Future of the SDLP: “Fortune favours the brave, not the bewildered…”

There are few better descriptions of just how low Gordon Brown has taken the Labour Party in Britain than this from Bagehot in the Economist this week:

In Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir, “Speak, Memory”, he describes coming upon a cat torturing a chipmunk. “Most of his tail was gone,” Nabokov writes of the chipmunk, “the stump was bleeding.” Finally the creature “lay down on his side in order to merge with a bit of light and shade on the ground”. Labour has recently appeared to adopt a similar tactic, seeming to hope inactivity could spare it further torment.

This morning Tom Kelly in the Irish News notes the parallels between Brown’s Labour party, Cowen’s Fianna Fail and Durkan’s SDLP. However in the case of the last, its tormentors in Sinn Fein almost seem to have forgotten they even exist these days. He argues that waiting for some southern prince to come and rescue it from it’s own fate is not good enough. The passivity must be replaced by action:

There is an inevitability about Fianna Fail being organised for northern elections by 2016. It is pointless of those in the SDLP to continually ignore or some complain about the independent actions of another political organisation. They should look to their own house.

The SDLP languishes because its political touchstone is its diminishing membership which appears increasingly out of sync with the wider mood of its potential electorate. When the SDLP asks where to go it asks itself.

For the past eight years, with exception of south Belfast [and Mid Ulster? – Ed] has had no electoral bounce. It’s time to leave the woolly comfort zone and strike out for new partnerships, whether it is internally in Northern Ireland, or in a north/south context.

No-one should welcome the demise of politics as represented by the SDLP but when everyone knows the lyrics, its time to change the song. As they say fortune favours the brave, not the bewildered.

Or as in Bagehot’s advice to Labour:

It urgently needs to stop playing dead and face its dauntingly uncertain future.

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Structurally there is no room for two pro-agreement, leftish of centre parties in Nationalist Norn Iron.

    The post Westminster elections may well see a crisis in Unionism if the TUV/UU Tory vote splitting hands any further seat to Nationalism – and in that climate consolidation will surely be the name of the game from here on in with the present incumbents the DUP and SF the obvious victors – if for no other reason than they are the right size, in the right place at the right time.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Cannot see where they are to go myself. The future is no longer there for a nationalist party which limits itself to a partitionist assembly.

  • The SDLP needs to form an alliance with either Fianna Fail or the Irish Labour Party, along the lines of the UUP/ Tories, or go for a full merger with either. It’s the only way to sustain a critical mass and to move away from being seen as a narrowly nationalist party as opposed to a party that takes into account the interests of all traditions on this island.

    Of course myown preference would be for a merger with Irish Labour, in which such interests could be represented within a democratic socialist framework, including close links with the British Labour Party.

  • DC

    Jenny, the Irish Labour Party doesn’t want to know, as you of course know.

    British Labour Party are on the ground here, but I would argue that if it forms members should carry both British and Irish Labour cards i.e. be members of both and be forward-thinking about identity.

    That would be a positive step in tune with the broader British-Irish outcome post GFA98 and would fit that political footprint with ease.

    If British Labour set up here, it is in practice a *new* party and is free from historical baggage and would be starting afresh in terms of reputation and ideas.

    The likelihood is both SDLP and British Labour will struggle to overcome the age old identification problems here in NI.

  • Trotsky

    the SDLP are finished as a political force and they have themselves only to blame for the position they find themselves in.

    Confusing messages about national identity and a suicidal tendency to accept British initiatives without fully engaging with its own membership and that of its Nationalist constituency only cements the accusations from its detractors of careerism and aloofism…

    Now their demise could herald in something positive, the setting up of FG, FF and Irish Labour in the North to fight the SF stranglehold on all things “Irish”.

    But on that I will hold my breathe. What is clear, there is still a constituency amongst the Nationalist electorate for those opposed to the SF line. One that isn`t fully supportive of the SDLP. Time for real change.

  • DC – The Irish LP didn’t want to give its members blanket approval to stand for election in NI, which would have meant their members being in competition with the SDLP. They did not consider a merger or a formal partnership between Northern members and the SDLP, which in retrospect was a missed opportunity for both parties (even though for me personally it wouldn’t have been satisfactory).

    The British LP is now in the same position that the NI Labour Forum of the Irish LP was in a few years ago i.e. hoping that over time they will be allowed to operate as a fully fledged political party by standing for elections. I predict they will face the same obstacle i.e. support for the SDLP in the mistaken belief that it’s a party all democratic socialists feel comfortable voting for. We are in reality no further forward with being able to vote for a cross-community Labour party here.

    It would be nice to be able to carry some kind of combined membership card for the British and Irish LPs (Irish LP to include the SDLP) but that requires far more work to be done with the parties in Dublin and London on the complexities of the situation here, as neither really gets it at the moment.

  • DC

    They did not consider a merger or a formal partnership between Northern members and the SDLP, which in retrospect was a missed opportunity for both parties (even though for me personally it wouldn’t have been satisfactory).

    Oil and water. When they opted for Fianna Fail that signified to me both game on for Labour and game over for the name of the SDLP.

  • Eric

    “Oil and water. When they opted for Fianna Fail that signified to me both game on for Labour and game over for the name of the SDLP”.

    I can’t see a Alidair McDonnell led SDLP staying at a “left wing” party. Fianna Fail has now joined the centrist Liberal group in Europe and the bulk of the SDLP belong there along with the Alliance Party.

    I think the Labour Parties will wait until the SDLP makes their own choice about whether their future lies outside the Socialist Group in Europe. Going on past behaviour niether Labour Party will want to take sole responsibility for organising in NI, so it is likely that in a scenario of the SDLP leaving the PES you would see the two Labour parties facilitating NI Labour members who wish to stand on a Labour platform.

    I think Fianna Fail’s historicly low support in the Republic has set back their own moves northwards and as a result things might limp along as they are for quite some time yet.

    If change is to come it will be by the SDLP repositing itself outside the Centre Left