What on earth was that Dr Al?

Looks like bookies got it right and the SDLP electorate got it wrong. That’s probably not fair to Alasdair McDonnell. Or the SDLP. But if his rivals in SF were even remotely quaking in their boots before his inaugural speech, they were rolling in the aisle afterwards.

The most optimistic voices from the SDLP are suggesting that Al should be allowed to get on with his organisational reforms and then stand aside for someone who can hold a public space. The fact that we’re talking about skills rather politics gives some substance to Patrick Murphy’s taunting remark that the SDLP was more a comfort zone than a political party.

And the fact that people are writing his political obituary during his inaugural speech is not a great augury for the future. It’s said that it matters little that you make mistakes, but the quality of how you respond to adversary. McDonald has dropped a hell of a long way from his pugnacious five minutes on Friday night.

If his bull headedness comes to not taking even the most basic advice from his communications team, he may not last even as long as the last team leader.

The last few weeks have been intense and fruitful for this party as we met and debated all across the north. I have come through this process with two abiding memories.

One is the absolute determination of people
everywhere that this party will survive and that the
values upon which the SDLP was founded will be
carried forward into a new generation and into a new

The other thing we heard everywhere we went, over
and over again, was:
“Why can’t yous work together?”
My answer is – Yes we can.

That is what I asked for and you have mandated and
endorsed this weekend
– not just a new leader – but a new leadership system.
A collective system, that will ensure that the interests of
the whole party will always come first.

All leaders need to be accountable, to have built-in
checks and balances, even me.

I think it was during the last leadership contest that
some commentator referred to me as a bull in a China
Well, friends and colleagues, I can tell you we
are going to have a smashing time over the next
few years.
I will play to my strengths – diplomacy is over-rated and I
think I can leave the gimmicks and the media
spin to others.

I will take the bull analogy as a tribute to my reserves of
energy and my passion which, if tempered with wise
counsel, can produce much.

With me – what you see is what you get – and what
you will get is the action necessary to save this party.

So what will we smash?
First of all I would like to smash the myth that the
SDLP’s fate is already sealed, that this party is
somehow doomed to fail and die.

All that is wrong with us is that we don’t get enough
votes – that’s all.

Now I’m a medical doctor, and I can tell you this is not
an incurable condition, far from it.

As a matter of fact I have the prescription – and you have
it too, I posted it to all the delegates.

This is a proven formula.
We conducted the first successful field trials in
South Belfast in 2005, and produced a greatly
enhanced performance in 2010.
Next I would like to smash the myth that Sinn Fein and
the DUP are somehow invincible.
They’re not – they are just a bit better than us at getting

But above all I want to smash through the limits to
our own political vision.

We put so much into the Good Friday Agreement that
we became hypnotised by it.

We must now face up to the reality that the Agreement
has run out of road.

In the hands of the DUP and Sinn Fein, it may provide
basic political stability but it will not deliver any more
political progress.

Of course we value stability.
Of course we will protect its institutional arrangements
and such elements of powersharing and
partnership as survive.

But we have to realise that the agreement will not
deliver further normalisation or any sort of normal politics.

That would require real and concrete steps to combat
sectarianism, real commitment to working for a
shared future – and the DUP and Sinn Fein are just
not going to do that.

Why should they?
They have captured the Good Friday Agreement and
remade it in their own divided image.

They may have kept most of its letter but they have totally
emasculated its spirit, and torn out the heart of
And from their point of view they are doing rather nicely
out of it.

Why should these sectarian turkeys vote for a non-
sectarian Christmas?
What we have now is all we are going to get, is all there
will be in the future, except there will be an added
further pressure – there’s going to be less money and
a lot more poverty.

The valuable power-sharing element has been replaced
by power carve-ups along the lines of a sullen ceasefire
which they like to call peace.

Here’s an indisputable fact: There were just nine so
-called ‘Peace Walls’ when the first ceasefire came in.
Now there are around fifty.

That is what those two parties would bequeath our
children – unless we in the SDLP do something about

In line with the promise I made, I can tell you that the
SDLP recovery plan starts right here and now.

I would like to meet as soon as posible with the newly
elected Party Executive just to lay out the urgency of
taking immediate measures for recovery.
I would like to meet with my Assembly colleagues to
stress the importance of different groupings and
organs within the party working together -and of
course, to take expressions of interest in a shared

Then I’m going to walk around the hall here and
collect copies of all the manifestoes and all the
literature produced by people seeking election to
the Executive so I can take them home and study them
and steal as many good ideas as possible to add
them to the bag of ideas that I have put before you this
I would urge you to do the same.

And I would urge you to go back to your constituencies
and call an emergency meeting of your branch to
discuss these ideas, collective leadership and

If you don’t have a branch, consider starting one.

Next – convene a special meeting of your constituency
association – if you have one.

At these meetings I would ask you and your fellow
members to fix your minds on one thing.
What you together need to do to ensure a massive
SDLP recovery in the Assembly elections of 2016.
You will not be doing this alone.
My next task is to meet with the Chief Executive and
General Secretary to discuss the practicalities of
holding a special SDLP renewal conference early in
the New Year to discuss precisely such a recovery.

We need to hit the ground running.

We don’t have years to debate or worry about our
electoral performance.

Unless we quickly and clearly demonstrate that we
have the will and ability to recover then our existing
level of support will begin to drift away by the middle of
next year.

The next 100 days are absolutely crucial.
Together everyone needs to help and I am asking for that
help now.

We must stick to the three-month schedule for the
special renewal conference, and it must produce real and
visible change in this party on the ground within
another six months.

We must create political momentum.

We must be back on the road as an electoral force
before the Assembly goes into summer recess.

That is an enormous task, so big that right now, no one
can say where it ends.
But I can tell you – it starts now.
We are going to look for help in mapping out the
task, in scoping and scaling the work that has to be done
at and immediately after the conference.

That is why I will be consulting this week with the
Chief Executive on setting up a small expert
commission, a Task Force charged with bringing
forward proposals to that conference for the
development of an efficient and effective organisational

Let me say immediately that it is electoral efficiency
-getting SDLP votes into ballot boxes – that I have in
mind as the appropriate benchmark.

We are going to look to our friends for help in making a
better organisation.
And the SDLP still has many friends.

We will ask our sister Social Democratic parties to help
us identify best practice in Dublin, London & Brussels.

The Task Force will rely heavily on the organisational
recovery plans drawn up by the Chief Executive two
years ago.
But we must be prepared to make sweeping changes
and not be hidebound by existing structures where
they don’t work.

We can’t go on with the fiction that there are lots of
branches out there – there aren’t.

What we really have got is a handful of active branches,
usually built around a successful representative.
A number which are being valiantly carried by a few
hard-working individuals,
And a great number of branches which hardly ever

We must find new ways of embracing everyone who
feels part of the SDLP family.

Membership should no longer be mediated solely
though geographical branches.

We made the mistake before of missing a
generation by failing to mentor young members and
young candidates, by failing in succession planning at
many levels, and we are paying dearly for it now.

Most important of all, I would ask the organisational
commission to bring forward early proposals for a
permanent mechanism of consultation with all

From my perspective this must involve a weekly
programme of leadership visits to constituencies and
branches combined with every available form of
communications technology.

As a priority I will ask the Task Force to bring forward
best-practice proposals for internal party discipline at all

We need everyone pulling on the same rope in the
same direction and I believe a collective leadership will be
better placed to improve discipline.
The special conference is going to have some difficult
choices to make.

The Task Force may have to pose the question – does
the local party have an absolute right to select a
losing ticket? – and the special conference, in the
context of Collective Leadership, may have to
answer it.

But I am absolutely determined that decisions
such as these will not be made in the mouth of the
The SDLP is going to be prepared and battle-ready at
all times.

We will have made our choices long before the date
of an election.
Our candidates will be known well in advance and
be promoted as party representatives with
appropriate party resources and backing.

That is how winning parties do it.
That is how we are going to do it.

There are other things we must do in the first 100 days
to signal that we are back in business.
This Party will organise a conference on the economy.
It’s important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we have established a track record in recent
years, with the help of our policy team, producing well-
written policy papers which have won praise from
economists and other commentators and not a
little imitation from our political opponents.

Secondly, there is no other source of political leadership
on economic issues in the north at a time when so
many people in business, in trade unions and in the
community and voluntary sector are crying out for a
strong lead.

But the most important reason is that we are Social
Democrats and we must produce a Social
Democratic response to what is happening – or more
accurately not happening – in our economy and our
political system.

Our economy is now in the grip of a Tory orthodoxy
which would not give the time of day to social
democratic notions of shielding the most

Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein will contest that

They have no intention of putting it up to the
Chancellor as Alex Salmond has done in Scotland.

The Tory plan is simple – squeeze the expenditure
side and devolve the cuts.

Sinn Fein and the DUP are now just bailiffs for the
absentee landlords in the Treasury.

There are cuts coming down the line the likes of which we
have not seen for many a year.
Cuts in jobs, cuts in schools, cuts in hospitals.

Sinn Fein and the DUP have no plan except to blame
each other, London, or both if it suits them.

As Social Democrats we reject the notion that we can
cut our way out of a recession.

As Social Democrats we reject the notion that
providing jobs is always and only the business of the
private sector, that the economy and society are
somehow separate worlds.

Now is the time to put forward our own Economic
Now is the time to say that clever government spending
can be used to boost the economy, to protect existing
jobs and create new ones.

Now is the time to say that it is bad economics to push
our most vulnerable people into further financial pain.

Not because we think the DUP and Sinn Fein will
understand us, never mind heed us.

Not because we believe the Treasury would let them do
these things even if they wanted to.

But because it is our job to make some sort of sense
out of what is happening, to explain to people, to hard-
working families, to businesses struggling to
keep their heads above water, that it doesn’t have to
be like this, that there is another way, a better way.

And we have identified another way.
That’s what Social Democrats do, and that is
why the SDLP will be holding this Special
Economic Conference as soon as possible.

The other thing we will do within 100 days is to start to
put our fund-raising onto a rational and sustainable

The day of the big political donor is over, and state
funding alone will not be our salvation.

In this, as in so many other areas, I want to see us
returning to the democratic principles of voluntary effort,
devolving fund-raising along with general control of this
party to the ordinary members.

But we face immediate financial pressures and I
intend to do something about that in the first
hundred days.
There was a good opportunity this week.

A few days ago my odds at the bookies lengthened as I
had predicted they would, and, as a joke, I suggested
to the Chief Executive that he should gather up every
pound he could find and bring it round to Paddy
I will be reminding him later of what he could have won.

Friends, delegates,
Even as we struggle with daily political and
organisational pressures.
Even as we work hard for our recovery.
We must never forget why we are here – why we are
doing it all.

The vision of the founding fathers of the SDLP was of
a reconciled people living in a united, just and
prosperous New Ireland.

That is our vision too, but it is not just some pious
aspiration for a distant future.

It is a place we firmly intend to go, where I intend to lead
Our journey has already begun.
Now it’s about how we will we get there?
It took the SDLP 30 years to achieve our primary aim of
an Agreed Ireland, to stop the killing and stop the
constitutional stalemate and its sectarian underpinning
from poisoning the whole political atmosphere.

That was a long and painful journey, often appearing to
have no end.
But it did achieve an Agreed Ireland.
But now our Agreed Ireland has been reduced to an
Agreed Agenda for every Executive meeting, agreed
beforehand between Sinn Fein and the DUP,
Themselves Alone.

This is Wolfe Tone’s worst nightmare, a government of
Catholics and Protestants but absolutely no

Its greatest achievement and highest aspiration is what
they like to call the Social Investment Fund, which
Alex Attwood correctly characterised as a political
slush fund.

£80 million of badly needed funding, which could do so
much good, but will be doled out in slices to
favoured, compliant community groupings on
each side of the divide, a million pounds for your side
of the house, a million for mine over here.
My friends,
We will not live indefinitely in this political dead end.
The other bit of the Agreed Ireland, the bit that Sinn Fein
prefers not to talk about, is the Principle of Consent
which they too signed up to.

In a nutshell, we can only get rid of partition when a
majority of voters in the north agree.
That means the greatest political currency in this
debate is persuasion.
It means we must persuade for unity.

And who is to be persuaded?
Well, it must be unionists, mustn’t it?
There is certainly not much point heading off to London
to tell the British government to be a persuader for unity,
as others have done.

There is certainly not much point convening the Irish
Diaspora in New York for unity.

So who are the qualified persuaders? They certainly
will not be those who found themselves confronted daily
with their ugly past during the Presidential election.
No – this is a job for the SDLP.

And along the way we will not be trying to turn
unionists into nationalists.

We have created, and will continue to nurture, an
atmosphere where it is possible to sit down with
many strands of unionism and tease out where their
best long-term interests lie.

We have been doing a little of this in South Belfast and elsewhere and the debate, private and considered, is very promising.

We must now spell out what a united and New Ireland might actually look like.

Look at what our policy document says:

“We believe that all the rights, protections and inclusion that nationalists have sought within Northern Ireland while it is in the United Kingdom must equally be guaranteed to unionists within a New Ireland.”

Not many unionists know that is our position. Actually, not many nationalists know it either. The time has now come to sell our vision actively, north and south.

SDLP proposals for a Forum on Irish Unity which we developed after the 2007 election were basically side-tracked by the economic downturn and the financial crisis in the south.

Under my leadership they would be given the highest priority again.

Not least because they are of immediate relevance for the political direction which devolved government in the north must take over the next decade.
Based on our longstanding co-operation with all the parties of democratic nationalism I will seek to sign up partners for unity based clearly on the principle of consent and the practice of persuasion.

Ahead of us looms 2016, when two important events will take place.

Firstly, there will be a great effort by those who seek to revise and rewrite our recent history -to sweep murder under the carpet – finally and forever. They will not succeed.

Their effort is of course already under way, but there is plenty of evidence that victims and indeed the broad electorate in the south are not going to buy it, now or in the future.

The second event will be the Assembly elections, which I believe will be a turning point for this party, for the Assembly and indeed for the north as a viable political, economic and administrative entity.

By then I believe that the narrow two-party Politics of the squeezed Block Grant will be showing signs of extreme stress. It will be increasingly petty, increasing sectarian and increasingly hopeless for all our people.

But by then I believe the SDLP will be a fully battle-ready electoral machine with an already proven track record of activism on the ground and in councils across the north.

By then we will have pencilled in the contours of a new, united Ireland.

We will have engaged with a wide range of opinion in the north and in the south.
We will have listed the obstacles to unity and set them against the incentives. We will have better explored the potential of an all-island economy and of bringing all our public services together.

When Block Grant Politics finally hits the buffers, we will have explored the alternative – and presented it to the electorate. The major roadblock on the road to a New Ireland is the electoral weakness of the SDLP.
Let us first cure that, You and Me, and we can continue our journey to a New Ireland.

  • hugodecat

    Having briefly lived the the GP,MP,MLA’s constituency I wrote to him twice on local issues and have as yet 4 years on to receive a response. (too busy with his snout in too many troughs I think), his sulks over boundary changes and bull headed refusal to pick up on the mood of the electorate were always worrying . Now as leader he seems to want to add terrible public speaking and zero charisma to his particular skill set.

    It seems the SDLP have jumped ahead of the UUP in their race to oblivion

  • South Belfast Hack

    McDonnell is better than that speech, what exactly went wrong I’m not sure, but we are 2 and a half years out from the next election so it’s hardly a terminal blow.

  • Stephen Blacker

    Few people would deny that the Doc was emotional but this is politics and one of his biggest moments to make an impression was an unmitigated disaster. Talk about giving your opponents a stick to beat you with.

    I feel for the hard workers in the SDLP and the 3 other runners for the Leadership must have been wondering how bad they are when this man beat them.

    The SDLP had an up hill task in getting votes back in their corner, this speech has given them an up mountain task.

  • Michael Shilliday

    I haven’t seen this seemingly terrible speech, but the one proper opportunity I have had to see McDonnell in a seat piece situation was the Hearts & Minds interviews he and Ritchie gave separately at the last SDLP leadership election. They were both absolutely awful. McDonnell has some very good and very experienced people at his beckon call, so not being up to standard is really unforgivable at this stage, but wilfully ignoring all and any advice is something many people in my own party have perfected over the years, so he is hardly alone here. SBH is right in the sense that he has time to the next election, but party politics doesn’t necessarily work to that timetable, as IDS can tell you.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I have not seen the speech either, Politics Show doesn’t seem to be on iplayer.

    I am not quite sure that his leadership is going to die in its first hours because of one very bad speech. McDonnell does have a reputation for being caustic and abrasive. The SDLP electorate who voted him in will have known that. It sounds extremely premature to be arguing that they did not know what they were going to be getting.

    As for the part about how “emotional” McD was .. I’m not sure I buy it, it looks a bit hammed up to me. He has been trying to take over control of the SDLP for quite a few years now, I really don’t buy the idea that he couldn’t believe when he finally did it.

  • Stephen Blacker

    The speech should appear here soon.

  • DC
  • Stephen Blacker

    The always alert Slugger stalwart Eamonn Mallie has posted this audio boo of the New Leader of the SDLP – Not for faint-hearted SDLP members

  • Nunoftheabove

    LOL. Bloody bleeding bloody lovin’ it. The speech, that is. And the election. And verily the coffee was plentifully creameth unto us.

    Entitlement, self-pity, self-righteousness, self-loathing – sure ’tis all there in bleeding bloody shovels.

    “Quick man, cling tenaciously to my buttocks” ~

    Powdered Toast Man

  • Abu Mikhail74

    I’d love to claim this as my own but I can’t! A poster on Mallie’s blog has him as leader of Switch Down Lights Party. Comedy gold!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Switch Down Lights Party, yet another acronym for the file 🙂

    I’ve heard the speech now thanks to Eamonn Mallie’s recording, linked above. The text of the speech was pretty good, I thought. It’s the delivery that killed it. During one of the three occasions throughout where McDonnell complained about the lights, he also added “I don’t need that” – coupled with the rather listless delivery, sounding as if he had just done a one mile sprint, I was left with the impression that he was rather pissed off. Someone is going to get it in the neck backstage.

    Fairly clear to me that McD did not rehearse the speech, or otherwise do any preparation at all, before he walked out there to deliver it. That’s just careless.

    However all that aside, I still think it’s going too far to say that the speech has killed the party. Let’s see what he is able to get done over the next few weeks.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    It was not a great speech, but very poorly delivered.

    I dont believe these reports that the SDLP are somehow disappointed by McDonnell’s election – they elected him.

    This is what they wanted.

    He sounds like a tired priest or teacher.

    It remains to be seens if he can become a good leader for the SDLP.

  • chewnicked

    Cringeworthy stuff -meandering, aimless,hesitant, unrehearsed and careless. Who was meant to be advising the new leader on media issues-Was it McKinney?

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    Is it possible he couldnt see the auto cue and was actually taking out of his standing?

  • Obelisk

    ‘That was party political broadcast on behalf of Sinn Fein’.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Not sure, Eddie. People have been speaking presumably at the same lectern all weekend.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    One thing I have to say however, is that having listened to it twice now – I cant hear the message.

    I still have no idea what Alasdair McDonnell or the SDLP is for.

    It is a handful of clear aims which the SDLP lacks, not policies or ‘principles’ – constantly they harp on about founding principles etc – but what are they!?

    Any chance of Patsy McGlone taking a jump and founding a real Irish nationalist party now?

  • Nunoftheabove

    “He sounds like a tired priest or teacher”.

    – Got the job he was born for then.

    “Jam-packed with Vitamin F” 🙂

  • Abu Mikhail74

    I’ve listened to the speech now too and it’s dire. Not casting aspersions but was Alasdair up late celebrating? He can surely do better than that, right? Um, right? He needs to. Adams is no Cicero either, but good god he’ll murder Dr. Al in a debate.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Adams does not do debates. Neither does Dr Al.

  • Banjaxed

    The longest suicide speech in the history of the SDLP and the Samaritans were asleep!

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    ok – what do McDonnell loyalists and staunch SDLPers think?

    Lets hear the defence!

  • “Someone is going to get it in the neck backstage.”

    I’d hope so, CS, the lighting cock-up seemed to have disorientated him. I agree with the main thrust of your comments.

  • Nunoftheabove

    With Herr Doktorr’s traffic warden temperament and pube-witheringly leaden delivery, Southern Santa might be minded to make some form of come-back in the immediate re-election period. If the Bearded non-Provisional hits the right hot spots it’s not inconceivable that Bulky Al really goes into one, blurting out something not unlike..

    “JESUS CHRIST….If you see a lovely field with a family having a picnic, and there’s a nice pond in it, you fill in the pond with concrete, you plough the family into the field, you blow up the tree, and use the leaves to make a dress for your wife who’s also your brother. JESUS CHRIST”.

  • Mick Fealty

    The best I have is that there were difficulties with auto cues all weekend, but the lights for one of the cameras obliterated the autocue text completely. Big loss of one of the few occasions a party gets to talk uninterrupted to the people. Their only friendly factor is the total whiteout of The MTV awards tonight in Belfast.

    We could be friendly as say this is indicative of a new wine bursting old bottles. Or, as Martina Purdy has already noted, the great leader has already given his foot two barrel loads.

    There were 3.5k members of the SDLP last year in Newcastle. Now there are just 2.5k. The more the party demonstrates such poor instinct for public perception, the less likely it is to be able to arrest that decline.

    For all that, it is the long term that matters, not just the stumble on the way out of the traps.

  • “Patrick Murphy’s taunting remark”

    I’ve responded to Patrick’s analysis on another thread; he sounds like an old fashioned Irish nationalist – it’s all the Brits fault – with his ‘it is simply a case of Britain once again using sectarianism to retain political influence in Ireland’.

    By the way, it’s Alasdair McDonnell and I think you meant adversity rather than adversary.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There wont be a word about it in a few days time. Obviously hurt by technical problems. So its a missed opportunity to make a speech, but if anyone thinks the SDLP’s future is going to built on speeches, they’re deluded. 3 years to make an impact and it will be actions that matter.

    There…….how’d I do.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    The real mystery is how the party of Hume and Mallon could have fallen to such a dim succession of nonentities. Hume was full of himself, sure, but a hell of a speaker, and Mallon? There’s a picture of him beside the word ‘gravitas’ in the dictionary. He was like a white Morgan Freeman. And after them we had, Durkan, Ritchie, Dr. Al. Sweet Jesus.

  • “The real mystery is how the party of Hume and Mallon could have fallen to such a dim succession of nonentities”

    AM74, did Hume act like an old fashioned Catholic bishop and fail to build a team? It’s been reported that, at times, he even kept Mallon in the dark. Did London and Dublin appeasement seriously damage the SDLP-APNI-UUP spectrum?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Abu, I think you answered your own question. As Nevin suggests, Hume held on and ran the party as a personal fiefdom. He refused/failed to prepare anyone to take the reins from him later on; and he resigned as leader just as the party began to wilt under serious electoral pressure from SF.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think that the reality is that the SDLP leadership left at a time when the second tier had had little time to build up a proven track record. Under direct rule you only hadthe opportunity to have 2 or 3 figureheads. That has been exasperated by the facgt that in recent years there has only been room for one Minister.

    If Gerry Adams and Martin MCGuinness were to leave Sinn Fein in the next four or five years, the second tier of O’Dowd, Gildernew, Murphy etc will have had considerable time to build up a record. It still wouldnt exactly be easy for them.

  • Mick Fealty

    It would nice to think someone from the SDLP would come and put their side of the story.

  • john

    Reading Micks post the speech doesnt seem that bad but obviously the problem was in the delivery together with some tech problems – anyone got a link for the audio

  • BluesJazz

    Laughed at the live speech when reading the papers this morning, apart from the amateur delivery it reminded me of this classic:


    The video of Al’s speech is cringeworthy because of the audience of nonentities clapping. More like a wake than a celebration.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    This thing about problems with autocues is the SDLP all over. I’m not sure if Lucilita Bhreatnach is still organising SF Ard Fheisena but when she was the bloody autocues minded their effing manners and wouldn’t have dared misbehave.

    Politics at this level is about good organisation, ni más ni menos. It just takes a group of people who’ll stay out of the pub long enough to fix whatever problems they encounter. The Lights Down Party (lovin’ that new name!) has always lacked that element.

    The 1st poster on here, hugodecat, was complaining about McD not responding to two letters- that’s not because Dr. Al is a horrible uncaring disgrace for a human being who views his constituents as annoying peasants, it’s because he had no one in his office that could be trusted not to sit on the letters, use them to balance the table or to line the cat’s basket. Send a letter to a shinner office, hugo, and see if they ever leave you alone.

    I had a front row seat to Brid Rogers’ quixotic tilt at West Tyrone ten years ago: floating off the bus at Strabane like an animated Therése of Lisieux but narry a clue where she was supposed to go to speak and with her campaign manager picking bits of eggshell out of his ear courtesy of the local kids. I can only repeat what Pat Doherty said later about her campaign: “the miracle was that the wheels on her battlebus didn’t go flying off down the road”.

    The shame of it is that the SDLP, alone of the northern parties, has been right far more times than its been wrong. But being right is not enough, lads. Now turn those bloody lights down, I can’t see to type.

    ps. It was the Fir Trees Hotel, Bríd, and I’m sorry I didn’t help you out, but I think you got there eventually.

  • Framer

    With £105,265 for staff salaries from Westminster and £66,968 for support staff salaries from Stormont you’d think one of Al’s half dozen paid employees could have drafted a decent winners speech.

  • Alias

    Oratory is overrated as a political virtue. There are no great orators in Irish politics. The last great Irish statesman died in 1975; and without statesmen, oratory is just snake oil.

    If folks were expecting Emmet, Grattan, Wolfe Tone, O’Connell, or Parnell to give a speech then I can understand why they would now be disappointed but let’s have a sense of reality about it…

    You’re not going to find an Obama in such a small region even if you think you’re ‘entitled’ to one…

  • UlsterScotty

    As someone sympathetic to the only Ulster Scot in the SDLP’s leadership race, I take a kindlier view of the man they call the Doctor.
    About that speech.
    He called nobody “scum”, he hadn’t any cards prominently displayed saying “World’s Best Dad” and did no property deals with dodgy developers nor did he have to apologise to anyone for the murder of their loved ones by his “comrades”.
    A bit of technology failed.
    I for one have never heard of that happening before.
    Go figure.
    Political leader makes one substandard speech and his 30 year career is over.
    Beam me up.

  • mick mccann

    Woeful speech, woeful delivery.

    Very difficult to watch. Indicative of where the SDLP finds itself – time for a new all-ireland party to sweep up those who had voted SDLP/FF and who have drifted elsewhere or who stay at home at election time. Need new people at the helm though.

    Dr Al will sign the SDLP’s death certificate.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    To Hutz and Stalin,
    good analysis lads. I think Hutz puts it best. An egregious failure from Hume and Mallon and one that Gerry and Martin seem to have learned from. The long game, ey?
    oratory is not overated, and we do have a fine orator on La Isla. Pearse Doherty (not to your taste, I’m sure) is a tremendous speaker, especially to smaller groups. I’ve heard him myself and if ever I had a “watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken” moment it was that night. Next leader of SF, so go down to Paddy Power while the odds are good.

  • iluvni

    “We need to hit the ground running”

  • As Mick pointed out the lights were hitting the autocue which was the problem.
    I watched it thinking it had been written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant it was sooo cringeworthy.
    Very poor indeed and yes i’d say there will be a few booted jacksies backstage after thon car crash.
    An inauspicious start

  • carnmoney.guy

    while everyone is sniggering……………
    some great lines there to build upon, the sweeping murder under the carpet, think that many Catholic voters feel that Sinn Fein are taking the pee with their choice of political advisors and the scrutiny with which the southern media put teflon Martin under could be repeated in the North.
    The bailiffs for the absentee landlords, superb, like a line from Anthony McIntyre that one.
    Are SDLP gonna get down and dirty with the Shinners now?

  • wild turkey

    the speech?

    well not exactly on par with Clintons 1992 presidential debate “I feel your pain”…. but then again why should Alasdair bother?

    having listened to the Eamon Maille feed of the speech ( thanx Eamon) what strikes me is the new leader is a brilliant reader of his audience. he was speaking to a myopic brood of inbred and overhung seals, who are only to glad to to clap their flippers because… well they have flippers to clap… and those flippers were once very important and INTO all kinds of stuff but now…. they’re just clapped out.

  • Comrade Stalin

    think that many Catholic voters feel that Sinn Fein are taking the pee with their choice of political advisors

    No, they don’t.

    and the scrutiny with which the southern media put teflon Martin under could be repeated in the North.

    Immaterial to SF voters in NI.

    The bailiffs for the absentee landlords, superb, like a line from Anthony McIntyre that one.
    Are SDLP gonna get down and dirty with the Shinners now?

    Negative campaigning won’t work for the SDLP in the absence of something positive.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Well I haven’t seen it and I’ll take it is read the delivery was dreadful. Content however looks fine.

  • Gopher

    I think the Alliance party will be going from strength to strength now on the back of this. Absolutely no change from the SDLP they just can’t and never will get it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Gopher, there is a potential cloud on the horizon for Alliance if the UUP and SDLP decide to leave the executive. The party will have to work hard to avoid the perception that it is merely a patsy for the dominating DUP and SF influence there.

  • the wrong side of 40

    On saturday evening I was delighted with the result when I heard it, I sat down to watch his speech and there’s no denying it was a grim start. It is very unfortunate that he was unable to give the kind of speech that he did on Friday. At the last Hustings he rightly recieved great praise from all those that are now damning him including Martina Purday and Eamon Mallie.

    People should not though jump to any quick conclusions, I understand that for large parts of his speech he could make out only very small parts of what was on screen and for other chunks none of it all. The problem was that this was the set piece opportunity, live on Inside Politics. Had that not been the case he or his press officers would have stopped it, sorted out the offending lights and simply started again – the public would not have been any wiser, many such set pieces take a couple of takes.

    But the damage is done, he has to move on and he will. Today`s problems are systematic of why Big Al his now in charge. He is leader because he has promised a wake up call, a “kick up the arse” to every area of the party – got knows they need. I still believe he is the man to do, if he and his team didn`t know that before lunchtime today, they do now.

    I saw his literature and there was an emphasis on the first 100 days, I would say that after that is when we can pass an initial judgement not after 1 occasion when the technical gremlins conspired aginst him.

  • Lionel Hutz

    ok, watching now

  • Cynic2

  • FuturePhysicist

    So it wasn’t the greatest speech in the world, I don’t see many of the SDLP rivals doing better. Snarky comments, but from the heart … no MLA stands immune, not even the Alliance (particularly David Ford).

    McDonnell’s strength is his presence on the ground, his speechs on the relevant stuff such as economics was intelligent, coherent, radical as oppose to sloppy soundbites that other politicians, from all parties resort to.

    People aren’t looking for what the media calls “charisma” anymore, they are not impressed by politicans promising utopia, implementing dystopia. The young shunned the personality politics of Eammon McCann’s PbP and other groups as a parties of protest, but to stay at home. The rural vote in the SDLP declined simply because people weren’t there who listened to people who had more reason to feel bitter than most politicians or journalists.

    People want to see People on the ground, not Promises from the Pulpit. McDonnell will get the feet on the pavements.

  • Much much better on GMU and Big Al had the quick thinking to contradict Conor several times and put him right.

    Less good in the Irish News report “Was this the worst maiden speech by a new party leader ever” which closes with a paragraph saying that Conall McDevitt is already being talked about as the new party leader*. No , this piece isn’t written by Conall himself but by Diana Rusk who I expect will get short shrift from Big Al the next time they meet.

    Even the Irish News leader is lacklustre and cautious and it is left to Tom Kelly unsuprisingly to roll out the red carpet for a “deserving” Alisdair. Looks like the Irish News have definitely definitely decided to nail two flags to their mast.

    But who’s got the password for the SDLP website aand not releasing, it is still to be updated even with the speech!

    *Classic almost reminiscent of when John Major stood up in the House as PM for the first time, and before he had uttered a single word Dennis Skinner had shouted “Resign”.

  • the wrong side of 40

    The papers will make for a bit of uncomfortable reading this morning, but the story will pass.

    I see in the Irish News there is reference to the lack of “Big Al T-shirts, badges and ballons” I know that Patsy and Conall went down that line and fair enough, but ultimately it didn`t work for them. Both Alex and Al did not go down that overt branded line. I think it was a very conscious decision for both of those campaign teams.

    Despite the bad headline, a key point of the piece was “For party members the real shame was that his speech on Friday was such a blinder that it might have been the final element that convinced the SDLP that he was the man for the job.” I wasn`t there but from all accounts it was a fantastic performance.

    I`m sure that given the character of the man he will bounce back quickly and put this behind him.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    It was a rubbish start but he has bags of time to recover. One advantage of having had such a total ‘mare at he beginning, is that, like the Gunners in Sept., he can only improve, and be seen to improve, since he’s set the bar so nice and pygmy-height for himself (unless he has nunoftheabove write his next speech; that was brilliant, nun, btw).

    FuturePhys is right in that the content was generally good, ‘though I’m not sure that saying his SDLP rivals couldn’t’ve done better is much praise: cf. my earlier post on Hume/Morgan Freeman/Mallon.

    But Phys, ‘people aren’t looking for what the media calls “charisma” anymore’. That smacks a wee bit of the thinking that is wishful. It’s like when I tell myself every spring that pretty women are tired of tall, rich, handsome men and are ready to appreciate ugly, poor, shortarses like myself.

    I’m still waiting…

  • Neil

    After Ritchie he’s gonna come across like the Fonz regardless of what he does. I would imagine the SDLP’s fortunes will improve under Al.

  • Mick Fealty

    You should look back on my twitter feed for Patrick murphy’s column on Saturday. Yep, you need presence, and charisma. If you don’t no one will hear you (which is the core of Feeny s criticism of Attwood).

    But it is not enough. You need ideas that chime with your values (otherwise you are likely to lose your political thread), but also with people who you want to represent (the lack which perfectly illustrated in your Brid-in-Strabane story).

    Ive just heard Al on Talkback swiping away a complaint from a constituent in SB who made the mistake of suggesting big Al had not canvassed in his street.

    The ‘New Leader’ took his time to say he had canvassed every street in S Belfast, to open an invitation to (all and sundry) to come along to his office, and talked the caller out of time, finishing with ‘that’s why people tell me I’m the only one who does any work around here’.

    A small example from what must still be a phoney war between himself and SF but he showed an instinct for turning an attack round on the attacker. That’s been a rare occurrence for the party’s too too academic front bench heretofore.

  • Mick Fealty

    Neil, when he jumps the shark I expect you to be the first to report it!

  • J Kelly

    Mick I also heard him on Talkback telling a caller the reason that she didn’t see ANY poppies on TV at the SDLP converance was because the British Legion has politicised and have made the poppy a symbol imperialism and many of his supportters would have difficulty wearing a poppy. The next caller said he wore a poppy at the conference and wasn’t the only one. Then Big Al does a complete U turn and said that there were dozens at the conference wearing poppies and he has no problem with that. He seemed to answering the first thing that came into his head then just changed his mind, good craic if nothing else.

    A question for big Al is, how long has Alex Attwood got left as Minister for the Environment?

  • Mick Fealty

    Agreed on the first.

    On the second, he appears to be buying himself some time. HIs problem, as you have pointed out before is that his party has no corporate presence. His speech reads like that’s the first standing order of the day. Alex is probably safe until the executive has met and hammered it through.

    It’s all academic until that problem of poor collective authority is sorted…

  • Mick Fealty

    He might have made a distinction between poppies on the platform and poppies in the room…

  • On the question of the Poppy, I was conducting a Poppy Watch at the Ramada over the weekend.
    Among the trade/charity stands there were four. Hotel guests of whom there were a few innocent bystanders in the lobby, I saw some including an entire family.
    The only SDLP person I saw wearing one was a discrete metalic one. He is I understand, English.
    Last year the only one I saw was a journalist. I dont recall seeing any journalist wearing one this year. Not even Mr Devenport and Ms Purdy……..yet oddly on the Politics Show yesterday Mr Devenport and Ms Mills were wearing poppies.
    Do TV journos just wear them on air?
    Or is it perceived that a SDLP Conference is not best place to wear them. Would they have been more open at eg UUP Conference?
    In the Hall during the Saturday Victory speech another person with a SDLP Conference ID badge was wearing a paper poppy. I dont know if he was a member or an observer.

    I actually speculated just how many poppies would be on show this year. Thankfully very very few.
    Had it not actually been an Election Conference, there might have been more. Perhaps with the Election out of the way and a week of Poppy Season remaining, some people might come out of the closet.

  • “Do TV journos just wear them on air?”

    They’re all digitally imposed

  • “And who is to be persuaded?
    Well, it must be unionists, mustn’t it?
    There is certainly not much point heading off to London
    to tell the British government to be a persuader for unity,
    as others have done.” .. Alasdair

    It’s interesting to set this comment by Gerard Murray in his book “John Hume and the SDLP” alongside Alasdair’s claim:

    The SDLP adopted a strategy that the British Government should join, ‘the ranks of the persuaders’ in helping Unionists see the, ‘value and safety’ of agreeing to a new relationship with the rest of Ireland. This was a strategy Sinn Féin adopted reluctantly and in time learned from the SDLP.

    The alleged SDLP strategy was rejected by John Major:

    What is not in the [1993 Downing Street] declaration is any suggestion that the British Government should join the ranks of persuaders of the “value” or “legitimacy” of a united Ireland ; that is not there.

  • J Kelly

    Wearing of poppies seem to be mandatory now on TV and britain is a democracy….

  • BluesJazz

    Robert Fisk has ignited the annual debate on TV poppies:


    The contestants on the X Factor all had shiny big ones with glitter on them which just looked ghastly.

  • Well there was a certain irony in BBC reporting the sensible decision by Poundland (?) that wearing poppies should be at the discretion of employees. Is that the case in the BBC itself?
    In all honesty……..while Hell would freeze over before I wear one……I dont have any problem with anyone wearing one.
    But the SDLP has to take a stand that it cant wear one in the politicised environment that the “Royal” British Legion bestows on it.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I think the ones that now apparently have to be ironed on to football shirts now I find particularly tacky.

  • Alasdair seems a bit confused between the SDLP’s role as a social democratic party:

    “But the most important reason is that we are Social
    Democrats and we must produce a Social
    Democratic response to what is happening – or more
    accurately not happening – in our economy and our
    political system.

    Our economy is now in the grip of a Tory orthodoxy
    which would not give the time of day to social
    democratic notions of shielding the most
    … Alasdair 1

    and that of an Irish nationalist party:

    The time has now come to sell our vision actively, north
    and south.

    SDLP proposals for a Forum on Irish Unity which
    we developed after the 2007 election were basically side-
    tracked by the economic downturn and the financial
    crisis in the south.

    Under my leadership they would be given the highest
    priority again.
    .. Alasdair 2

    So exactly which is his top priority?

  • AGlassOfHine

    How dare footballers,who play in the English Leagues,wear poppies on their shirts ?
    Have they no consideration for the sensitivities of our nationalist friends ?
    How very dare journalists who work for the British Broadcasting Corporation,do likewise ?
    I mean to say,it’s getting to the stage where our nationalist friends will refuse to accept money,with the image of Her Majesty printed on it……………

    New republic of ireland President,Mr Higgins
    should wear a poppy with pride,to honour and remember the brave irish soldiers who fought for the British Army in Two World Wars.
    Wouldn’t that set our narrow minded,nationalist friends,a fine example ?

  • BluesJazz

    like the footballers, or x factor contestants give a shit.

    The embedded/ironed poppy on a football shirt demeans it to the level of wearing a snowman on the shirt over xmas.

    It should be a voluntary act of remembrance and charity, not an enforced fashion symbol. One contestant had her ‘poppy’ on a (faux) diamond armband on x factor.

    People respect honest valued symbolism, not crass debasement.
    Maybe Fisk was right in that regard. Those who wear it in earnest are a different category.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Indeed. It seems to me likely that there are a great numbers of people who choose not to wear poppies – for a whole variety of reasons – who have a greater sense of why those conflicts took place and what is – or should be – being remembered, just as there are large numbers of clueless crass berks and chavs who do wear it for reasons they cannot explain beyond some form of vulgar, ill-informed and misplaced sense of British – occasionally more specifically English – patriotism.

    I object to the aggregation of the two world wars at this time of year. There is of course an obvious common denominator – huge scale loss of young life – but the righteousness of the two causes can and should be argued about more and the poppy for me conflates the two in a way I’m uncomfortable with, likewise the deference to the notion that it was monarchy which was fought and died for and over – that just feels demeaning to me no matter how we position those individuals as mere symbols of something else…..where’s the self-respect in that ?

    To many also of course the manner of the remembrance is discomforting too – and seems to many over the line of – albeit somber – military victory rather than onside purely of human remembrance but again that’s all about perception and merits sensible argument. I do also wonder why more do not question why the fund-raising need go on; surely a decent level of medical and financial provision to those injured and the bereaved families would be a more fitting tribute to what was, as we’re often told, fought and died for, than coloured paper poppies and tin-rattling once a year which must surely serve as a reminder of how inadequate that provision was and presumably remains ?

  • FuturePhysicist

    But Phys, ‘people aren’t looking for what the media calls “charisma” anymore’. That smacks a wee bit of the thinking that is wishful. It’s like when I tell myself every spring that pretty women are tired of tall, rich, handsome men and are ready to appreciate ugly, poor, shortarses like myself.

    I’m still waiting…

    My personal wish is there isn’t that much emphasis on charisma yes. When people look to charisma instead of intelligence to solve political problems it only leads one way.

    > Fascism, the pinnacle of personality politics.

    I do think a few journalists here are of that school of thought.

    Humanity should be grateful to those who don’t have the simple attention seeking persona but can actually “do things” A personality can only go so far.

    With regard to Alisdair’s abrasiveness, has it ever occurred to you that that indeed may be why people like him, people like stern politics, it’s the hallmark of many successful politicians.

    Tony Blair and Berty Ahern were both media darlings in office, would you honestly find a journalist here today to back them up now?