The SDLP need to become the SDLWii

I imagine that even the old fogies and political geeks that inhabit this site have heard of the DS and Wii, given they are currently tearing up sales records all over the planet. But what probably isn’t understood is how unlikely this was just a few short years ago and that there are perhaps lessons in here for our struggling parties.
Bear with me, and hopefully some parallels will come through. Nintendo was the dominant gaming giant of the 80s and early 90s. It had walked over the corpses of exhausted and mismanaged rivals such as Atari after an early 80s crash and effectively redefined the console experience. It had a strict family orientated approach – it’s first console was titled the “Famicom” or “family computer” and it had strict limits on the content that could appear on its consoles. Gradually, however, it was out competed by more aggressive rivals. Sega, Sony and Microsoft heavily promoted sports games, racing games, fighting games and first person shooting games to the young males that made up the bulk of the videogame market; rather than family-orientated, Nintendo became pegged as “kiddie”. By the end of the the last console cycle (circa 2004) they had been pushed into a distant third place in the home console race. They still had a loyal fanbase, but the law of diminishing returns was kicking in. Sony was poised to move in on the profitable handheld console market that now formed its main profit base. The rumours were that Microsoft was considering attempting a buyout.

A lot has been written about how they turned it around. I’ll link to some more detailed articles at the end for those interested, and pull out what I see as some of the key things they did, which are prerequisite for any organisation trying to change the status quo:

  • They developed a strategic vision The new President of Nintendo Satoru Iwata, saw Nintendo’s decline as a function of a wider decline in the Japanese market, which had been gradually shrinking for a number of years. The population was growing older, and the games themselves had more more complicated and less inviting to those not already versed in gaming nuances. Iwata realised that solving Nintendo’s problem was a matter of solving the wider problems. It was an important insight. It is also important to realise that Nintendo didn’t abandon its traditional stance of “family gaming”, or become a “me-too” version of Sony. It worked on developing solutions that took advantage of its traditional strengths.
  • They invested in change Having identified the problem, they set about seeking solutions. The Wii and DS might look like effortless ideas, but it took a huge amount of investment in order to bring them to that state. The Wii controller went through something like 20 redesigns, and those who tried to copy Wii Sports simple interface found that getting it exactly right was a lot harder than it looked. The investment paid off not only with the Wii and DS hardware, but also design documents for Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit and Wii Music – some of the most successful games on the system and the bed rock of the Wii’s success.
  • They learned the importance of presentation The first product of the new strategy was the Nintendo DS which featured touch screen controls in an effort to simplify the interface. It was not an instant success. The initial console was a somewhat chunky affair, the games fun but still largely similar to what had went before. The marketing wasn’t quite right. These elements needed adjustment before the big turnaround was possible. These problems were fixed, with the DS Lite, “Braining Training” games and slick marketting with the likes of Nicole Kidman. The importance of the latter was in giving people “permission” to try something that they would not normally do.
  • They were prepared to alienate people, but didn’t go out of their way to do so Browse many internet gaming forums and you will find people not just unhappy, but angry at the success of the Wii. They wanted something more like a Xbox, but with Nintendo games on it. Nintendo was content to alienate these people but it is important to realise that it didn’t go out of its way to do so. The DS features traditional controls, in addition to its touch screen. Part of the reason behind those 20 redesigns of the Wii controller was that it was also required to support more traditional games. It was thought that the new controls could also be used for deeper experiences within traditional games. So the core was considered, but not pandered to. And more traditional games experiences like Smash Brothers Brawl sell fine on the Wii, suggesting they took most of those people with them
  • They sought intellectual validation Iwata gave a speech to the Game Developers Conference in 2006 where he outlined his company’s strategy. In it he cited the example of Pepsi, who had lost the cola wars but went on to dominate nearly every other soft drink sector. He also began to cite the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” in interviews, which outlined the need to move from highly competitive markets into “blue ocean” markets with greater profit potential, by making products that offered advantages both the consumer and the company. The company was clearly aware and interested in things outside of its immediate vision.
  • And what strikes me is that the SDLP, stuck in a similar rut to Nintendo in 2005 exhibits no evidence of any of them. I could give a vague outline of what I think SF might want Ireland to look like, but I don’t think I could accurately characterise what the SDLP think. Major decisions, such as whether or not to link up with Fianna Fail, seem to be muddled rather than made, without any strategic oversight. There is little evidence of any compelling policy work that would lead people to become excited by the possibilities that the SDLP offers, no evidence of looking to the wider world for inspiration or validation. Where feelers are put out tentatively for change, such as Durkan’s recent speech on the “ugly scaffolding” of the Assembly, they are quickly drawn back at the first sight of criticism or electoral offence. The party seems unable to hold its nerve in the face of criticism and it is telling their one notable success during this Assembly is where they made a decision and stuck to their guns over UDA funding. And ultimately, what all this adds up to is a complete failure of leadership, not simply with Mark Durkan but at the entire senior level.

    I realise it is harder to actually come up with polices than it is to criticise others for failing to do so, and there is no guarantee that even a concerted effort by the SDLP would produce success. But risk is also part of the strategy for success and the SDLP is a party that badly needs to disrupt the market here. To change nothing is to guarantee nothing will change. To quote Iwata-san:

    I was sure that if we continued down the path in which we were heading, Nintendo would have died a slow death

    Further Reading
    Nintendo employees discuss Wii hardware development
    Forbes interview with Nintendo USA
    Fortune magazine Wii article
    Times interview with Iwata
    Iwata GDC 2006 speech
    Blue Ocean Strategy

    • ggn

      Do many believe that the post-nationalist rhetoric of the Hume era damages the SDLP?

    • kensei

      It could well have. But perhaps the lack of follow through cost them more?

    • Sneakers O’Toole

      I read an article about before the demise of the SDLP, indeed it may have been before the end of the troubles. I have a feeling it was by Eamonn McCann though I can’t be sure.

      The article basically stated that the SDLP’s strength came from NOT being Sinn Fein; while the IRA waged their campaign London and Dublin would bend over backwards to accommodate the SDLP in order to keep them as the dominant force in Northern Irish nationalism.

      The SDLP condemned the IRA in no uncertain terms; but what no SDLP member is likely to admit is that without the IRA they would have been as the Nationalist Party were from the 20’s til the 60’s- impotent.

      This article turned out to be prophetic; when the IRA campaign ended the SDLP’s usefulness to London and Dublin as the acceptable face of nationalism withered, and the party withered too.

      It will be interesting to see if they recover, but I have a feeling if they do it will be more due to mistakes SF make rather than some bold masterstroke they themselves pull.

    • The only violence gave a cutting edge to objections to the status quo is blatantly nonsense as anyone with even passing familiarity with the successes of the civil rights movement can see. Though obivously the presence of the provos did make the governments keen to bolster the SDLP.

      The SDLP’s withering was due not to London and Dublin so much as its own inadequacies in organisation, middle management, and in getting rid of too many senior people all at the same time at the elections in 2003. Let’s not forget though that it remains strong in some areas.

      Kensei,

      The one thing I thought was missing from the Ninetndo thing was the chief games designer, whose name I am not even going to try and remember and spell, but you know how I mean. Do you think the SDLP needs a him?

    • ggn

      I would like to hear a short sharp sales pitch from an SDLP person as to where they wish to take us, why and how.

    • Sneakers O’Toole

      Perhaps I came across wrongly, I didn’t want to give the impression the Provo’s campaign was “successful” in a way that, say, civil rights wasn’t. I don’t buy into “the cutting edge of the IRA” yadda yadda. History has proved that wrong, and I’m of the belief the campaign was counterproductive.

      However, I think my orignial point still holds water- the SDLP gained leverage simply by virtue of *not* being the IRA during the campaign.

      No doubt they suffered the loss of Hume, but if we’re being honest, the minute the GFA was signed it was SF who set the Nationalist agenda and still do to this day; the SDLP became practically irrelevant.

    • I think Sneakers that you are right to say the SDLP gained traction by not being the provos, but we should remember just how well they were doing in 1998. Their vote was at a record high I think. They appear irrelevant now because of their own failings, and the focus on decomissioning. A bit of hindsight there I think.

    • dunreavynomore

      The ‘withering’ of the SDLP may simply be that S.F. are a better ‘acceptable face of Nationalsm’ nowadays since they have dumped their alleged Republicanism and have accepted the status quo while having room to do a little bit of the ‘we still mean business’ stuff such as the odd wee protest here and there. S.F rarely mention Republicanism any more except in phrases such as ‘ the Nationalist and Republican people…’ Can one party represent both Nationalism and Republicanism????

    • susan

      Our Wii Country?

    • grouch

      I cannot accept Kensel’s position that the SDLP has no policies. If he were to check more carefully he would see that SF have become successful only because they have become a better SDLP. They took their policies because they don’t have the wit to write their own, and even when they try to do their own thinking, they make a right horlicks of it all. Look at Ruane as an example. You are right about organisation. The SDLP needs to re-organise itself and start to become the confident party it once was. But to do that it needs a new leader. One who can lead it back to the front.

      SF have what the SDLP lacks, organisation and ruthlessness. SF benefited from the SDLP, they grew up like young delinquents and now they have successfully became the new SDLP, but with a dark and forboding undebelly. Adams and co have been feted to get them to the table, to get the provos decommissioned, to get peace and to get the institutions up and running. Whilst the SDLP can argue that they were the architects of the Good Friday agreement (which is no mean feat), SF have proved that once they got the power, they didn’t have the ability to use it. They remain politically naive, but highly experienced in revolutionary tactics and practices. They are also linked (and you can make up your own mind just who close that link is) to highly organised, experienced and ruthless violent people.

      So in summary, the Provos aka SF are bereft of ideas yet they are good at acting like the new SDLP and plagiarising their policies, but with a wee tweak here and there to ‘republicanise’ them. I suppose their true day will come – sometime.

    • Driftwood

      For SDLP, read UUP
      Same problem.

    • Driftwood

      BTW Kensei
      Thanks for that article and the links at the bottom. I intend to use it in an Open University MBA TMA. Very good.

    • kensei

      Sneakers

      It doesn’t matter if SF falter at the moment, because the SDLP are in no position to capitalise nor offer any alternative. To continue with my analogy, Nintendo was helped by Sony faltering for the first time in ten years with the PS3 — it was late, they had trouble with components, and it was overpriced. But Nintendo were the main beneficiaries, not Microsoft, because they had the superior business plan, strategy and product.

      Second, to be fair to the SDLP they were at one point genuinely influential thinkers. Hume analysis became the dominant one, even within SF. But you can’t stay still.

      Garibaldy

      The man you are thinking of is Shigeru Miyamoto. He is behind most of Nintendo’s successful games, from Donkey Kong to Wii SPorts, and was the main impetus behind the Wiimote. If the uninitiated, this is roughly like being the person who invented Jazz, and the person who invented Rock and Roll and the person who invented Dance Music rapped into one being. He is indeed an out and out genius.

      But he was still a genius while Nintendo was in decline. The company remained profitable, still sold millions of pieces of software and scored some fairly major critical successes. In order to turn it around, his talent had to be directed in the right place, facing the right problem. It is unlikely the SDLP has a genius in its mix, but I’m sure there is some talent hiding somewhere in it. It is only when given the correct leadership with the correct strategic insight will it be able to blossom.

      So it isn’t a Miyamoto they need, but an Iwata. As a side note, he was originally a developer and I believe he invented Kirby.

      grouch

      I am sure the SDLP has policies. Lots and lots of them. But I can’t name any, which is a problem in itself, but even if I could, I doubt there is much in there that is innovative or cutting edge. If there was, more people would know about it, and more people would be enthused by it.

      Crying that SF stole your clothes doesn’t cut it. Get better clothes. If they are built out of a different worldview, SF will find them much harder to steal and if they did would find themselves in a weaker position than the SDLP

    • kensei

      Drift

      I am testing out putting the links at the bottom where possible, rather than in the text for clarity and ease of reading. Hopefully it worked.

    • joeCanuck

      what no SDLP member is likely to admit is that without the IRA they would have been as the Nationalist Party were from the 20’s til the 60’s- impotent.

      Utter BS. The SDLP essentially gained by 1974 what SF only claimed to have gained recently.
      I’m not a supporter of any party but Kensei makes great points. Every party needs to reinvent itself somewhat from time to time as circumstances change and the SDLP seem to be incapable of that.

    • Dave

      “Utter BS. The SDLP essentially gained by 1974 what SF only claimed to have gained recently. ”

      Spot on, Joe. Times change and practices that were acceptable among one generation lose their acceptability. Case in point being that the Civil Right movement in America (on which NI Catholics modelled their protests) achieved reforms and, finally, a black president without resorting to a racial murder campaign. The whites voted with no regard to colour. On the other hand, NI’s Catholics resorting to a sectarian murder campaign has ensured that Protestants don’t vote without regard to religion, and vice versa. Without the retarding influence of violence, they’d be a lot further along the road. In addition, northern nationalists would not have been required to endorse the Unionist Veto as a means of persuading the Unionists to share power with nationalist murder gangs. The violence left northern nationalism as de facto unionist, endorsing the constitutional legitimacy of partition.

    • Belfast Gonzo

      Most enjoyable post and interestingly unexpected analogy kensei. It’s refreshing to be able to read something the first time, the whole way through, and get it. Perhaps it is because the meaning is contained wholy in the post, with information in the links regarded as additional, rather than essential, for background understanding.

      The style works for me, although it didn’t feel like work. More like this please!

    • Excellent post, and good point by Driftwood about the UUP too. Do we need more than one party per side (sorry, ‘community’) to represent territorial interests in the post-Troubles (but not post-conflict) era?

    • Damien Okado-Gough

      The SDLP have been, for quite a considerable period of time, a rabbit caught in the headlights of the SF juggernaut. Their central problem has been that they have not been able to take their eyes off the SF challenge and have, therefore, lost sight if the goal, which is to build a new nation on the island of Ireland.

      They have squandered the fact that they held the analysis which all the other major players ended up adopting. They led intellectually and politically for decades, yet they are where they are now. No successful business should ever find themselves playing catch-up to a lesser achieving enterprise, yet that was exactly where the SDLP found themselves in relation to SF. Now they are the lesser achieving enterprise in terms of their electoral performance and still they’re playing catch-up to SF.

      They need to stop being scared of losing votes to SF and to follow their political conscience, just like Gerard Diver did in Derry recently when he, as mayor, very bravely held a reception for local soldiers returning from overseas duties. It is actions like this which will result in the building of the island community which is necessary for a stable and successful all-island nation, not the bitter sectarian begrudgery and hypocrisy of SF who pay tribute to their comrades in public places, yet say it is wrong for others to do the same.

      People follow leaders and those who inspire them to higher ideals. SDLP members need to remind themselves what their founding ideals are, and to find some fire in their bellies to present those ideals to the all of the people on the island of Ireland in such as way as to get them on board in the realisation of those ideals.

      The conflict in Ireland can be brought to an end forever in the context of an all-island nation in which all of those who live in it feel unthreatened. Those who believe this should be working to build the consensus for it now and challenging those who are damaging the potential for that consensus. The SDLP are the party best placed to do that.

      Kensei’s post is a gem. It may not be exactly what the SDLP need to be doing, but it certainly gives food for thought.

      And on the gaming issue, I stopped playing games some time ago, except for a couple of internet games, one of which is the Slugger Fantasy Football league, *cough114pointsthisweekcough*, and one some of you might be interested in joining me on.

      For the Risk fans amongst you, http://www.conquerclub.com might be right up your street. If you register you can find me as Dualta. Send me a message and we can have a good aul’ war for Ireland, just like this one (you need to register first to see the link target page):

      http://www.conquerclub.com/game.php?game=2691585

      The first five to message me are in ;o)

    • kensei

      Damien

      They need to stop being scared of losing votes to SF and to follow their political conscience, just like Gerard Diver did in Derry recently when he, as mayor, very bravely held a reception for local soldiers returning from overseas duties. It is actions like this which will result in the building of the island community which is necessary for a stable and successful all-island nation, not the bitter sectarian begrudgery and hypocrisy of SF who pay tribute to their comrades in public places, yet say it is wrong for others to do the same.

      I contested this. No amount of individual gestures, however generous or well meaning, will ever add up to a United Ireland. You may think SF’s attitude toward the British Army backward, but it at least stems from a worldview and an theory on how things should be.

      What the SDLP need is not more gestures, but to develop their underlying philosophy. From there, they need to take that philosophy and look at the people they are attempting to reach, and using both to inform the policies they think will appeal and other mutual benefit. Hopefully they would be innovative and with some sound intellectual basis. That may – or may not – show up the need for such gestures.

    • Comrade Stalin

      kensei,

      Agreed with gonzo, that was nice work. I think the SDLP are analogous to Sega at this point. The Hume-Adams document was their Sonic the Hedgehog, but they couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile after that.

      Your post has made me feel a little nostalgic about the 80s and 90s, when there was a choice between competing computer architectures. Of course there was obviously rivalry in the playground about who had what and limitations on how games could be exchanged; but it was nice to have the variety. Now (outside of the consoles) everyone just has Windows boxes, and Apple have sold out to x86 as well. I still love my second hanad Ultra-60, though.

      For those of us who remember back to the late 80s and early 90s when the current process was beginning to get under way, we will recall when the SDLP ruled the roost. Their strategy was, at the time, quite simply not to pursue an accomodation with unionists, but instead to secure a ceasefire by politicising Sinn Fein and using their own credibility to make Sinn Fein acceptable to middle-class nationalists. The book has yet to be written on the Brooke/Mayhew talks, but many people believe that the SDLP deliberately scuppered those talks in pursuit of their Hume/Adams strategy.

      The pointless dithering over all-party talks led to a record election victory for SF in the forum elections in 1996, reversing a slow decline in their vote that had been occurring since the hunger strikes. At that point the SDLP’s fate was sealed, and my recollection of talking to SDLP supporters at that time is that they had no idea that the crunch was coming and they thought that people would blindly continue to vote for them in the same way that they always did.

      At the moment, I think that the SDLP may be able to recover. They are far more able parliamentary performers than Sinn Fein are, and what’s more is that they are not boycotting the executive. I think that Sinn Fein took a major blow when the most recent RoI elections went badly for them, and I am not wholly convinced that SF’s voter base completely support the withdrawal from the executive. In addition the SDLP are not seen as being in cahoots with the DUP to manipulate things at Stormont.

    • Damien Okado-Gough

      Kensei,
      Diver’s individual gesture is the sort of thing that illuminates the core SDLP values which I have said in my previous post SDLP members need to rediscover and revitalise. I’m not suggesting that such gestures alone will bring about constitutional change, but they will play a very important part in proving to Protestants that they have nothing to fear from such change.
      As I said in my previous post, SDLP members need to rediscover their founding values and and find a fire in fire in their bellies to present those ideals to the all of the people on the island of Ireland in such as way as to get them on board in the realisation of those ideals. I’m saying generally what you’re saying specifically.

      The Derry SDLP’s actions show the strategic vision of uniting people; have the intellectual grounding of the SDLP’s non-violent tradition; shows they are prepared to alienate people; demonstrates real change from the running-scared-of-SF approach that has dogged them this last ten to fifiteen years and has been presented particularly well. In this instance they look confident in themselves and their values. More of the same would be in order.

    • Great piece Kensei.

      I have posted a response on http://www.oconallstreet.com

    • kensei

      CS

      Agreed with gonzo, that was nice work. I think the SDLP are analogous to Sega at this point. The Hume-Adams document was their Sonic the Hedgehog, but they couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile after that.

      Virtua Fighter? Daytona Racing? Sega did do a lot of good work post Sonic and still produce some nice software as a company. There problems were more mad business decisions.

      Damien

      I am not entirely sure that approaching Protestants is particularly in the SDLP’s DNA, other than rhetorically. The “centre parties” is one of those persistent myths with little basis in fact. They grew out of the Civil Rights movement and Hume moved them decisively in a Nationalist direction. They are a party of the Nationalist middle class.

      If they truly believe what you are saying, then they need to do a little deeper rethinking to present policies that match up — where that ethos makes sense, much as the “family computer” made more sense when Nintendo introduced the Wii, built in the ground up for that.

    • kensei

      Conall

      I’m sorry, but most of that is almost completely meaningless and content free. I can’t help feel that if you don’t stand for something that others can be against, you don’t really stand for anything.

      And as amused as I am in you characterizing conservative politics as well, just evil, it’s not really what it is about. There are thoughtful conservatives out there, with different prescriptions on how to solve problems.

      Take for example being “pro-business”. What does that mean? Are you for cutting regulation and lowering business taxes? Are you for limiting the Union movement? Heavily cut the public sector here to promote the private? I suspect not, and I suspect some people might consider you less pro-business than you think. How do you respond tot he current crisis? Have you shopped around for a coherent political philosophy or new ideas? Have you spent time developing innovative policy that would help business? Why should a business man vote for you? What you are saying means absolutely nothing, and can never be turned into a winning electoral strategy. From my perspective, you ain’t got nothing. Neither do many others about these parts, but that should be small comfort.

      Another question: is a regional party limited in attempts to produce change that extends beyond the region? Suppose there was a United Ireland — what would happen to the SDLP? Would they remain a regional party? If not, why are they one now?

    • nineteensixtyseven

      kensei,

      Great post and you make many good points. The SDLP aren’t just as vapid in terms of policy was you allege but you are right; they do need to present themselves better and in a more coherent manner. For example, they call for the harmonisation of the corporate tax rate with the South and the “North South Makes Sense” document contains many practical policies to create an all-Ireland economy. There is currently an internal review and consultation on developing economic policy and the results of that will be made known in due course. SDLP policies are just as coherent and well thought out, if not more so, than most of the parties but you are right that they need to find a way of selling them.

    • kensei

      1967

      The SDLP aren’t just as vapid in terms of policy was you allege but you are right

      Once again, I’m sure they have lots of policies. But I’d wager they are all traditional controllers – if I have a look round all the other parties, they’ll have something that will be recognisably similar. What I want is a Wiimote – something that make people sit up and take notice because it is a good idea not seen before elsewhere. Me too is not good enough, however you present it, for a party that needs a disruptive change.

      Tax harmonisation? What they mean is they want Northern rates to become like Southern ones because they have no way to influence Southern rates at all.

    • cynic

      Sorry but I just cant take this thread at all seriously. I keep having an image of Alex Attwood as Mario bouncing on the heads of the Shinners to knock them out of the way as he jumps towards his seat…. and that does all age me terribly

    • blinding

      Another question: is a regional party limited in attempts to produce change that extends beyond the region? Suppose there was a United Ireland—what would happen to the SDLP? Would they remain a regional party? If not, why are they one now?

      Posted by kensei on Nov 17, 2008 @ 10:15

      This flirting with merging with Fianna Fáil is damaging as it it is to all parties that come across as indecisive about their particular merger.
      If your fiance cannot decide if she/he wants you why should the electorate choose you.
      Certainly you are correct if the SDLP want to be considered as a party promoting an all-Ireland nation then it needs to become an all-Ireland party.
      Whether that is by merging with Fianna Fáil or the Irish labour party is up to the SDLP membership.
      Maybe its incapable of choosing a marriage partner.

    • K

      To address a couple of your points:

      1- “can’t help feel that if you don’t stand for something that others can be against, you don’t really stand for anything”

      My point is that the SDLP should be against conservative politics. That is pretty clear I think. Particularly here.

      2- Take for example being “pro-business”. What does that mean?

      I have said they should cut corporation tax. Not my job to write policy though.

      3- is a regional party limited in attempts to produce change that extends beyond the region? Suppose there was a United Ireland—what would happen to the SDLP? Would they remain a regional party? If not, why are they one now?

      No it is not confined by regional borders. And yes in the context of a united Ireland things would change, because politics would change. But right now the priority should be representing the people who have voted for you, i.e. the people of Northern Ireland.

      What is devaluing Northern politics is the unwillingness of local politician to do the job they are being paid to do – represent the people of Northern Ireland.

      This is a key differentiator between the SDLP and SF. SF try to ride two horses (NI and RoI) and often fall off both. The SDLP should ride one provide the much needed leadership which is required North of the border at the same time as building a New Ireland coalition with the rest of democratic nationalism across the island.

    • kensei

      Conall

      My point is that the SDLP should be against conservative politics. That is pretty clear I think. Particularly here.

      What is “conservative politics”? That is such a vague term as to be meaningless.

      I have said they should cut corporation tax. Not my job to write policy though.

      To what level? Why?

      Are you a member of the party? Policy is your business.

      No it is not confined by regional borders. And yes in the context of a united Ireland things would change, because politics would change. But right now the priority should be representing the people who have voted for you, i.e. the people of Northern Ireland.

      Circular argument. You only have votes in NI because you only put candidates there. And representation is only part of your remit. You need to lead, and you need to shape the world to be more like you want it to be. That is the essence of welding political power.

      Is a United Ireland part of your aim? How do you achieve it as a regional party?

      What is devaluing Northern politics is the unwillingness of local politician to do the job they are being paid to do – represent the people of Northern Ireland.

      This is a key differentiator between the SDLP and SF. SF try to ride two horses (NI and RoI) and often fall off both.

      I’d debate SF fell off many horses, simply since they don’t have many in the South to fall off, really. It also seems to be that the Nationalist electorate likes the All Ireland angle. It is then something you have to consider if you need parity with in order to compete.

      The SDLP should ride one provide the much needed leadership which is required North of the border at the same time as building a New Ireland coalition with the rest of democratic nationalism across the island.

      I find it hard to see how you can build a United Ireland from a regional base. What does a United Ireland mean? It is the ultimate in convergence. If the SDLP wanted a national role in a any new setup, then it would have to converge with a Southern Party or expand its remit. It’s not that being an NI only party is necessarily bad; it simply seems to contradict its ultimate long term goal.

      And again, this is PR speak, ultimately vapid. Where is the substance?

    • blinding, you may have a point. However, while the constitutional arrangement remains as it is, I think the issue of having all-Ireland parties is over-emphasised. A party doesn’t need to be organised on an all-Ireland basis to be in favour of reunification. After all, the DUP isn’t organised across the UK, yet it is a unionist party.

      With two different jurisdictions on the island, by necessity an ‘all-Ireland party’ will need to have two different sets of policies. For example, would a health policy in the north, where we have an NHS, be remotely relevant in the south?

      As north-south relationships develop, there will be a changing dynamic, but that will most likely happen organically rather than by design.

      That’s not to say there aren’t benefits of being an all-Ireland party- such a party could have an overall approach to issues, tailored for each side of the border. Plus there are the economies of scale and fundraising issues which would favour parties based on a 32-county basis.

      One other thing- would the SDLP becoming an all-Ireland party require it to merge with another party?

    • Seymour Major

      I am a member of the conservative party. Under David Cameron, our party has committed itself to putting resources into the Northern Ireland Conservative party. At the next General Election, all 18 parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland will be contested by us.
      Obviously, we want to win seats in elections but we also want to be a catalyst for the development of “normal” politics in Northern Ireland and an end to the “tribal headcount”.
      The four main parties have not shown themselves capable of delivering normal politics. I say this with particular respect to the UUP which has made efforts to move in that direction. Its links with the Orange Order ended in 2005. It states in its objects its respect for people of all faiths and its desire for normal politics. However, its main difficulty is that it remains a union-centric party. That can never sit alongside normal politics.
      As I write, the Conservatives and the UUP are in negotiations with a view to forming an alliance or a merger. I am confident that if the negotiations are successful, normal politics will develop very rapidly in Northern Ireland. Even if the negotiations fail, I would still be confident that normal politics will happen in NI even though it will take that much longer.
      I have read your article and the blogs with considerable interest. I agree with your analysis that the SDLP is adrift. It is not yet finished but certainly going in that direction. I totally agree that it needs to re-invent itself if is not to become extinct. I believe that its failure to negotiate a merger with Fianna Fail may turn out to have been a fatal error.
      The SDLP in electoral terms has not fallen as fast and as hard as the UUP. There is a group of voters who will not change to Sinn Fein either because of its past association with violence. A large element of the SDLP’s core vote is of people would would otherwise be natural conservatives. Many of them are extremely unhappy that their party has gone down the route of abolition of the 11+ and trying to end academic selection for Grammar Schools.
      At the next general election, the Conservatives will be competing for the votes ofthese voters. They will be asked to choose between the politics of “the flag” and the politics of “putting bread on the table”.
      Mark Durkan and the SDLP may well find the Conservatives a much bigger threat to its existence than Sinn Fein.

    • This is an interesting piece, even if your analogy doesn’t completely fit because people vote for reasons different to those for buying computers. I wouldn’t agree with some of the things you’ve since added though.

      Firstly, in terms of policy:

      The SDLP were the leading party in the campaign for a 12.5% corporation tax rate. This was compared with SF having two policies, one for 17.5% and the other for 12.5%. The DUP, unwilling to unify with the South even though this ultraliberal approach to enticing major US FDI funding is far better suited to their perceived dominance of the right. This didn’t convince Westminster when negotiating the financial package accompanying devolution. The SDLP has also been highly critical of Invest NI, and I imagine would have changes to make there. They are the most pro-EU party, at a time when the single thing that would help us most is joining the Euro (though that is not their policy), European Party of Socialist members, well placed to negotiate the Lisbon re-referendum. They are not comparing Northern Ireland to segregated South Africa while hoping to simultanaeously attract investment.

      They are for new policies on anti-social behaviour, fixed-penalty notices and re-designing disadvantaged areas to make them more open and light, covered by more community police (currently completely unfunded and replaced by paramilitary-linked restorative justice volunteers and paid members.) They are for major change at the Public Prosecution Service. They support the McCartneys, Raymond McCord, the Finucanes and many others in their quest for justice. They are better placed to negotiate exposure of British collusion and IRA atrocities in the general interest because they have no skeletons to hide.

      The parties difference on health are hardly worth a mention, while implementation of the Varney report in harmony with local government would allow any party a clear advantage in consistency. If you look at the work Dominic Bradley has done on education, you will find he has been more coherent, more progressive and easier to work with than the Minister. He is also excellent on Irish language rights, which the SDLP can support without having to face the DUP charge that they use the issue as a political football.

      On the regional question, who do you think could better convince unionism a united Ireland had more to offer it? Unionist acceptance has been completely absent from your arguments.

      You are right that many people don’t know any of these policies, and that is the real problem. Having a coherent sales pitch at the moment is easy. SF were not the great the negotiators. Connolly House was Whitehall’s puppet, but now look at what their negotiation skills almost cost nationalism in the P & J ministry.

      The SDLP brought about the changes to policing, including the Ombudsman, Policing Board and DPPs that render any dispute over its devolution unnecessary, and which all parties now support.

      It has the same anti-abortion stance as the other Executive parties.

      No, Kensei. Like all parties they need better discipline on message. Perhaps to know what the message is at times. To make their arguments more widely understood, and to brand the entire project more distinctively. Depressingly, it is the superficial problems, and obviously the price of the British purchase of SF, that are the most serious problems. But now is a depressing time for the left across Europe, and they’d be better to rebuild together around a clear post-neoliberalism. That might be a good approach to a united Ireland too.

    • kensei

      Damian

      eople vote for reasons different to those for buying computers.

      With respect, I think the differences are much less than you think. You’d be quite surprised at the brand loyalty that develops in the area, and the lengths people will go to defend the various companies. Those companies spend time thinking about how they want to talk to, how to solve their problems, and how to tell them about it. They spend vastly more than any of the parties here ever will. And every 5 years, they start again and the whole thing is up for grans again. Incumbency matters, but it can be beaten by strong ideas and good marketing. Sure there are differences, but from my perspective they are a hell of a lot more effective at what they do than anyone here is. And you can learn from even imperfect analogies.

      The SDLP were the leading party in the campaign for a 12.5% corporation tax rate.

      Perhaps if you were in the SDLP, they were. Everyone wanted the same thing. Parties had variations on it – does my controller have 6 buttons or 8? Moreover – cutting corporation tax is in theory against the SDLP’s wider principles — they are a party of the Left. Where is the coherence? Where does that decision come from? How does it tie to everything else? You don’t have it and if you tried to shoe horn it in its a retrofit, not flowing out of the underlying philosophy.

      They are the most pro-EU party, at a time when the single thing that would help us most is joining the Euro (though that is not their policy),

      Jesus H Christ.

      European Party of Socialist members, well placed to negotiate the Lisbon re-referendum.

      Damian, with even more respect, this is not the place for mindless sales pitches that not even you buy. I am honestly trying to help you.

      blah

      I don’t want a policy list, that is free of genuinely innovative thinking and three quarters of which you have no ability to implement in any case. I want an ethos. I want an analysis of the wider problems. I want solutions that flow from that, and that look for empirical research and interesting theory to back them up. And I want you to make the very easy sell on that. All that requires serious investment to get.

      And by the by – SF and the DUP are not the problem. They are, at worse, symptoms of it. Simply blaming your opponents does not fly and never will unless you have something to back it up.

      On the regional question, who do you think could better convince unionism a united Ireland had more to offer it? Unionist acceptance has been completely absent from your arguments.

      Well, an All Ireland party that can show not just local successes but All Ireland successes. Obviously. Unionism at this minute is equally hostile to the suggestion from anywhere. The British Queen could suggest it and they’d be up in arms screaming “Never!”. What is Unification at its heart? Convergence – in economics, in politics, in values. How can a regional party produce convergence? I’m not saying there is no role, necessarily. I open to be convinced that they should in there as part of the mix. But what’s the big idea?

      You are right that many people don’t know any of these policies, and that is the real problem. Having a coherent sales pitch at the moment is easy. SF were not the great the negotiators. Connolly House was Whitehall’s puppet, but now look at what their negotiation skills almost cost nationalism in the P & J ministry.

      I guarantee you however much you shout about ID Cards for underage drinking you will not get traction. Look at the election results! Have you no clue to the peril you are in?

      The SDLP brought about the changes to policing, including the Ombudsman, Policing Board and DPPs that render any dispute over its devolution unnecessary, and which all parties now support.

      No teeth on any of them. Worse than useless.

      No, Kensei. Like all parties they need better discipline on message.

      No Damian. SF are a million times more disciplined and hard nosed than you. They have the benefit of incumbency and for all their difficulties retain the broad support of Nationalism. Single good initiatives will simply be cherry picked by them the way Labour nicked stuff form the Tories for years, and sold as their own. SF have made mistakes, but you have reaped not one vote form it because you are not setup to take advantage of the difficulties. Message discipline does not matter if no one is listening. You need disruptive change, not incremental change else you will die.

    • Driftwood

      But Labour and the Tories are impotent in the global economiic crisis. It is beyond nation states to a certain degree. Our local parties are not even guests to the evening disco. Ditto Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
      Vote for Alliance…Makes no difference whatsoever

    • Billy

      Comrade Stalin

      I don’t know who you think these “able performers” in the SDLP are.

      The only people in the SDLP who even vaguely impress me are Margaret Ritchie and Alban McGuinness.

      McGrady is about as effective a representative at Westminster than a non attending SF person although at least they say up front that they are not going.

      In my opinion (and many others I know) McDonnell is pompous and self-serving. Do you remember when he went against his own party to become deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast at a time when Nationalists were blatently mistreated in the council? Quality representation eh?

      Durkan seems to me to consider himself incredibly clever and witty – don’t know why. I don’t think He’s anything to write home about and only got where he is on the coat tails of John Hume.

      Alex Attwood is yet another one who frequently demonstrates the SDLP arrogance trait but appears to have precious little to back it up.

      In my youth I was a SDLP supporter and thought that the criticisms of them for being arrogant and only interested in middle-class Catholics were just political mud-slinging.

      However, on leaving University I did some work with various local govt bodies in Belfast including the council. I was astounded and disgusted by the arrogant and pompous attitude of some council and/or board members but the SDLP were by far the worst.

      I’m not mentioning any names but I can say that, on a personal level, there were many DUP, UUP, Alliance and SF members who were professional and courteous. The majority of SDLP members I (and my colleagues) encountered were arrogant, pompous and rude – particularly laughable when you saw their performance trying to understand basic financial reports and costings etc.

      When someone comes along who could give the SDLP a shot in the arm – particularly with Nationalist youth i.e Martin Morgan what happens? He is forced out by the SDLP old guard who seem to be more interested in their own junkets and expenses.

      I never voted for the SDLP after that and I know at least 1 of my colleagues who did the same.

      As you are well aware, I am not a Sinn Fein supporter or voter.

      However, I can assure you that, even with the recent poor performance by Sinn Fein, there is no chance of the SDLP making a comeback.

      They have extremely little respect in the Nationalist community particularly with the youth. I certainly don’t see any of their leading figures changing that.

      Many of the leading figures in the SDLP are perceived (rightly in my opinion) as arrogant, elitist and looking down on the people they claim to represent. It is also true to say that many of them are too old to have anything in common with young Nationalists.

      No offence to Alban McGuinness who is clearly a clever man but the fact that the SDLP are running him for Europe kind of illustrates the absence of youth (or even middle age) in their party.

      Frankly, I can’t see any way that will change excepting a clearout of 90% of their “leadership” and a dramatic reversal of their arrogant, elitist core attitudes. Unlikely to say the least.

      In reality, the SDLP will simply drift on with reducing membership, reducing vote and increasing debts until they realise they’re going nowhere and just pack it in.

    • For the millionth time, I don’t speak for the SDLP, and try to suggest my own opinions, though they do fall broadly in line. With respect Kensei, I didn’t say your analogy had nothing to offer, only that any lessons you try to take need to be put through the filter of the differences between politics and commerce. If you don’t think there are any, you are reducing politics to marketing, which as I said in my last paragraph is depressing, accepting there is much work to be done there.

      You should admit that there are policies, but you didn’t know them. I brieflly showed areas of innovation and of having made a difference. What more teeth should the policing systems have, and how would you have convinced unionism and the governments to support them? Compare the SDLP North/South and the £700bn National Development Plan.

      My argument, regarding an existential threat, is that eighteen months ago I would have been more worried. SF’s consistent negotiation failure and inability to make the Executive work are not popular. Their support was in great part fabricated by people who no longer contribute. This will show at the polls because people have noticed. Whether the SDLP gains is down to the needs I think we have almost agreed on: the need to package a message and sell it.

      You say they need five things strategic vision, change, presentation, chutzpah and intellectual quotes. In turn, it is not time to move beyond Good Friday, nowhere near, but we should be preparing to be able to. On change, it would be fair to wait for the rolling out of any recommendations of the group looking at strategic change. On presentation, see above. On disagreeing with people – what about attacks on original DPP members? Organising and attending services for troops? Voting against the budget? Populism is not the charge you’d be best levelling. On intellectual validity, I find this misdirected as well. Marketing uses statistics in a completely different way to policy in any case – more superficially. To follow your analogy though, sounding modern is important. Serious statistical evidence for policy is read by almost no-one, yourself included it appears, but must be provided.

      And though the EU opinions are my own, I think the European left is beginning to produce the kinds of innovative and groundbreaking policy you mentioned, that it will be an invaluable resource and is well worth being involved in. Certainly more appropriate than a Nintendo success story which was fun, but not the whole picture.

    • kensei

      Damian

      If you don’t think there are any, you are reducing politics to marketing, which as I said in my last paragraph is depressing, accepting there is much work to be done there.

      Commerce does not equal marketing. I’m more concerned about product, Damian.

      You should admit that there are policies, but you didn’t know them.

      I think that would be the fourth time I said it, if it I did. You are completely missing the point.

      I brieflly showed areas of innovation and of having made a difference.

      No, you didn’t. You on a sales spiel, pumping up the SDLP in places where really, it either has limited to no influence (poised to renegotiate Lisbon? FFS) or largely similar to others.

      What more teeth should the policing systems have, and how would you have convinced unionism and the governments to support them?

      If the bodies cannot issue censure with consequence, then they are worse than useless. If both wings of Nationalism had refused support until they were given more bite, more would have been done.

      You say they need five things strategic vision, change, presentation, chutzpah and intellectual quotes

      Don’t dismiss it, and this is an argument to reduce down to the base parts. Subtely matters here
      , and I said less than I could in the piece to try and keep it flowing. Change – no. Serious investment in finding new ideas, yes. Presentation – well, yes, but not what I said. It is the realisation that even good ideas, need tweaking reworked and packaged correctly. Chutzpah — no. An awareness of who your target audience is and the need to be able to bring people with you. “Intellectual Quotes” — fuck off. What is required is intellectual curiosity.

      On change, it would be fair to wait for the rolling out of any recommendations of the group looking at strategic change.

      I await with baited breath.

      On disagreeing with people – what about attacks on original DPP members? Organising and attending services for troops? Voting against the budget? Populism is not the charge you’d be best levelling.

      1. I will give you the DPP members had personal bravery, but you were not in control of the agenda, and way ahead of your electorate. 2. Why is a supposedly Irish Republican party organising services for British troops? It does not come from anywhere other than well meaning attempts to placate Unionism. It is contradictory at a fundamental level. 3. Voting against the budget? A stunt no one cared about.

      On intellectual validity, I find this misdirected as well. Marketing uses statistics in a completely different way to policy in any case – more superficially. To follow your analogy though, sounding modern is important. Serious statistical evidence for policy is read by almost no-one, yourself included it appears, but must be provided.

      I think you are confusing me with someone competent. I am someone who chucks rocks at my betters in my limited spare time. If I’m lucky, a few of them hit their mark.

      The arrogance on display here is stupifying. Good marketing uses statistics in exceptionally complex ways. And they are good at it, because they get people to part with their money, which is not an easy thing to do. Learning from marketing is a good idea for politicians. Most major parties discovered it about 20 years ago.

      You are also confusing two things — statistics and data used for policy research and statistics and data used to target people more effectively to sell.

      And though the EU opinions are my own, I think the European left is beginning to produce the kinds of innovative and groundbreaking policy you mentioned, that it will be an invaluable resource and is well worth being involved in. Certainly more appropriate than a Nintendo success story which was fun, but not the whole picture.

      The European Left is getting knocked out of power everywhere. When they stage a comeback it will be because they’ve begun to reassess and spend time once again thinking about the world.

      And again, mind numbing arrogance. I didn’t say my analogy was a perfect one, merely worth noting in case you can learn stuff, and an example of how to bring disruptive change about. If the attitude is that you dismissive the SDLP deserve to croak it.

    • Its not arrogance to say that it is a more superficial end to sell products than to sell a value-based political position over decades. I’m aware of the complexity of techniques used for both, I only commented on the ends. You seem to disagree grievously, but I’m merely saying that there are limits for reinvention that do not apply in commerce. It’s about making it relevant now, and I think we’ve agreed on that point.

      What is so arrogant about saying that the party does produce and use statistical research, but that rhyming off so many figures is not popular and is not used by anyone. They are informed by statistics. You implied the reverse, and I’m suggesting otherwise.

      I’m not confusing the two uses of research. You’ll note that I agreed with you on the need for message and presentation, and that is where your ‘selling’ comes in. So again, yes that is depressingly true.

      Finally, the European left are maybe at an all-time low. But the processes of reformation are causing interesting policy to be created, as in the States with Obama, though that is obviously different. I think that international best practice by peer parties is more relevant to policy. In terms of presentation, you have some fair points I agreed to. What’s arrogant about trying to identify what’s useful and how, and learning from it? And I don’t think you should kill the SDLP based on my observations.

    • kensei

      Damian

      Its not arrogance to say that it is a more superficial end to sell products than to sell a value-based political position over decades. I’m aware of the complexity of techniques used for both, I only commented on the ends. You seem to disagree grievously, but I’m merely saying that there are limits for reinvention that do not apply in commerce. It’s about making it relevant now, and I think we’ve agreed on that point.

      It is pure arrogance. It’s like a kind of public sector attitude that looks down on the business as something vulgar and beneath them. There are of course differences. But there is still much to learn.

      Moreover, I specifically picked an example of a company who had reinvented themselves without betraying their core ethos: in fact, they went about finding a more genuine representation of their core values.

      What is so arrogant about saying that the party does produce and use statistical research, but that rhyming off so many figures is not popular and is not used by anyone. They are informed by statistics. You implied the reverse, and I’m suggesting otherwise.

      I didn’t mention statistics anywhere. You did. They matter but much less than how that data is synthesised into coherent political or social theory. the Tories are currently running with “nudging” people. They didn’t come up with it. They were merely influenced by a book written outside their circle.

      Now, there are limitation to that theory. It won’t govern on its on, nor produce enough policy. But it a useful starting part. And it indicates that people are reading, thinking ,looking for answers and open to new ideas.

      I’m not confusing the two uses of research. You’ll note that I agreed with you on the need for message and presentation, and that is where your ‘selling’ comes in. So again, yes that is depressingly true.

      It’s the easy, lazy answer. If only people understood us better then we’d win. The problem is deeper than that. And my point wasn’t simply things need well presented, but that the presentation aspects sometimes have to feed back in and adjust the actual ideas themselves.

      Finally, the European left are maybe at an all-time low. But the processes of reformation are causing interesting policy to be created, as in the States with Obama, though that is obviously different.

      Obama has limited policies as yet, and in many respects he is interested in playing catch up with Europe in places – in terms of health, or focus on green policy. We need solutions in other areas.

      Moreover, we are getitng at my point. The SDLP should not be waiting for others to coem up with innovative policy; if they want change they should be at the forefront of it.

      I think that international best practice by peer parties is more relevant to policy.

      I think that means you miss out on a lot of things if you respect yourself to your own sphere of influence. You take inspiration and ideas where you can find them; they are a precious resource.

      In terms of presentation, you have some fair points I agreed to. What’s arrogant about trying to identify what’s useful and how, and learning from it?

      It has to cut deeper. Presentation is by its nature superficial. Reaching for it as the solution is a crutch to avoid tackling the deeper problems.

      And I don’t think you should kill the SDLP based on my observations.

      I don’t have to, its killing itself.

    • Either the problem is with the policy, the presentation, or both. I gather you think it is both. I disagree, though both have to evolve constantly.

      If I’m correct, you think there must be changes to presentation, and deeper changes to vision, though you do mention keeping core values. I’m suggesting that though the strategic change could, theoretically, come out of the working group, which is of course under time pressure, the former can be tackled immediately.

      Don’t be offended if I suggest there are other places I’d sooner look to regarding substantive change. It doesn’t mean I don’t think there is considerable merit in your analogy, but it falls well short of being comparable enough to provide all the answers. As does any single source. Re: inventing policy v applying policy, given the resources available to all parties here, I think they have to address particular gaps before undertaking independent research, and that will be an unfortunate truth for some time.

      My implicit suggestion was that the EU connection should be maximised and publicised because I think it really is in Northern Ireland’s best interest, and because it is a bridge to closer ties with the South. If you look at how the present financial crisis will be little affected by an Executive deal, you can see how major problems like deregulation that absolutely require a global solution are not served by focus on the constitutional question. They are better served by a bigger perspective and maximising influence in Europe. As are cultural rights, because group identity is not at the heart of British politics. In short, I think that SF have left a gap on their left and I’d attack from there, develop the excellent teaching to excellent universities, and primary education, to compete for research funding which will explode, while holding the civil rights and peaceful history. Again, my personal opinion.

      And as with similar parties across Europe, it is worth asking if they are killing themselves or beginning a slow re-birth.

    • kensei

      Damian

      If the SDLP could actually articulate its core values it may be fine. I have severe doubts that any real strategic change is going to come out from committee. It might, but I doubt it’ll be directed in the right way and I suspect you might get a camel.

      You may think the policy is fine – but it hasn’t got you anywhere for how many years? You need disruptive change, something that forces people to look again at the SDLP. Presentation will only go so far if you have ultimately policies that you have little even theoretical hope of influencing let alone implementing, or a number of items that differ little from all the other parties when looked at form the outside. Most people do not pay attention to detail. What grabs them? Why are you different? Why should people give you even enough time to explain. You do not have to go outside politics to find examples.

      Re: inventing policy v applying policy, given the resources available to all parties here, I think they have to address particular gaps before undertaking independent research, and that will be an unfortunate truth for some time.

      Could well be difficult. Could well cost resources elsewhere. May have to prioritise and focus in. It’s risky. That would be part of my point.

      And the fact you cannot do everything does not excuse you from attempting something.

      And as with similar parties across Europe, it is worth asking if they are killing themselves or beginning a slow re-birth.

      Let me clear it up. The SDLP is killing itself. It has been stagnating for long enough to go through a cycle two times over, and shows no evidence of rebirth. Like an alcoholic, you need to admit your problem as the first step. Repeat after me:

      “I am a member of the SDLP and we are completely screwed”.

      It’s the first step to making it better.