Having postponed from earlier in the week, Margaret Ritchie this morning corralled the SDLP’s Assembly candidates together with many of the younger council candidates in Belfast’s Hilton Hotel to launch their election campaigns. Each party expends a lot of effort and expense organising these launch events … all for twenty or so reporters (and the occasional blogger) to turn up and provide a few minutes or inches of coverage. That aside, the SDLP’s leader called it a “marvellous opportunity”.
The SDLP are hopeful that they will overtake the UUP at this election and that extra seats will translate into a second Executive seat. When asked, Margaret Ritchie agreed that she’d be keen to get the Social Development ministry back for the SDLP. Overall she summed up their hopes:
The SDLP is campaigning in this election … to be a party at the centre of government, to have increased representation, not only in the Assembly, but in council chambers right across the north of Ireland.
No party is publishing their manifesto at this stage. However, some of other campaign launches have been content light in terms of articulating policy and pledges, with detail promised at future issue-based events and some pointing to heaps of existing policy downloadable from their websites.
The SDLP were pretty snappy with their Six Step Programme for Government. Impressively, Margaret managed to rattle off all the steps when I talked to her beforehand. I wasn’t present for her actual speech, but the draft script set out the SDLP stall as follows:
And what exactly is that better Northern Ireland the SDLP wants to see? We want to see a Northern Ireland that is attractive to business: which takes care of the sick and respects its older citizens; and which is a great place to work and to raise a family.
So how do we make Northern Ireland that kind of place? Two things: we must unite people and build prosperity.
Rather than stopping there, the SDLP unpacked those two ideas with their six steps.
We in the SDLP, the party of ideas, believe we can unite people by
- Transforming society so that it is truly shared
- Leading the New Politics where partnership replaces carve-up, and by
- Becoming One People, One Island – celebrating our common identity
We the SDLP, the part of ideas, believe we can build prosperity by
- Creating jobs in the sectors which offer the greatest growth potential,
- Investing in the education and training of our young people, many of whom have been sold short by our chaotic education system, and
- By delivering better government, overcoming all the Executive stalemates, and radically reforming the public sector.
We are brimming over with ideas in all of these areas and we intend to debate them in depth and with great confidence in this campaign.
On the back of the recent successful NI Assembly event, the SDLP are planning to organise a tweet-up next week. So how would a meeting of tweeters gain any candidate any votes? Margaret Ritchie defended the idea:
I support social media and as long as it’s done in the right and proper fashion. All forms of media have to be encouraged – people participating in that – and we mustn’t forget what elections are about, they’re about providing proper representation to the people who need them.
Another MLA explained that it was about relationships and getting interested people together to talk about SDLP policies. Some of that real world chatter might spark off online conversations. I guess election campaigns are about kicking ideas and policies around … so good luck to them.