The race is on for SDLP Leadership

Alasdair McDonnell formally entered the race to succeed Mark Durkan today at an event with party members in Belfast. He is up against Margaret Ritchie.

Both sides are claiming strong support from within the Assembly team. McDonnell was joined by Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone at his event this morning. Margaret announced her intention to stand flanked by several party MLAs just over a week ago.

The final say goes to delegates at party conference in February. All public representatives have a vote as do several hundred branch delegates. This is one contest which will not be won on the media but in member’s front rooms and on the phones. I’d say both are doing a lot of calling these days. The issues are also clear. Question is who will be best able to meet them?

Full text of Alasdair’s remarks below the fold.Address by SDLP Deputy Leader Alasdair McDonnell MP
27 October 2009

Friends, welcome to the Old Museum Arts Centre, or the Metropolitan Arts Centre as it is now called. And thank you for coming, from all over the north and all over Ireland.
Some of you will wonder why I have brought you to this particular place, but I suspect more of you will know that it was from a building in this street that the SDLP was founded almost 40 years ago.
This building has been brilliantly refurbished and through the work of an excellent, hard working leadership team has been reborn as a centre of excellence in the arts and a great institution in this city. I’ve brought you here because I want to announce what I hope will be the beginning of the rebirth of another great institution.
I want to announce my decision to seek the support of colleagues all over the north of Ireland to give me the chance to serve as the next leader of the SDLP.
As you know, I haven’t rushed into this decision. I know the effort that leading the party takes and I know how important it is that the SDLP gets the right leader at this critical time in its history and in the history of the North.
I’ve had to ask myself whether I’m that person. Have I the energy and the ideas to lead a renewal?
I’ve had to speak to the people who actually make this party what it is – grass roots members – and ask them whether they agreed with my analysis of where we are and where we need to get to. I’ve asked them are they ready for real change in the SDLP?
I’ve had to speak to my family, to my beautiful wife Olivia. Like everything else that I do, I know I couldn’t do it without her and the kids. I’ve asked them if they will stand beside me and support me in the difficult work ahead.
I’ve asked and I’ve been humbled by the answer – Yes, Yes, Yes.
Now I have some questions for the wider party; questions which all of you as members or supporters will have to face over the coming weeks and up to party conference in February as you decide who should serve as your leader.
Are you prepared to accept a second best position for the SDLP?
Are you content with the drift which has beset the party since the Good Friday Agreement?
Are you satisfied that our voters are not having their voice heard they way they used to?
Are you content to stand idly by, while the DUP / Sinn Fein axis ignores and alienates the hard working families who aspire to the very best for their children and make no apology for it?
I’m not.
I’m not, and if you feel the same way, then come with me. If you want to see the SDLP restored to its former position as the leading nationalist party in the north and as the driver of positive political change throughout Ireland, then come with me. If you want to wear your membership of our party with pride, come with me.
If you are ambitious for the party; if you are ambitious for this great party and you want to achieve the political aspirations that first motivated you to join the SDLP, then come with me.
How can we make this happen? Colleagues and friends, I have some news for you and you might not like to hear it.
If you think that ‘business as usual’ is the way forward for the SDLP, I’m not the candidate for you. And if you think the job we face in rebuilding the party is all about exciting plans for renewal, then I am not the candidate for you. . . There is no quick fix alliances or deals. And our success is certainly not going to be achieved by spending time in convoluted intellectual argument. The simple fact is that our success will be built on the much more mundane process of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Reconnecting with people, fighting their corner, putting in the hours and the effort, working in partnership with our communities to deliver real change. That is what will restore and renew the SDLP.
We will reconnect with our own voters, and with those who have drifted from the party in recent times, as well as inspiring a new generation. The SDLP once stood as the centrepoint of local communities right across the north. In GAA halls and community centres, on factory floors and in classrooms, the local SDLP member was someone who people knew shared their values and who people turned to for support. And we will be again. By taking strength from our proud record we can build a new future. We can set new goals.
My goal is that by 2016 – when we reflect on the promise of our nation and when once again we will be scheduled to go the people and ask for their votes – we will be back where the SDLP belongs, as the party which inspires the greater number of voters to say “yes”. “Yes” to the party which puts people first, to the party which truly values progress and prosperity. “Yes” to the party which believes, with every fibre, in the power of that historic pledge to treat all the children of the nation equally.
In 2005 the experts and the intellectuals said the SDLP was finished. The Westminster election that year was to be the final nail in the coffin. But in south Belfast we didn’t read the script. We showed what could be done with self belief and hard work. By steadily growing our share of the vote, election after election and by really representing the most ethnically and culturally diverse constituency in Ireland, we bucked the trend. Working hand in hand, Carmel Hanna and I have shown that a very simple political formula can work: put good people before the electorate, with sound and fair policies; work hard for their votes and the electorate will respond. That’s the model, that’s the plan I will work to apply right across the north.
SO, now we have the first ever election campaign for leader of the SDLP. I expect it to be an open, positive and constructive debate. That is certainly how I will be approaching it and I know that Margaret feels the same way. I see this campaign and debate as a key element of the renewal of the Party.
39 years ago, a group of men and women left this building, organised themselves, worked hard, involved their communities and did nothing less than change utterly Irish politics.
I wasn’t in that initial group, I came to the party a few years after that historic meeting. But I’m here today with all of you. I want us, a new generation to leave here with that same sense of purpose, that same ambition. Ambition for this party, ambition for our communities and ambition for our country.
The SDLP can lead again. I ask you to allow me to help make that happen.