Rumbles in the SDLP over November’s leadership election…

Patsy McGlone has been keeping his counsel to himself ever since ever since he was overlooked for the one Ministerial post open to them, but the SDLP’s deputy leader was not happy at being overlooked. Now the BBC is reporting speculation that Mr McGlone may declare his candidacy as early as next month.

Given his main rivals in Mid Ulster are all Sinn Fein and all have some formal status (DFM Martin McGuinness, Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, and the Speaker to be, Francie Molloy), he’s understood to feel that his being passed over sent the message that, in his own words in the wake of the election “beyond Glengormley, there is no place else”.

There have been whispers across the party about Margaret Ritchie’s leadership. She won a narrow but decisive victory over Alisdair McDonnell, but Mr McGlone may not the same polarising figure that the party’s south Belfast MP proved to be. And if the party is to make any kind of recovery, whomever leads the party after November will need not only to be able to unite the factions of the party, but also be able to give it some purpose in a settlement that gives very little power or influence to any second or third placed party.

Time will tell…

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  • People will know my views from several threads and the “rumbles” in SDLP started from the moment the ballots tumbled out of the boxes in May.
    It was a reasonable enough assumption that SDLP would at least hold its own in May. It fell back by two seats. Any success would have been in SPITE of Ritchie not because of her.
    But certainly the feeling at 9am on Election Count morning was that the SDLP had “got away with it”. By 11am it had dawned (via text messages in other places) that getting a good reception on the doorsteps, being liked, getting second preferences and finishing seventh in seven constituencies wasnt enough.
    But I think it would be wrong to suggest that Patsy McGlones leadership bid is specifically related to him being overlooked in relation to a Ministerial position.
    By 1pm on Election Count Day he was already the name on SDLP lips.
    The ring of Belfast suburban seats…..East Antrim, South Antrim, Lagan Valley, Strangford and North Down………divides Belfast where the SDLP is holding ok….from the West where SDLP lost ground.
    Too many people in SDLP have fallen under the spell of “New Labour” type gurus based in Islington-in-Belfast in the Lisburn Road. The ridiculous spectacle of SDLP listening to every voice but its own……..Brian Hayes, Joanne Tuffy “Ive never really thought abouta united Ireland”, Mary Hanafin “Im leaving early to go to a rugby match”, Colin Harvey, Patrick Corrigan, Rev Norman Hamilton, Davey Adams (!!!) and Duncan Morrow…..gets lots of plaudits but no votes.
    It merely emphasises that the biggest electoral crime is ……..LOSING.
    Sometimes voters let down political parties by not voting for them.
    Sometimes political parties let down their supporters by not winning….not providing leadership.
    And I say ….in sadness that SDLP has let down its voters.

    It would be easy for the “Islington” SDLP aided by the “Islington” media to depict Patsy McGlone as a cracker barrel politician with an unsophisticated accent from the other side of the Bann.
    But that would be to underestimate a dedicated and sophisticated politician.
    Ironically the double jobbing thing provides a dignified way out for Margaret Ritchie. She was just too “cute” on that subject, including for many party members.
    Stick to Westminster Margaret.
    Its a job for life. And you cant do any harm there. You will be safely anonymous.
    This will put pressure on McDonnell to do the same and will bring two new SDLP members into paid employment (salaried positions) which will compensate for handing out redundancy notices to staffers in the Policy Department.

    So the rumbles have been ongoing since Election Day (at least). And is the conversation within SDLP circles. Last weeks Executive meeting was the last before nominations are due if an Election is to be held but it has been widely anticipated that things would gain pace in July. There might even be a reference to that in Slugger archives.
    SDLP members have wisely avoided successive Slugger threads. But they are read. And have (hopefully) promoted a climate of change.
    I unreservedly state that I hope Patsy McGlone is soon elected Leader of SDLP.
    Its not opportunism.
    As Deputy Leader, its his duty.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, loathe as I am to advise another party when my own is far from perfect, witnessing the SDLP reduced to a mere shadow in much of Tyrone & Fermanagh was tough, I really felt for their workers. Selfishly I would still much prefer them to Sinn Fein as “partners” to work with and therefore would like to see them regain some ground, I think that might just be possible under Patsy, but not easy.
    Forgetting policy and history there are many young nationalist who would not feel comfortable in the “republican movement” system SF operate and would much prefer a much freer political party, but I guessing the whole thing might have to be built from scratch and many new faces are needed.

  • Thanks DR.
    The nationalist/republican community (like its unionist counterpart) needs “choice”, two electable parties offering leadership.
    Like them or loathe them, the SDLP has at least offered leadership to nationalists in the north.
    Too prepared to listen to voices outside the Party (not just my usual list of suspects) but spin doctors who have played at a high level and carry a reputation….the SDLP in its current firm is embarrassed by the notion of leading nationalism.

    The consequence is that it is winning plaudits but losing nationalist votes.
    The more nationalist votes that SDLP gets, the fewer SF get.
    And obviously the unionist community has an interest there.
    But its not just about personalities. Its about policy.
    And paradoxically nationalist votes can only be won by being (in effect) less attractive to unionists.
    The people who always write SDLP obits on Slugger and elsewhere will state that its already too late.
    I dont think so. I only know that my vote is up for grabs in 2015 and that the SDLP failure of leadership will be an issue for me.

    I dont have the exact figures in front of me but Margaret Ritchie beat McDonnell by about 35 votes.
    Perhaps some of those who voted for the losing candidate are now convinced by Ritchies eighteen months in charge. I doubt it.
    More likely at least 50, 60, 70 people who voted Ritchie regret the decision. She is simply awful.
    And will lose a straight fight with Patsy McGlone.
    In fact she would probably see the writing on the wall and stand down to avoid humiliation as the Ian Duncan Smith of Norn Iron politics.

    She can survive criticism.
    She cant survive Pity or Ridicule.
    And even her closest supporters must realise that.
    I heard her quoted as saying that she has not heard anyone say that any other leader would do anything DIFFERENTLY.
    That may or may not be so………but rest assured Margaret, they would do it a helluva lot BETTER.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I agree with most of what you’ve written above (and before on this matter.)

    Bottom lines is that the SDLP need to get comfortable with who they are, what the want and where the electorate is that will get them there- the third element being crucial, of course.

    Listening to one of your South Belfast spin doctors pronounce hours after the calamitous results that the party should be a “progressive one with a nationalist following” instead of a nationalist party with progressive views suggested clearly to me that the SDLP continues to fail to understand its own electorate, both real and potential.

    Patsy McGlone isn’t a night in shining armour, and it is much more likely that he’ll become merely the next victim in the SDLP’s sorry battle to return to its former position of ascendancy within nationalism.

    But there is always a chance in politics.

    The key will be to appreciate that the party needs to maintain and advocate a more robust Irish nationalist vision, not least if it has ambitions to revive its fortunes in the rural nationalist heartlands of Fermanagh and Tyrone, where its now distant historic ascendancy over Sinn Fein was a direct result of opposition to the consequences of militant republican violence and not a rejection of the more assertive nationalist/ republican politics which has come to define the gulf between the two nationalist parties in the post-ceasefire era.

    I don’t believe the SDLP will credibly challenge Sinn Fein unless and until it merges into the northern wing of a southern mainstream party, and the fact that Fianna Fail are currently in the doldrums down there has perhaps cut off that option for McGlone.

    Sinn Fein’s unwillingness/ inability to make the changes necessary to attract the type of candidates capable of ousting the SDLP in Derry and South Down will mean Patsy has more time and space than (for instance) the UUP would appear to have in the intra-unionist contest.

    On another positive note for Patsy, the electoral low reached in the Assembly election will mean that the only way truly is up, but the party is in desperate need of a broom to sweep away the tired, failed faces of the past.

  • OneNI

    With the Life and Times surveys showing support for a United Ireland declining markedly in NI one has to wonder what difference it makes who is leader

  • Nobody other than fully paid up members of the faux and/or real “lets get alongerist” tendency pays the slightest attention to the Life and Times Survey or Belfast Telegraph polls, the sole purpose of which is to provide a comfort blanket who are not democrattic enough to accept the result of real and bigger elections.

    Wow that was a long sentence…I should probably edit it. But I couldnt be arsed.

  • Chris Donnelly,
    For once I wasnt thinking of the Islington in Lisburn Road gurus. 🙂
    With respect youre committed to Sinn Féin.
    Im not committed to Sinn Féin…well not yet anyway. (although if they offer me a job I could get very committed very quickly).
    The Fianna Fáil option is a complete non starter, not least because the SDLP is already a coalition of nationalists and Labourites. It couldnt possibly join with FF without splitting its membership and voters. And the very name Fianna Fáil is box office poison.

    SInn Féin were of course box office poison among people who now vote for them.They are now firmly in the constitutional nationalist camp.
    In 1973
    160,000 people voted SDLP with a few thousand scattered thru the old nationalist parties etc). SF were attached as the compliant non combatants to IRA.
    In 2011
    Over 272,000 voted for constitutional nationalism.
    178,000 SF and 94,000 SDLP.
    The stark reality is that a return to violence would boost SDLP, clearly undesirable. And the market leader is SF.

    But Id expect the word “Opposition” to be a debating point during the inevitable campaign for SDLP leadership.
    Just exactly what the SDLP can achieve with one Minister while their electoral rivals SF have five and AP have two….is certainly debatable.
    And positioning itself as an alternative to Government would I think be enough to gain some seats.
    It might also provide some Government finance to set up an Official Opposition leading to the saving of some SDLP “Policy Dept” jobs.
    I declare myself available…..pending a better offer from SF of course.

  • Zig70

    Rather than sucking out SF votes,the issue for republicanism is the increase in non voters caused by SDLP’s demise. I actually don’t mind Margaret Ritchie. I didn’t think she was great but far better than I would be so I’m loathe to criticize. It’s going to be some job, some leader to turn the party around because of the personalities in the party with interests in the pointless like FF v Labour or the UUP. No voter cares, the issue is simple, are you comfortable at a 1916 commemeration or just happy that its not demonised, are you embarassed by August bonfires copying the other lot and not that keen on starry ploughs. Lots of nationalists don’t embrace the SF type of nationalism and seem easy pickings for the SDLP as voters. SDLP just need to be a pro Irish, pro getting things done party. Simples. It’s possibly more a problem of ego’s in the SDLP, too many who think they should be leader and no clear choice.

  • Dec

    ‘With the Life and Times surveys showing support for a United Ireland declining markedly in NI one has to wonder what difference it makes who is leader’

    The same survey tells us that 41% of Catholics support the SDLP while only 27% support SF, so you have to wonder why anyone would want a change in the SDLP leadership.

  • exsdlp

    It could be interesting. If Patsy goes for it where does that leave the good South Belfast doctor? Will he support McGlone and accept some sort of role as part of a leadership team? Will McD run and the two of them shred votes to the extent the hapless Ritchie survives?

    Margaret’s former supporters and indeed campaign managers have long since fled her nest. I would love to know what Helen Quigley thinks of Ritchie’s leadership – after she managed her campaign before being left high and dry and off the ballot paper in Derry.

  • Thats really two seperate issues.
    For the record Margaret Ritchie beat Dr McDonnell by 222 votes to 187.
    It was a bit untidy. McDonnell was out-flanked and frankly the tactics of her campaign team did not impress me (Slugger O’Toole passim).
    But the New Leader was entitled and Im sure got the majority of rank and file who had voted against her to back her, once she had assumed office.
    Her behaviour in office was at least mixed in early days. Alienating some senior people but at least she showed a degree of ruthlessness that the SDLP had previously lacked and there were positive signs around the 2010 Election.
    She made the fatal mistake of paying undue attention to Mandelson-like gurus (not necessarily with an official Party role) and that has cost her.
    Likewise she allowed the Party to listen to such diverse voices as Duncan Morrow, Rev Norman Hamilton, Davey Adams (!!!) and got lured into a sense that SDLP was actually going to get rewarded for its “outreach”.
    The Poppy nonsense said it all. A better tactic would be to have worn it and drawing attention to it being voluntary and that it should be in the BBC and UTV.

    But as I recall the 2010 SDLP Conference was held in the Ramada on the first week in November……poppy wearing season (which begins seemingly in September) and I only saw two people wearing poppies that day. One was a journalist and the other was Jim Wells (DUP MLA).
    Presumably the 2011 SDLP Conference and possible Leadership Election will be held at the same time in poppy wearing season.
    And I daresay some will follow the Leaders example and sights of poppys will be reported. But I doubt if the majority will be so inclined and the red poppy will be as iconic and a symbol of failure as “the white cockade”.

    Gerry Murray, a shrewd observer of SDLP and now designated as “former SDLP member” echoes my own thoughts that people voted SDLP in SPITE of Margaret Ritchie.
    She loses votes. She does not gain votes.
    Her 2010 Election performance was patchy (Slugger passim) but many gave her the benefit of the doubt as she was “new”. Her 2011 performance was simply a disaster.
    Even if the SDLP had got away with it and survived with 16 seats, the writing was on the wall.
    If Success breeds Success. So does Failure.
    So votes of 222 to 187 look a bit thin.
    I suspect the vast majority of the 187 think they were right.
    And I suspect a significant number of the 222 think they got it wrong.
    Frankly shes……already in the Past Tense.
    But she could get off the hook if the opposition is divided. Which means there is probably already contact between Patsy McGlones people and Dr McDonnells.
    If the latter is intent on standing for Westminster in 2015, he needs the support of the South Belfast branches which are generally pro-Ritchie.
    There might be some choreography involved. He stands down as South Belfast MLA to facilitate the rise of an enthusiastic Ritchie supporter into the Assembly. There will be cases of Quid Pro Pro when the Partys constituent parts…….Executive, Parliamentary Party, Councillors Forum, Womens Group, SDLP Youth start choosing sides.
    There is all to play for.
    And the mood music and optics at the Conference will be important.
    Outreach type Conference set pieces? Surely not.
    Fringe meetings with the Human Rights Consortium? Surely not.
    A novel suggestion might be listening to voices like Brian Feeney and Gerry Murray.

  • “Success breeds Success……Failure breeds Failure”.
    And an open Debate on Opposition might actually work to anti-Ritchie advantage.
    If the subject of Opposition does not get onto the main Conference agenda, Id expect it to be on the “fringe”.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Not narcissistic at all then, this (Jesus, like, increasingly ? wtf ?!) Simpsonsesque McDonnell character. Much. Still, max marks for trying. Top of the class, Doc. Perseverance and self-belief wise I mean, natch.

    “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their inner Alasdair McDonnell” as Sigmund Freud might well have said.

    ….there at a table, dealing stud,
    Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me “Alasdair.”

  • 241934 john brennan

    As ’unopposed’ SDLP deputy leader, Big Al (under Mark Durkan) was less than impressive – neither a big hitter, nor a big supporter of his leader. He stood down as deputy, in his unsuccessful bid against Margaret Ritchie, for the top post. Patsy McGlone seems to be in the same mould.

    Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers were truly memorable SDLP deputy leaders. The latter was elected to the post in a closely contested ballot within the party. Margaret Ritchie was the close runner up.

    During the Hume/Durkan era, the party led the way with many innovative policies, but there was also a perceived lack of emphasis on party organisation.

    Organisation, determination and attention to details are Margret Ritchie’s great strengths.

    So the clear logic is – keep the present leader- and have a democratic competition to find a supportive deputy leader, in the Seamus Mallon/Brid Rodgers mould.

    ‘Who will stand at my right hand and keep the bridge wioth me?’

  • The logic is indeed clear.
    Under Margaret Ritchie the SDLP will be very well organised LOSERS.

  • Big Boss


    First of all, as far as I remember, Alasdair was not unopposed, there was indeed a DL contest to elect him, much to the shock and disappointment of Mark Durkan (you only had to look at his face when the winner was announced)

    I cant remember to many things that Brid Rodgers done in her time as Deputy Leader but Seamus Mallon was not just a simple deputy leader, but a leader in his own right, able to command the same presence as John Hume. Its unfair to judge those who come after him as he was one aof a kind, born in a different era. What opportunities has McGlone been given in his time as DL? he shone in the Ni water scandal, really the only chance he has had.

    Organisation and attention to detail are NOT Ritchies great strengths. Look at the election result in South Down where they should have had 3 seats but poor organisation let them down…… Strangford which seen the vote disappear, East Antrim which should have been an SDLP was totally wiped out.

    The only success they had, and SDLP people have told me this was when Patsy McGlone went into West Tyrone and helped them organise there. Ritchie since her election as leader has continued the trend to keep over ever is deputy leader at arms length to put in her friends in power instead.

  • With roughly 400 votes to be won, a lot depends on caucus meetings between mid August (after nominations close) and August.
    Just how many people show up. The choice of delegates and whether people will be more motivated for McGlone. Frankly I think McDonnell will be too associated with Failure and wont get anything like the 187 votes of last time.
    Ritchie wont get 222 and (presuming its a three way contest) it depends who is left as the last two standing.
    Ms Ritchie looks as out of touch as Margaret Thatcher did in 1990. And I just cant see any way that she can win.

    Patsy McGlone will be the only candidate West of the Bann and the Derry votes which allegedly went Ritchies way eighteen months ago are certainly in play for him.

    As stated above, he rallied the troops in West Tyrone but as I understand it a lot of the initial disaffection with Margaret Ritchie started in the Clogher Valley within a week of the May Elections.
    As stated above Ritchie SHOULD have been able to rally the troops in Strangford.
    Increasingly she looks like a creature of a SDLP faction rather than a Leader.

  • exsdlp

    There are far fewer members registered now than at the time of the last election, so FJH numbers should be revised downwards across the board. McGlone will declare next week. That leaves the question: has he already secured McDonnell’s agreement not to run?

  • Well lets see 409 voted at the last SDLP Election.
    Clearly there is a cut off time when “new” members wont have voting rights. Im not familiar enough with the SDLP Constitution to know when that would be (anyone help me out with that one?).
    But certainly Id be surprised if Elections in 2010/11 did not attract new members or hold on to members..
    As I stipulated at 12.26am “roughly 400 votes” so Id think that anything between 375-400 is reasonable unless someone can say different.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I miss Seamus Mallon, he was the single greatest contributor to the GFA talks process (for its faults).

    It was a bit untidy. McDonnell was out-flanked

    Understatement of the year, mountains were moved to stop McDonnell from taking over the party. There was an active “stop McDonnell” contingent at senior levels in the party up to and including the then-leader Durkan. This started with the premature promotion of Ritchie to DSD minister, and thence Durkan’s resignation and her escalation to the leadership.

    The question for me is – is McGlone a John Redwood style stalking horse, a patsy for someone else to test the waters ?

  • Patsy McGlone has just announced he is a candidate for Leader of SDLP (8.30am via Facebook).
    Maith thú!

  • I think its significant that Patsys Facebook message, necessarily short, references “party supporters” rather than “party members”.

    “I’ve listened to what party supporters are saying and I’m standing for Leader of the SDLP – people are hungry for change.

    I think this indicates the feedback is that Margaret Ritchie is not surprisingly a vote loser and he is asking…..quite rightly ..that SDLP members look beyond themselves to the people who actually went into the polling stations on their behalf.

  • Fair play to you Patsy.

    Superb communications strategy announcing your candidature on a day free of BBC Good Morning Ulster, full news bulletins etc.

    As they say, iron while the strike is hot, and delay your big day.

  • Well its good to see Patsy announced it to real people rather than facilitate “blackleg scab” journalists at the BBC. 😉

  • Articles,
    Inevitably some journalists will issue some “I knew this all along” type posts but I think the SDLP (based in South Belfast) has been too cosy with BBC (NI) and UTV…….both based in South Belfast.
    So Im sure Patsy McGlone is actually deliberately turning his back on that cosiness of Islington on the Lisburn Road.

    And I note from the profile pic on Facebook that Mr McGlone “appears” to be standing in front of a flag which has green and white in the colours. A welcome development for SDLP supporters fatigued by obsession with outreach…..unless of course its the Italian flag. 😉

  • Even if I was to accept your spin it is an easy shot at goal for his opponents , there again reception on these talking boxes can be a little iffy in the outback

  • Is there any role left for the SDLP in Northern Ireland politics, there has not been one visionary in it, since John Hume stepped down