A very public war of words has broken out within the SDLP following Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell’s decision to launch a Save Politicians from Poverty Appeal in his Irish News interview earlier this week. Today, the SDLP Mayor of Lisburn, Brian Heading, has written to the paper strongly criticising his party leader. During his appearance on BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show this morning, Heading inferred that McDonnell owed party members and the general public an apology, whilst also indicating that he had received considerable support from party members this morning for his stance.
In his letter, Heading states:
In the current economic climate of business closures and daily announcements of job losses, the idea of such an increase will be hard to stomach by the electorate…….
I am not aware (according to the declaration of interests provided by MLAs to the assembly) of any MLA likely to be living in ‘poverty’ on their retirement or removal from office by the electorate,” he said.
Brian Heading was firmly in the Alex Attwood camp during the party leadership contest last Autumn and was publicly critical of Alasdair McDonnell’s proposals during that campaign. Given McDonnell’s recent announcement indicating that Attwood’s Ministerial status will be short-lived, this development suggests the internal divisions within the party are far from healed.
UPDATE: Alasdair has struck back, with a somewhat bizarre appeal for all political parties to
stand up against populist media witch hunts and defend the vital democratic principle of decent wages for elected representatives.
On a point of order, said media witchhunt would appear to refer to my posts on Slugger and a letter written by his own party colleague, Brian Heading, prompting a radio interview with Stephen Nolan (who also takes a hit in McDonnell’s statement.)
The remainder of the press statement is below. Take note of the acerbic remarks directed at party colleague, Brian Heading.
Also worth noting is the somewhat unfortunate use of the adjective ‘decent.‘ Perhaps there’s an Ulster Unionist out there who could have a word with Alasdair…..
SDLP Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell called upon all parties to have the courage to stand up against populist media witch hunts and defend the vital democratic principle of decent wages for elected representatives.
Wed 4th January
He said: “All parliaments started out as assemblies of rich men passing laws to suit rich men. When ordinary working people first got the vote, it meant little when they couldn’t actually afford to stand for election.
“It was social democrats who led the struggle for an even playing field.
“The vast array of social protection that we have all over Europe today just would not have happened without representatives being paid. We need to be very careful that our assemblies don’t turn into millionaire clubs again.
“Politics is not a job for life, people should be encouraged to come in and go out.
“It is important that ordinary people should be able to leave their job or trade to spend a period as representatives, and also be able to go back to their previous life without landing in poverty.
“That is why I highlighted the pension issue which in many ways is more important that the actual pay rate.
“There is no room for duck-house style abuses or lavish lifestyles. There is no need to spend vast amounts of money – good representation can be had for a mere fraction of what Stephen Nolan is paid out of our licence fees.
“We in the SDLP stand for decent pay and conditions for all workers including elected representatives and decent social protection for all.
“We know from our everyday contacts just what pressure people are under, but we do not fall for simplistic or populist slogans which don’t solve anyone’s problems.
“Cllr Heading is entitled to his opinion but I think he is wrong. In the face of witch hunt reporting and with so many other politicians keeping their heads down, we need to get our facts right and keep our eye on the vital democratic principle at stake.
“Even if we pay MLAs starvation wages there is no guarantee that the areas of deprivation Cllr Heading is properly focused on will be tackled any better.
“The whole history of social democracy tells us that proper representation properly paid for is the best guarantee of proper legislation and proper social protection.”