Garibaldy’s written an excellent piece on UTV’s local Leader’s Debate this week. He’s not wrong with his initial summary that SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, put in a performance registering on the Cecilian scale- not for appearing hopelessly dithering and past her sell by date, but rather for appearing to confirm widely held suspicions that she simply isn’t up to the leadership game. And to think the SDLP initially threatened to boycott the debate unless Gerry Adams -and not Martin McGuinness- was the face put forward by Sinn Fein. Here’s Garibaldy’s take:
I imagine there was quite a lot of forehead slapping going on among SDLP members wondering why they hadn’t voted for Mc Donnell. If there wasn’t, there certainly should have been.
Whilst Mick has suggested that Adams’ victory on the nationalist side was based on his folksy delivery as opposed to any substantive points, that would appear to be a somewhat harsh assessment. Adams, who Mick rightly notes has put in some poor shifts in southern debates, appeared much better briefed this time, landing numerous blows to the hapless Ritchie. These included his delivery of the three main headline quotes from the debate: the lazy abstentionists, the OO as ‘midwife’ for the unity unionist candidate and the flanker regarding Thomas Burns’ solo flight over support for British military actions. Where the SDLP leader should have been in a position to turn the screw on Adams- over the Liam Adams case and his own denials of IRA membership- she failed to intervene decisively.
On the unionist tussle, Garibaldy goes with the consensual view that the contest was a more closely fought affair, with Empey and Robinson landing punches on one another.
His summary is fairly hard hitting:
Overall, then, I have to say I found it a bit rubbish. Adams clearly did best, then probably Empey and Robinson. Ritchie was the clear loser. In 2001, a disastrous performance in a debate at the old Crumlin Road Courthouse made the outgoing 77-year old North Belfast Ulster Unionist MP Cecil Walker look old, tired, and shambolic. He dropped from first place to fourth in the election. While Ritchie’s performance was nothing as bad, I would think hers is the next most distastrous television performance I’ve seen by a politician in NI.
Time will tell which parties will have got their campaign strategies right, but it’s hard not to concede that Sinn Fein’s clear focus on the leadership theme (in posters, billboards, canvass cards and adverts no less) was conceived of not long after Margaret Ritchie was confirmed as the new SDLP leader.