SDLP yet to choose its candidate, but the clock is ticking…

Tom Kelly Irish News columnTom Kelly asks, after the bloodless coup of south Belfast (which he attributes to speed and accommodation), the glaring gap in the SDLP’s defences is the European Parliament elections next year.

Less than a year to go, and both Sinn Fein and the DUP have been getting their candidates settled in to their relatively new positions.

Diane Dodds has been meeting small groups of farmers all over Northern Ireland and providing workshops for people on how to access support. For her part, Martina Anderson is road tripping, with no constituency too marginal to get an appearance in the local press.

Euro are difficult for parties. The subject matter of Europe is important but dry and bureaucratic. The constituency is massive, and impossible to get around the people who care most about it in the space of just six weeks.

Add to that the fact that most media outlets don’t have the time or the bandwidth to examine the records of incumbents, and the fact that Stormont politics is all but politically inert and nothing replaces effectiveness of a good ground war war campaigns.

The SDLP already starts down with no European incumbent. So the time for choosing a candidate who will have the possibility of developing an effective campaign that gives all of the parties local operations a realistic object to aim for is running short.

Tom hints that they could be about to choose a ringer from the party’s aristocratic gene pool. But who would you choose, and what campaign would you run?

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  • Lionel Hutz

    Conall mcDevitt?

  • Drumlins Rock

    It would take an exceptional candidate, a few SF cock ups and ironically a strong unionist turnout to give them the seat back. Maybe they will go for a fresh face like Sharon Haughey? I cant see any of the old faces doing much, even Durkan Sr. Build up a profile for a new face, but pick one who might actually excell under the spotlight. Who knows a surprise “unknown” could even give them the necessary momentum.

    I see in Robbos interview he didn’t rule out a second candidate, but didn’t seem to be pushing the idea either, so the odds are likey to be just Dodds.

  • Big Boss

    Cant see the DUP rocking the boat to much with EU election. They could run two, they could get 2 seats but the mostly likely situation is they would hand a seat to the SDLP. The field is already going to have DUP, UUP, NI21, UKIP, Jamie Bryson, TUV and God knows who else on the Unionisnt side of things. While there will be SDLP, SF on the nationalist while Alliance and Greens battle out the “neutral” ground. Unionism will find it hard enough to manage all that vote.

    On the topic at hand, Yes the SDLP are leaving it far to late to select a candidate, but Id say thats more to dow ith no-one looking to run and bar a return of Mallon, Hume, McGardy, Hendron… They will not get the seat back. Hard to see what candidate would want to go to Europe. If they did have a strong candidate to take on Martina Anderson they could perhaps win something…. but hard to say at this stage if they can do anything,

    If I recall correctly Alban wasnt selected untill late in the day either and only because they party were out of options.

  • son of sam

    Even with an outstanding candidate(not many of those)it still looks like an uphill struggle.Your point about Martina Anderson is well made and no doubt few photo opportunities will be missed by the Sinn Fein press machine.Its not quite clear what Tom Kelly means by the party’s royalty gene pool.

  • Nuala O’Loan – though she would have to take a leave of absence from the Lords if successful at the poll next may.

  • megatron

    Advice from non SDLP supporter;

    1. Accept you won’t win
    2. Select Patsy McGlone
    3. Concenrate on rural constituencies
    4. Harvest rewards at assembly elections

  • Megatron,

    I second ALL of your points & the fact im not an SDLP supporter, nor am i really an SDLP well wisher either. It for me is the new Redmond Nationalist party, it’s about to fade away to oblivion…

    Btw, I’d love there to be an effective second Nat party in the North, shame the Sdlp have shirked that kind of responsibilityfor awhile.


    You’re kidding about McDevitt, right? That would be some massive brass neck if they forwarded someone caught with cash inappropriately, it only ‘resting in his account’ blah blah oink oink oink oink, no?

  • Drumlins Rock

    someone had a sarcasm bypass ^^^^

  • Mick Fealty

    Why would you take an MLA out of their constituency for the guts of a year and put it at risk from three rivals (plus an MP) who won’t be going anywhere anytime soon for a seat you are unlikely to get?

    Better a ringer from outside the current set of reps you have whom you’d like to fast track into the Assembly, no?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Maybe IJP could have a go. Lol. I actually think McDevitt might have been a good choice before his untimely exit. Maybe someone like Claire Hanna would be a good shout. If the plan is to put her in south belfast soon enough, she could do with the exposure.

    And she fits Mr Kelly’s description….

  • Charles_Gould

    Perhaps Claire Hanna; if she is interested. Clearly a rising star, with labour values, and very charismatic.

  • “Euro are difficult for parties. The subject matter of Europe is important but dry and bureaucratic. The constituency is massive, and impossible to get around the people who care most about it in the space of just six weeks.”

    Several mistakes there.

    1. To assume the campaign will only last 6 weeks. Given the size, you need at least 6 months.

    2. You don’t need to get everywhere. 1/3 of your votes will come from your target areas where you already have strong MLAs/councillors/candidates. 2/3 will be a little from every area elsewhere. So a Euro candidate does not have to spend so much time away from their patch.

    3. European issues are not always bureaucratic. Just look at the campaign to set up a sensible Common Fisheries Policies, combining protests from outside lead by the like of Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, with steady committee work by the Greens/EFA group, until all the other political groupings supported it.

  • mjh

    For the DUP it’s about deciding whether to attempt to give the coup-de-gras to the UUP by running a second candidate.

    For the UUP it’s about saving the party by saving their seat.

    For SF it’s about not appearing complacent while Martina coasts home.

    For everyone else it’s about damage limitation.

  • Charles_Gould

    Is anyone here impressed by Martina Anderson?

  • Mick Fealty


    Point one, might be my clumsiness. I was trying to say it is no good appointing someone (as they did last time out) at the very last minute, in time for the official campaign.

  • Mr Gould…No.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The DUP will probably not run two candidates, but they’ve allowed the UUP to believe that they are considering doing so in order to scare them into giving up a few concessions.

    I would speculate that a deal has already been inked between the two parties stipulating that there will be one DUP candidate in the Euros, and that the DUP will stand aside in North Down, in exchange for the UUP standing aside in every other constituency currently held by a DUP MP.

    Regarding the rest of the unionist pitch in the Euros .. it’ll go the way it usually does. Bryson, NI21, Alliance, Greens and so on will get excluded at the end of the first count. There’s only one “unless” there, which is if Alliance run one of their big hitters like Anna Lo or Naomi Long, in which case they could challenge Jim Allister for fifth place. Neither of those two are keen on double jobbing though; Naomi in particular will not want to be seen to be running away from East Belfast.

    There is absolutely no prospect of the SDLP retaking a seat in Europe. If the SDLP were undergoing some kind of resurgence I could see it, but they have been losing votes since 2009. Bryson or whatever other fruitcake candidates will not accumulate enough votes to split the vote. Jim Allister may well do some sort of a deal with the nutters to corner the fruitcake vote for himself.

    I think the SDLP have done remarkably well to maintain the position they are in now. Maybe I’m too boring, but if I was in their shoes (which I am, of course, not) I’d be working on consolidating and defending what I’ve already got, and putting some effort into policy development. In places like South Belfast the SDLP are likely to be facing a direct Alliance threat and that could conceivably spread to North Belfast if the party were able to get their finger out there.

  • JH

    “Is anyone here impressed by Martina Anderson?”

    Or Diane Dodds? Or Jim Nicholson?

    That’s the point.

    Europe, as far as NI voters are concerned, is completely irrelevant but for maybe a few farmers.

    In fact it seems to be the destiny of the underperforming big names of a given party. I’m including the likes of Gay Mitchell here.

    I can declare an interest; my girl works in European politics. There isn’t an MEP from the north who is considered any way mainstream by the elite of the bloated European polity, if they’re known at all.

  • Drumlins Rock

    JH, Jim Nicholson has served two terms as one of six Quaestors elected by members, which certainly shows a degree of respect. He serves on the Agriculture committee currently deciding the future of the CAP. Business assoiciate who have met him are impressed by his depth of knowledge of the workings of Europe,

  • son of sam

    “Is anyone here impressed by Martina Anderson”?
    Yes,the Derry Journal is!Never misses a chance to feature her, courtesy of her dedicated journalist on that paper!

  • JH

    And I’m not knocking any of them DR, the work-rate is generally high for all 3 from what I hear.

    It’s just that from what I can see/hear:
    a) The work goes relatively unrewarded in terms of votes back home and media facetime decreases.
    b) It’s a closed club. No matter how hard you work it’s one big horse trade. Jim’s done well, no question, but I’m sure he’d be the first to say that the doors don’t open for you in Europe like they do for some others.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I remember Martina specifically for claiming that Catholics from Europe were less equal than Catholics from within Ireland.

  • Historically only the Big Four parties have ever won Euro seats. The UUP is now a no-hoper. The SDLP without Hume or Durkan is in the same position. The SDLP would be best off running a celebrity candidate–a former athlete or broadcaster like Mike Nesbitt or Trevor Ringland (I know they aren’t SDLP members). Having a celebrity candidate won’t tarnish any present officeholder with a loss and it will be an opportunity for the SDLP to get free publicity and media attention during the campaign.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think the SDLP is best to field someone with SDLP values to put forward the SDLP message. There are many possible candidates. The SDLP can increase its share of the vote. That must be its aim.

  • Charles_Gould

    Tories: will field McBride?
    NI21: JMcC?
    TUV: not standing.

  • Lionel Hutz

    What the Sdlp need is an increase in their share of the vote. A couple of percentage points would be enough to show momentum starting to build. So there is a massive risk in going outside of a recognized Sdlp candidate.

  • Charles_Gould

    “What the Sdlp need is an increase in their share of the vote. A couple of percentage points would be enough to show momentum starting to build. So there is a massive risk in going outside of a recognized Sdlp candidate.”

    Good point.

  • Sorry DR, your reply got lost in my spam folder (an example of sarcasm). Lionel’s opening remarks is more an example of flippancy while yours, I’m afraid, was an example of indulging in boorishness, something you wallow in all too often.

    If you need any further assistance telling the difference again you just let me know petal (an example of being patronising)…

  • “So there is a massive risk in going outside of a recognized Sdlp candidate.”

    @Lionel, Charles,

    What is the definition of a recognized SDLP candidate? Would a non-politician who is a party member qualify? How about someone who is not a member but who has long voted for the party?

    Btw, I wasn’t suggesting that the SDLP run Nesbitt or Ringland but someone like them from an SDLP background.

  • Charles_Gould


    Jim Allister is an interesting case. Putting aside the fact he left the DUP, he came back from many years out of politics. That sort of thing could work. But I really had in mind an existing politician.

  • Lionel Hutz


    I’m not criticizing you. Lol. I don’t you can define but I would say that having been elected to the assembly or Westminster might have been a basic requirement.

  • Sean Og

    How about them running Frank Carson or Patrick Keilty?

  • Coll Ciotach

    Frank would get the graveyard vote out

  • RegisterForThisSite

    Dana – Catholic, from Derry, has done the job,

    Ann Travers – Catholic, victim, high profile, would get unionist votes to annoy SF

    Or …the party leader himself

  • Big Boss

    Well, it seems ther SDLP have finally got a candidate in the form of Alex Attwood, by virture of being the last man standing after all others have dropped off.

    On the face of it, it can be a smart enough choice for the SDLP. Theres no denying he was a very effective Minister, known by everyone right acrosss the 6 counties, has a good profile among both communites.

    Comapre to his rivals, Anderson, Dodds, Nicholson he is streets ahead in terms of intelligence at least. He is very good in a debate for what its worth and he is also very knowelageble on Europe, more so id say than Maguinness was for the SDLP last time out.

    Downside, not the most charismatic of people, though, again could shine amoung any of his EU rivals. He hasnt the best election record, given the SDLP vote slide in West Belfast.

    Could he squeeze the 3rd seat? Doubtful and it will depend on how fractured the Unionist vote is all those different parties. If this election could stay away from the usual secterian lines, then maybe..just maybe, but I think the SDLP will be happy with raising thier vote % perhaps looking for 17% total.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    How do you know this? Have you a link?

    Ann Travers would also be an interesting choice if she felt so inclined.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alex Attwood is an excellent choice. and will be much better in terms of values than the SF candidate.

    He should see SDLP vote share increase.

  • Charles_Gould

    Exciting to think that Alex Attwood will be the candidate. He is excellent.

    He has sound Labour values.

    He has been a highly effective minister.

    He has a high level of integrity.

    He is articulate and intelligent.

    In short is is everything the other candidate is not.

  • Red Lion

    Can I ask why some think Ann Travers might be an SDLP person? Has this been stated somewhere?

    Would the reluctance from the SDLP in supporting the SPADS Bill put her off the SDLP?

  • paulG


    Aren’t there quite a number of candidates?

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Red Lion,

    Your right, this hasn’t been stated, although she did acknowledge their de facto support in the end and mentioned state forces too as victim makers.


    We know Alex has good and bad points. Probably on balance a sound candidate if not thrilling candidate.

    It may be a good chance for the SDLP to bring a new face into the team for the future by casting the net beyond already elected reps. Now that SF has nailed its colours to the mast the SDLP should be looking for a broad appeal candidate. That may require forward planning and organisation: Two things the SDLP aren’t famous for. Nevertheless, they should view this election as an opportunity to either sneak through in 3rd place (Attwood could possibly pull it off) or accept 4th place promote some new faces.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sounds like a paper candidate to me. Attwood doesn’t want to be in Europe.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alex Attwood is a person of integrity. If he is persuaded by the SDLP that he can best be of help by standing as an MEP he will do so, regardless of what his own personal preferences might be.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Big Boss,

    Impressive insight, it appears you were right about Alex Attwood being the european candidate.