Going into conference, direction of travel of the UUP and the SDLP is not great…

Our own Gerry Lynch has details of today’s poll in the BelTel:

Needless to say, after a torid summer in which they were Billy No Mates in the media [same as it ever was – Ed], the DUP is very pleased today. And well they might. BUT (and it’s a big BUT), the sample size suggests that these results should be taken as somewhere in the +/- 6%. That even puts the SDLP’s measly 9% inside any notional margin of error.

So I would not plan anything too substantial by this poll. For Alliance to be 4 points ahead of the SDLP would require a recovery in their fortunes beyond greater Belfast of epic proportions.

An Alliance lead over the UUP is a great deal more plausible, since that party has all but abandoned greater Belfast and largely, though not entirely to Alliance.

Still, I cannot imagine anyone in the SDLP is happy with headlines like this. If nothing else it is a warning of the direction of travel.

A friend in Dublin politics told me if there was one thing he’s learned in politics is that things do not just get better until you hit the real bottom. At which point you have nothing to fight back with.

One of two fates faces the UUP and the SDLP, either one hits the buffers and the other may follow in short order, opening up a new space for other forces to fill it.

Or one wakes up to a concrete mission (and the other follows) and pursues a functional political purpose.

The inclusive nature of government has had a certain soporific effect on all parties, but it’s softly killing those without power faster than those with.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty