Et tu, Conall?

The beleaguered leader of the SDLP, Margaret Ritchie, could be forgiven for feeling somewhat betrayed as the summer coup launched by Deputy Patsy McGlone further exposes her tenuous grip on power within the troubled minor party of northern nationalism.

The Irish News (yesterday) has tried and failed to identify any show of support for the leader from within the party’s Assembly team, with the solitary exception of the West Belfast MLA and party’s only Minister, Alex Attwood.

Most intriguingly, as noted by the Irish News today, the failure of the South Belfast MLA, Conall McDevitt, long regarded as a close adviser to Ritchie, to provide unequivocal support for the party leader is an ominous development.

On The Nolan Show yesterday, McDevitt refused to provide a clear statement of support for the party leader in spite of repeated probing on the matter by the host, Stephen Nolan. Whilst he did eventually state that he would be “very happy for Margaret Ritchie to remain as leader of the SDLP,” his less than forthright support will doubtlessly be a disappointment to the leader. As the Irish News notes today:

“He [McDevitt] was one of the key drivers behind Ms Ritchie’s successful 2010 leadership battle with South Belfast assembly member Alasdair McDonnell.

Mr McDevitt was understood to be behind most of her policy documents and gave her communications advice at the time.”

Meanwhile, Alex Attwood has launched a thinly veiled attack on Patsy McGlone’s leadership bid, stating that those who were less of an electoral asset should think twice before putting their names forward. Attwood was pointing out the fact that Ritchie has retained the SDLP’s advantage over Sinn Fein in South Down whilst, in McGlone’s home turf of Mid-Ulster, Sinn Fein hold a 3:1 assembly advantage over the SDLP.

Former SDLP strategist, Tom Kelly, noted in his Irish News column on Monday that “[Margaret Ritchie’s] gravest mistake was not being careful enough about the Praetorian Guard that was moving around her- people whose sole political purpose appeared to be more about stopping the rising star of the then SDLP deputy leader, Alasdair McDonnell, than the future prospects of their party.”

Kelly concludes with this hard-hitting observation:

“Ms Ritchie lives and breathes politics but her fair weather friends may be about to offer her up for the second time. Nice bunch, eh?”