SDLP Conference: Change can only come from the bottom up…

Comrade Stalin in the comments under Alan’s makes a reasonable point about the SDLP’s belated talk of opposition, given that party’s rather rigid come-what-may espousal of a settlement that crowds out any oppositionist voice.

Yet this is what happens the democratic world over when parties change their leadership. The change of personnel gives them latitude to change direction. For my part its inclusion in Kelly’s speech was an smart move on their part:

  • One, it’s flying a kite, not policy.
  • Two, it’s not the leader who’s advocating it, so individuals within the party are not yet forced to choose between their own sense of survival and the need to create a space to grow into in the future.
  • Three, it’s keeping any future departure conditional on some as yet unmet aspect of the public interest. This is what was missing from John McCallister’s campaign, which elevated departure to the level of single strand strategy.
  • Four, it allows the parties Councillors, MLAs and MPs to sample reaction from constituents long before any such plan of action is decided upon or abandoned. Think Reg’s premature engagement to the Tories before anyone in his party even knew.

The fact that the issue has made its way from ‘let’s not talk about that right now’ last year to the deputy leader’s speech (with virtually no spoilers in the media) in less than 12 months is, as Alan puts it in his is title, an encouraging sign of life.

Comrade Stalin raises the question of reform:

They are the chief architects of the system of government which among other things severely penalizes those who choose not to participate in the election. This was designed, at the time, to restrain wrecker parties such as the DUP (back then) but it works equally well to exclude anyone else who decides to take their chances.

It is, furthermore, a double irony because the SDLP are here again committing themselves to a refusal to consider reforming the institutions which act to marginalize them.

It’s an important qualifier  to the context at least. But it is not immediately obvious to me that Kelly is knocking reform completely out of the park.  It’s also not apparent what reforms are required, or how one would sustainably build a future coalition with sufficient nationalist ballast to anchor it.

Launching an initiative on reform of the institutions at this point, I would suggest, is neither necessary nor useful. The larger task is to start building a bottom up coalition for change. As Sinn Fein have discovered, the British government is no longer willing just to dump nice stuff in people’s laps.

In the old mantra, if you want change, you’re going to need a mandate for it.

I’m told the leader’s speech will be worth listening to this pm. If only for the sense that he’s got some control over the technology as well as then reigns of his party.

McDonnell may be a dull leader. But perhaps he can bring sufficient stability in order for the party to gather its wits, he may still be able to do it some small service.

FJH has said on his blog that they have had a good autumn. I’d agree with that. I’d only add that it’s been good mostly because they’ve stumbled upon some half decent power plays, like the motion of censure of Nelson McCausland.

I wouldn’t sniff at it however. That’s the difference between a party looking for a fight and one that’s been scared of one for most of the time since the ink dried on the Belfast Agreement.

But to win political battles rather than skirmishes, it needs to pick the particular fights that create the maximal space for future growth. We may or may not get some hints in the leaders.

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