in control; that has always been the DUP and Sinn Féin’s tactics. A DUP friend once told me that the best philosophy when dealing with Direct Rule ministers was “the crying child is soonest lifted”. It pays to complain loudly and put a high price on your support.

Of course, every market sets its own price. Clarke considers the background:

After the most recent elections everyone wrote off the SDLP and UUP as yesterday’s parties. Margaret Ritchie was dismissed as a minister by most commentators. The general belief was that Catriona Ruane would win the South Down seat in the next Westminster election if Ritchie stood against her.

Things have changed now. Ruane has tried to be awkward about education but hasn’t performed well. Ritchie on the other hand has shown her elbows; she has been a real political operator who has managed to stay on the right side of public opinion even if she strained the rules at times.

She will get the credit for the greatly increased funding which was conceded to her department. Yet her party has positioned itself to escape the blame for any problems on other fronts.

Is it ethical? Not entirely reckons Clarke. But he believes that the precedent is clear enough:

It can be argued that the honourable thing would be to go into opposition, but they would be fools to do that when they can run with the fox and hunt with the hounds. That’s what the DUP and Sinn Féin did in the Trimble/Mallon led administration. That’s one of the reasons they grew to their present size. More recently they left the St Andrews negotiations without signing up to anything and they don’t feel bound to implement everything which was agreed by the two governments.

The question remains: do they have the tenacity and the self will to make it work? FBut for now, Clarke reckons they are ahead:

Everyone knows that a mandatory coalition with all the parties isn’t going to be a permanent form of government and everyone knows there will be elections to Europe and probably Westminster next year. In these circumstances everyone is trying to get the best for themselves, their voters and their constituents out of the present arrangements. When Gerry Adams was wheeled out of semi retirement to hold a press conference specifically to condemn SDLP tactics you could tell the smaller party was ahead on points. They had just wiped his eye.

The thing is, Clarke is as yet on his own in this analysis. For signs that the party’s strategy is working, they’ll need to make a few more converts amongst Northern Ireland’s commentariat. For now, even if the party thinks it knows what it’s doing, the commentators appear confused. And perceptions matter in this game.

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  • Up da Republic

    Mags is a cool operator and the DUP/PSF alliance is desperate to get at her. Their problem, though, is that they detest real politics, and that’s what this is.

    The SDLP have a policy disagreement with the ruling parties. they’ve made that clear, whilst at the same time keeping their feet under the table.

    The stoops have known since at least 2003 that real politics is the Shinners weak point: and if SF didn’t catch on then Prime Time taught them the lesson in words of one syllable.

    For sure, the SDLP may not be at the bottom of the curve just yet, though they are close to it. But for SF there is only one way to go – down.

  • URQUHART

    Clarke’s analysis is interesting and will be a great comfort to many within the SDLP. If they had abstained rather than voting against the budget, surely the same point could have been made, without making life more difficult for Ritchie?

  • URQUHART

    Abstention made also have made it easier for more of the commentariat to buy into the tactic?

  • kensei

    I don’t think SF played the “opposition in Government” card particularly strongly in the previous Assembly. They were helped by generally favourable reports of their minsters, but I would suggest it had less to do with their increase than other factors. Similarly for the DUP who did play that card, their vote increased for entirely different reasons.

    And perception of a few underperforming minsters isn’t helping SF right now, but their problems are more widespread.

    No one in the Assembly seems to have really delivered anything yet, certainly not that will really impact on people’s lives. This strikes me as a bit of a “Stormont bubble” thing.

    “The thing is, Clarke is as yet on his own in this analysis. For signs that the party’s strategy is working, they’ll need to make a few more converts amongst Northern Ireland’s commentariat.”

    Now, I may just be confused Mick, but for their strategy to work they need to have a few more converts among the voters, rather than the media, no?

    “But for SF there is only one way to go – down.”#

    Actually, the SDLP still has about 15% of the vote. The Nationalist vote is also still growing. There are is still a gain or two to be made. Given an excellent strategy, good leadership and favourable wins, SF could pull in more. Of course, at the moment they have none of these things, but strictly speaking, you are not factually correct.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    If the commentariat aren’t convinced, it won’t even get near the voters. BTW, that last quote of yours was not me.

  • No one in the Assembly seems to have really delivered anything yet, certainly not that will really impact on people’s lives. This strikes me as a bit of a “Stormont bubble” thing.

    Bingo.

  • Stonethrower

    Editorial in todays Derry Journal will not be well recieved at Stoop HQ, with it describing SDLP’s hookey cokey approach to Government as a debacle.

    It goes on to tell the SDLP they need to decide whether they are in government or in opposition and to tell Mark Durkan he must work to ensure there is no repeat of this week’s scenes.

    Changed times indeed for what used to be the SDLP’s official organ in Derry.

  • kensei

    Mick

    “If the commentariat aren’t convinced, it won’t even get near the voters.”

    I think that the Guardian and Telegraph gigs may have went to your head :). Yes, the commentariat can help in forming opinions, but they (either MSM or bloggers) aren’t gatekeepers, and people can and do judge things for themselves.

    Does this strike you as something to resonate with the voters, however well it is pushed? I can’t see it. The strategy is built on a certain amount of equivocation, it’s based on a technical argument about position in the legislative Assembly, and seems to concern mostly people within the Stormont bubble. It doesn’t seem even to fit with the mood of the times, which seems to be “Just get on with it”.

    I don’t even think there is much advantage in it for the SDLP: this Assembly has been presented very much as the DUP’s and SF’s baby, and I think the fact the other two are in there will cut little ice unless it’s on specific decisions they made. Government is a destructive process: it eventually wears even the strongest and most well organised of parties down. The SDLP will get it’s chance, if FF hasn’t nipped in by then. On that basis, it seems that focusing on developing talent and ideas are a smarter bet than short term tactics.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Sinn fein voted againnst what McGuinness & de Brun agreed at the executive in the first assembly ,stating that they were not bound by what their ministers agreed to,the difference is that there could have been no sanctions imposed to remove their ministers at that time.Their ministers agreed voluntarily without any possibility of them being removed from office-unlike now-where if a minister votes against the executive budget they are in breech of the ministerial code.Now it is clear that Margaret Ritchie had to vote for,having extracted the best deal possible for her departmental budget.

  • Mark McGregor

    Danny,

    There are two elements that make the SDLP’s attempts at playing the cute hoor look amateurish and unprincipled.

    1. Margaret Ritichie is allowed to vote against within the Executive but bound to support a decision by the Executive. She didn’t object within the Executive even though she was fully entitled to.

    2. As McG pointed out, at no time did Durkan request a meeting to discuss SDLP concerns over the budget.

    As a result ny objections seem more based around the set piece vote in the Assembly and posturing over anything of substance.

  • J Kelly

    Danny a simple question could you please answer it for me.

    Why did Margaret Ritchie vote yes at the executive?

    There would and could not have been a sanction for voting no or evenabstaining at the executive.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Mark
    The point is that they are not doing anything that Sinn Fein hasn’t already done.the difference being at that time,Sinn Fein assembly members voted against what their ministers agreed-why did their ministers agree it in the first place if there was ,at that time,no sanctions that could be imposed against them for not agreeing to it.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Margaret Ritchie has despite the prophecies from sinn Fein had her budget substantially increased ,which will allow her to deliver on social housing etc,She has done what is best for her department and those who will benefit on the ground.
    The other option would have been to create what Ken Reid described on UTV as a train crash situation,where she would vote against and be in breech of the “NEW” ministerial code insisted upon by the DUP at ST Andrew’s to stop anybody doing what they did in the first assembly, which would leave her out of office .

  • Mark McGregor

    No Danny, she could have voted against the budget in the Executive for the same reasons the SDLP Assembly party did then voted for it in the chamber to ensure complaince with the Ministerial code. There was no compulsion on her to vote any other way in the Exeecutive other than part of some sort of blindsiding cute hoor strategy by her party.

    Durkan not raising objections either would also seem to indicate that the whole thing was choreographed to allow a no vote in the Assembly over any principled objections and attempts to address them.

  • Danny O’Connor

    But you miss the point ,How many hundred million extra did she get for the social housing budget?,They call it politics.

  • Bigger Picture

    Definatley would agree that Ritchie is kicking lumps out of Ruane in terms of South Down. All Ruane has done is show that she can kick up a fuss, problems is she is doing it with our children’s education and the longer the 11+ fiasco goes on, the more she will have to take the blame. Ritchie has shown herself to be tougher and has got results in her dept and the executive. A year ago i would have said Ruane in S Down now I would definatley say Ritchie by around 2,000 votes

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    I don’t think we’re disagreeing. My primary point is that the move itself is worthless in and of itself, other than buying the party some freedom of action. It’s what they do or don’t do with it that will matter to the electorate.

  • Up da Republic

    Christ on a bike. Things must be bad for SF if kensei is saying they don’t have decent leadership or strategy.

    If I was Durkan I’d be thinking about my message at the next polls being “send a message to SF” – not directly challenging them for the leadership but just reminding a few people who it is who has put the most pressure on SF to stick to some sort of progressive, nationalist agenda. Clue: it ain’t the Brits or the DUP.

    Think of it this way. If Mags was education minister do you think we’d have all the sophistry we get from Ruane about selection? No, she’d be calling a spade a fecking shovel and no mistake.

  • Twinbrook

    why worry about the sdlp…..one things sure, they`ll NEVER NEVER be in a position to be a major force outside the confines of south derry again..

    who really cares what they do….let them go into opposition will if make a difference, I don`t think so…

    They are irrelevant to the majority of working class nationalists…

    who see them only at election time, hijacking the grief of some poor family or trying to pull another political stunt…

    stop the dup, sorry sf, sorry the belfast brigade, 1st Batt SDLP….

  • BonarLaw

    Up da republic

    “Mags is a cool operator”

    Yeah, right. Unless your definition of “cool operator” is someone who needs a text message from Mark Durkan before she can engage in debates around the Executive table.

  • Briso

    Posted by Mick Fealty on Feb 01, 2008 @ 03:45 PM
    >My primary point is that the move itself is worthless in and of itself, other than buying
    the party some freedom of action
    .

    Which is why it is anything but worthless. You’re quite right though, we’ll see what they do with it.

    Posted by Mick Fealty on Feb 01, 2008 @ 02:24 PM
    >If the commentariat aren’t convinced, it won’t even get near the voters.

    This is a joke, right?

  • Up da Republic

    Twinbrook, how’s yer plans for putting some manners on the DUP going by the way?

  • Mick Fealty

    Briso,

    You only seem to turn up with one liners these days. What’s your point?

  • kensei

    Mick

    “My primary point is that the move itself is worthless in and of itself, other than buying the party some freedom of action.”

    Except, I don’t see it giving them any new freedom of action at all. I think it is literally pointless..

    Up da Republic

    “Things must be bad for SF if kensei is saying they don’t have decent leadership or strategy.”

    Exaggeration for emphasis, but certainly they’ve lacked spark and made a few mistakes. And yet, I still wouldn’t even consider voting SDLP.

    “If I was Durkan I’d be thinking about my message at the next polls being “send a message to SF” – not directly challenging them for the leadership but just reminding a few people who it is who has put the most pressure on SF to stick to some sort of progressive, nationalist agenda. Clue: it ain’t the Brits or the DUP.”

    No, they should forget about SF and trying to out do them, trying to send message to them, and try to develop their own ideas and vision.

    “Think of it this way. If Mags was education minister do you think we’d have all the sophistry we get from Ruane about selection? No, she’d be calling a spade a fecking shovel and no mistake.”

    And she still might not get anything done. I will judge Ruane on what she gets through by the end of her tenure at education, not the start.

  • CS Parnell

    Fair enough, kensei, you might not be thinking of voting SDLP, but you can be sure that if you feel disappointed by the SF leadership then the SF vote will decline – either to abstentions or to far leftists or to the SDLP. It wouldn’t take much to take the shine off for SF – as was seen in the post-AIA period, their vote can soften quite a bit.

    SF’s problem is that they were all about the chase and not about the prize. Now they’ve won they have no strategy for anything. No Irish Language Act, 11+ is going to stay in some form (unless SF break the executive, which seems unlikely), united Ireland strategy consists of talking about how it’s historically inevitable (tell that to Our Fenian Dead) and nothing else.

  • Alex S

    It wasn’t just Gerry who got his eye wiped, there was speculation that one of the reasons Peter gave Margret Ritchie all those extra millions was to move the SDLP away from any notion of forming a ‘loose’ opposition with the UUP, money wasted it would seem!