Apart from not liking Sinn Fein, the SDLP lacks a clear message

The Irish News today hosts a blast from the SDLPs’ Alasdair McDonnell against Sinn Fein, adopting a line of attack familiar in Slugger.

Sinn Fein has willingly thrown itself into a squalid axis of self preservation that has pushed the north to the brink of a virtual dictatorship – a counteractive dual dictatorship, which renders each side paralysed and fails to pay even the most cursory lip service to the framework of democracy.

McDonnell’s critique may be all very well as far as it goes, but what’s the SDLP’s revival plan? Is it helpless in the face of the alleged “ dual dictatorship?” The crying need now is for parties to find poiltical expression for the social cohesion NI so badly needs and probably mostly wants, if only the leadership and ideas were available. Might the SDLP raise it sights and try to build more boldly on the regional identity discussed by Conall, based on economic and other realities? What about a strategy for the centre ground, to devise politically realistic plans for secondary education and more on how to ease the impact of recession? Anything that suggests a move away from obsessive identity politics would be welcome. But have the SDLP got the guts to chart a bold course away from “me too” nationalism and take Sinn Fein on at the grass roots? Mark Durkan has a scattergun approach, his focus is too vague and he has failed to develop out of the mindset of the pure researcher he once was. Alex Attwood and Alban Maginnis are pegging away at trying to get effective policing. Margaret Ritchie has approached funding community initiatives with welcome honesty. But otherwise aspirations and critiques are not enough. They’ve less than six months to go find the big idea.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London