When Manley met McDonnell-we now have some criteria for success or failure.

 In today’s Irish News, John Manley has an in-depth interview with the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell. I have in an earlier piece tendered my views on the party’s future prospects and this is the part of the interview that I want to focus on in this piece but the entire interview is worth a read.

In his talk with McDonnell, Manley probed the SDLP leader about his electoral ambitions are for the party under his stewardship. Either it was a moment of brutal honesty or just a slip of the tonge, McDonnell actually put some figures on what he would regard as a successful election for the party. 

When he spoke about how the party would do in the European elections he simply stated that ‘it was in the lap of the gods.’ This statement I interpreted as ‘we really don’t think we have a chance of unseating Martina Anderson.’ Regardless, it was the local elections where he put some concrete goals for the party to meet, as he wants the party to take around 80 seats. He regards winning less than 70 as a failure.

Looking forward to the assembly he believes the party can make gains in places like Fermanagh and South Tyrone, South Antrim and North Antrim. Currently the party has 14 seats and from the interview I assume he wants to get the party to around 16 seats.

I have to say I think it’s brave for him to actually set down some numbers for us to judge him by. I also found the interview to be interesting and quite fun to read as Manley managed to weave in some interesting commentary on the SDLP’s performance.

The party’s conference is on this weekend and Alan will no doubt have another excellent report on it.

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  • Charles_Gould


    Do you think the SDLP will its increase its vote share against SF this time out? Does the SF candidate impress you?

  • mjh

    Hi David

    Just to give a bit of context to McDonnell’s ambitions for Local Council seats.

    70 seats, which he calls failure, would give the SDLP the same share of seats as in 2011. Then they won 15% of the vote to SF’s 24.8% and Alliance’s 7.4%.

    His ambition for 80 seats would put the SDLP back about where they were in 2005, when they took 17.4% of the votes to SF’s 23.2% and Alliance’s 5.0%.

    So unless Alliance falls back, he has to take up to 1 in 10 of SF’s 2011 votes.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Can’t help feel he is setting himself up for failure

  • Charles_Gould

    Alex Attwood is a very good candidate who can take it to SF: expect an improvement in SDLP vote share.

  • Charles_Gould

    Regarding council elections: SDLP seem to have a lot of talent on the ground lately. I think Alasdair is right to have ambitions. He is talking up the SDLP and I think this is the right thing to do.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a very good piece from Manley, well worth getting the paper for… I particularly liked this line:

    “You could be forgiven for thinking that to date it’s [Dr McDonnell’s disastrous first leaders speech) been the most memorable aspect of his tenure…”

    You can get a sense of just what a deep hole the SDLP is standing in that the targets he’s named are both so modest and reality so deeply challenging. Put simply: they have to shift forward if the likes of Foyle and South Down are not to fall into the longshore drift towards SF.

    He also claims he’s using an Obama approach of relying for up to 70% for an improved performance on rebuilding a grass roots organisation. In the case of the SDLP, it’s probably less a case of ‘re’ than simple ‘building’ a proper party for the first time in its history.

    Some of the ease with which SF managed to blow them away in the first place was the fact too many people in the SDLP had never faced straightforward political competition from a rival.

    Sinn Fein (and to a lesser extent, the DUP) had a long hard road to travel before putting together their leadership winning performance at the polls. It taught them (and eventually, by example, they began teaching others) how to assemble the building blocks of a strong electoral campaign.

    And, crucially, they learned to refocus after failure along the way. Something, you might think, that the SDLP might have usefully learned from long before now?

    Patrick Murphy’s memorable description of the SDLP as a ‘comfort zone’ rather than a political party still rings true, though I suspect it’s becoming less comfortable now after two years of big Al poking his nose into other people’s business, some gentle sackings, and a few smart hires.

    One of its previous indulgences was the endless and fruitless conjectures on ‘are we Labour, or are we FF’. Neither southern party is currently in state to be taking over any northern assets, and both I suspect know full well the difference between an asset and a liability.

    McDonnell announcing such targets now in the Irish News is again, I think, reads more like a piece of internal comms in the public domain. On the down stroke, everyman for himself means some candidates will promise almost anything (and damn the party whip) just to keep their seat.

    He’s trying here to create the impression that the next step will be a up stroke, in which case being seen to press forward with the party whip is likely to bring greater reward than continuing with the go the ‘go it alone’ survivalism of the past.

    I doubt he’d tie his hand to the mast without some provisional indications of progress, but the setting of targets this far head also gives local constituency parties enough time and space to start bowling for more ambitious targets than they’ve been accustomed to in the nightwatchman role they’d been eking things out with heretofore.

    Interesting times…

  • Charles_Gould

    The by elections in MU and WB indicate that things are moving from SF to SDLP in recent years.

  • Big Boss

    The interview can be sumed up very nicely by simply stating that McDonnell is saying standing our ground is no longer good enough.

    In recent elections the SDLP has been losing votes, but not by the grand scale everyone trys ot make it out to be and as is the case in recent electiosn they have held thier own ground. I think this interview shows for the first time in a generation and SDLP Leader who is finally stating that they are going out fighting, showing at least the ambition of getting more seats.

    Perhaps this is the last throw of the dice for the party as this will be a make or break election for them, but at least he is aiming for something. Getting a good fired up speech on Saturday wouldbe a good start….. Over to McDonnell.

  • Mick Fealty

    Maybe Charles (though, I don’t get your mention of WB).

    Most by-elections facilitate various forms of harmless dissent. ‘General elections’ are needed to test whether indicative patterns are real or just mood swings.

    Nothing the SDLP has had so far indicate much other than they are effecting a VERY modest recovery of confidence in their own voter base.

    People vote for parties for a whole range of reasons. And it’s not always because they buy every little thing they offer, but often to prevent what they see as bad things happening to them.

    I’d put FF’s 2007 and John Major’s 1992 election wins in exactly that category. Some of what the SDLP has ahead of it is to persuade people that nothing bad will happen if they switch from SF to them.

    That may sound counter intuitive if you are a SF hater, but people obviously have good reason to vote for what they see as a strong, robust dealer with unionism on their behalf.

    The advantage of the flegs crisis from a SF pov is that it refocuses attention on working class Loyalism as a similarly fearsome atavistic creature it was during the troubles era (and usefully switches attention from the performance of the party’s woeful performance in government).

    The SDLP will not recover significant ground in any nationalist ground if it cannot make itself trusted by its own people in dealing with any prospective Unionist partner in government.

    I’d add the critical caveat, that it has to do that in such a way that it opens out its current ground to a much broader constituency than is currently available to northern nationalism. SFI will always be much more compelling than any fabricated SFII sequel.

    In the near term, as I’ve said before, McDonnell mostly just needs to concentrate on doing small things well.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    “Alex Attwood is a very good candidate who can take it to SF…”

    a cursory look at election results in West Belfast over the past decade would suggest otherwise.

  • I think the fact that there IS an interview mis more important than anything that was actually SAID.
    The SDLP and Alasdair have been keeping a low profile and of course the interview is the context of an upcoming Conference.
    The general consensus, even among those who wish the SDLP ill…is that the SDLP has steadied the ship and maybe even made a modest or very modest recovery.
    The position remains that SDLP is the third party in terms of votes cast…another party rewarded by gerrymander….might claim other.
    The fact remains SDLP narrowly lost out in some seats last time out…notably Fermanagh South Tyrone…so sixteen seats or more precisely two Executive seats is a legitimate target for 2016.
    There is also a feeling Sinn Fein have stopped being lucky and that the liberal unionist ground looks a little crowded.
    The local elections will actually be a better guide to 2016 than the one off Euro Election.
    And certainly West Tyrone and Fermanagh-South Tyrone will be of interest.
    If I was a SDLP member…and I am ….Id be reasonably optimistic.
    Id also consider that the party membership would be happy that there is not as much infighting ….People (even those who are not big fans) think Alasdair deserves a chance and a degree of loyalty.
    And his position looks a lot stronger than it did.
    Two former leaders are in Westminster…so there is no figure there to rally round.
    The current MLAs seem to be on Alasdair’s side.
    I never thought that Conall was particuarly a rival…certainly not in 2013….when it was generally assumed and welcomed that he was the Leader in Waiting.
    Fearghal McKinney in Assembly neutralises Opposition.
    With no obvious rival to Alasdair…..he is secure.
    With a lot of effort being put into organisation, there is still some unfinished business.
    Alex Attwood…is unlikely to win a Euro seat….but if he performs poorly then he has no hope of ever leading the party. if he performs well then McDonnell can claim some credit.
    In the wake of next years Euro Election and Local Elections….Id expect a Deputy Leadership Election at next years Conference.
    The party unlikely to go for a Leader and Deputy both based in Belfast…and that would clear the way for Colum Eastwood …who would emerge as the most likely Leader in Waiting.
    A lot of course depends on the new intake of Councillors but very likely that the profile of the party will change radically.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    “The by elections in MU and WB indicate that things are moving from SF to SDLP in recent years.”

    What the hell are you smoking?

    West Belfast 2010: Adams – 71% Attwood 16%
    West Belfast 2011: Maskey – 71% Attwood 14%

    Or take the 2007 Assembly election: in a constituency that ’85-90% nationalist, Attwood took 9%. The SDLP’s total was 12%.

    All five Shinners polled above Attwood. Same thing nearly happened in again 2011, when Attwood took 42 more votes that Sheehan, the lowest performing Shinner.

    Patsy McGlone, now there’s a different story – a representative actually in touch with his people.

  • Wabbits

    As I see it, the SDLP is tightening up and getting onto an election footing quicker than it traditionally has done. They appear to have very many new and able people on the ground in local Council areas and I expect them to make progress accross the North. The very big worry for SDLP and probably all parties is the shocking number of people who appear to have failed to register to vote.

    The make up of the new Super Councils, particularly West of the Bann, does look like a gerrymander that may cost the SDLP in the final shake up of the numbers. For example Derry/Strabane will probably break down pretty evenly in terms of seats for the SDLP and Sinn Fein. This would be a change as Derry has always been an SDLP stronghold but with the addition of the Sinn Fein stronghold of Strabane this will even out considerably.

  • Mick Fealty

    That makes things interesting just the same wabbits. SF are not that far behind in Derry. Getting a nose ahead in the combined council would be a coup indeed, for whomever manages it!

  • mjh


    At the last Council Elections SF were well ahead of SDLP in the combined Derry/Strabane area. With the SDLP on 29.6% and SF on 35.5%. The SDLP would be wise to start managing expectations now and concentrating commentators attention on the Derry wards.

    It would give SF a good story to spin though in the Assembly Elections.

  • The SDLP has a very active Strabane branch.

  • Wabbits


    Those percentages for Derry and Strabane Councils last time round, while right are actually an irrelevance now and in the future for the Super Council elections.

    Some DEA’s are now larger in terms of electorate and some are smaller. The actual breakdown Derry/Strabane Council would see the current number of Strabane Councillors cut from 16 to 12 and the current number of Derry Councillors cut from 30 to 28.

    If anything, it could be the Sinn Fein Strabane team who would have more to loose. On the last result in Derry it would be likely that SDLP and Sinn Fein would loose one each.

    Of course that is on the last result. So it is all to play for once again. PR elections are always unpredictable when it comes down to the last few seats and the transfers etc

    That’s why I think it will be very close in terms of seats won between the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Strabane’s SDLP rep. crept in (under PR) by less than one vote ahead of the de facto IRSP candidate.

  • Morpheus

    “The SDLP has a very active Strabane branch.”

    Active in what way? I have extensive family connections in the area and they tell me that the SDLP has done diddly-squat to try and win their vote.

  • Charles_Gould

    Does anyone here think M Anderson is a strong candidate?

  • Charles_Gould

    SF’s vote share: *down* in WB at the by election.

  • Martina Anderson is an awful candidate but it wont matter very much.

  • Charles_Gould

    fitzjameshorse1745 will she not be on TV?

    When thinking about Alex Attwood and Martina Anderson its very hard to undersand how anyone could think the former is the better candidate of the two.

    Who is better able to handle the issues relating to EU legislation?

  • Charles_Gould

    Sorry i mistyped, of course I meant to say “When thinking about Alex Attwood and Martina Anderson its very hard to undersand how anyone could think the latter is the better candidate of the two.”

  • Well Attwood is a solicitor so I suppose that means a bit.
    I dont necessarily think that Attwood is a great candidate …I think that Colum Eastwood, Mark Durkan and Patsy McGlone would have been better.
    Any of them could have handled Martina Anderson.
    But no SF candidate needs to be brilliant to win.

  • Charles_Gould

    The SDLP have a lot of good talent coming through when you think about it.

  • Charles_Gould

    McDonnell is a good leader for the SDLP.

    He is *not* a spin doctor. He does *not* speak from a script. He does not choose his words cautiously. This means he is rather unpredictable, but somehow it makes him seem a more authentic person than a lot of politicians and especially leaders.

  • Thats why the series of Elections is good and in exactly the right order.
    There are young people in place to take over from veterans who arguably have been around a decade too long.
    The effect will be that some SF people will look a bit dated.
    If one or two of them get a decent run at Westminster, it creates a momentum for the Assembly.

  • Hes actually at his best when he’s angry.
    Its interesting that tonight’s RTE Documentary….which I wont watch….is part of a momentum.
    I think the Liam Adams case is over-stated. So is the Begley case in Ardoyne. So is Castlederg.
    Each individual case is overstated.
    But there is a pattern.
    And the Anger is cumulative.

  • Charles_Gould

    Perhaps best leave G Adams’s problems to other threads.

  • I dont think his problems can be compartmentalised so easily.
    Any discussion of SDLP prospects seems to a very large extent tied into Sinn Feins.
    And Sinn Feins prospects may well involve Mr Adams.

  • mjh


    Yes it is difficult to make exact extrapolations from the old Council District Electoral Areas onto the new ones, especially since the final boundaries have yet to be settled.

    On the provisional boundaries I have the SDLP down 2 in Derry with SF holding their 10, if the 2011 vote shares were repeated. But it is not impossible that could both lose one each as you suggest. You are also right that the reduction in the number of seats will cost SF more in Strabane – where they would lose 2 of their 8 seats while the SDLP would be likely to retain their 1 seat.

    However, although this outcome is at the high end of optimistic for the SDLP it would still leave SF on 15 seats and the SDLP on 14.

  • Charles_Gould


    I think Gerry Adams will aim to take SF into the 2016 elections but I think the past is starting to catch up on him, especially if more and more of his former colleagues speak against his versions of things.

  • Charles_Gould

    Why does the SDLP implement this new council carve up when it could lose them Derry?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    “SF’s vote share: *down* in WB at the by election.”

    Yeah, by a whopping 0.5%. They’re finished.

  • son of sam

    Do keep up.Its the big two again(S F and D U P) who have forced this version of the Councils reorganisation through.Despite Alex Attwoods reservations, he had to implement the majority view in the Executive.Not surprisingly it is likely to benefit both parties!

  • Red Lion

    I think relative increasing numbers are sick of the SF-DUP dance thats been going on for years now. People just get bored and like a change so long as the change is halfway organised…either that or they don’t vote.

    I DO think the Adams factor, and other factors, will to some smallish extent impact the SF vote, and the SDLP can pick up those votes.

    But I at the same time defer to those from the nationalist viewpoint on this – it would be interesting to hear from nationalists whether they detect any SF voters discontented at SF goings-on and in the mood to switch (switch back?) to SDLP.

  • Wabbits


    The difference between a spud and potato. As I said, you won’t be able to put a fag paper between the two when it comes to eventual seats.

    The interesting after effect will be how well the people of Derry City take to the Strabane (Sinn Fein) tail trying to wag the Derry (SDLP) dog.

    The Sdlp in Derry will still be a very large block in the Super Council and, from what I hear, they are a strong block who stick together well. They look like a strong team from the MP to the MLA’s right all the way to their Councillors. I don’t expect to see much change in their electoral fortunes at any level.

    Save for the fact that, like all parties, they need to get more people on the electoral register and then they need to get them out to vote.

  • Red Lion,
    I am at heart a pan-nationalist.
    I have only ever voted for the two nationalist parties and have never used a third preference (as far as I remember).
    I think nationalists vote for the party that best represents them….narrow self interest and something vaguely like a principle.
    From 1970 (actually pre SDLP Gerry Fitt) to 1993, I voted SDLP.
    From 1993 I voted SF ( more for personal reasons than political ones) but certainly from 1998 as a political reason.
    From 2009 I have voted SDLP pop.

    I cant speak for nationalists, other than to say people are just as irritated by Politics as unionists.
    Nor do I particuarly want to get into a sterile discussion.
    But in so far you have asked the question in a genuine manner then my genuine answer is that there is a pan-nationalist voter who does not see that much difference in SF and SDLP.
    Now thats a view that irritates SF and SDLP MEMBERS more than it irritates SF and SDLP voters.
    Incumbency is a factor. People will vote for Margaret Ritchie in South Down who would just as happily vote for Conor Murphy in Newry-Armagh.
    The new Council areas breaks up the incumbency factor to some degree.
    And I get the impression that SF has been lucky too long and people are looking for a reason to change.
    The future of Gerry Adams is a factor. His enemies in the media will rejoice in his resignation especially if they can imply a degree of humiliation. In reality…his resignation could be construed as a man in his mid 60s simply retiring. If his enemies play up the humiliation, it might actually help SF as voters have rallied round Adams before.
    And the likelihood of Doherty (acceptable) or Mary Lou (unacceptable) succeeding him is not something pan nationalists will like.

  • Charles_Gould

    I would say that Mary Lou is much better than Doherty to take over.

  • mjh


    While your tucking in to your spuds and potatoes – here’s a different plate of chips. 2011 council votes for the Newry Mourne and Down super council: SF 36.5% to SDLP’s 31.0%.

    Unless the party achieves the targets McDonnell has set for it – a return to 2005 levels of support – it will fall behind SF in two of its three heartlands. In other circumstances holding the 2011 vote would be an important achievement – “we’ve stopped the rot” or “stopped SF in its tracks” would both be powerful messages. But neither would carry much conviction against the loss of Derry and Down.

    Fortunately for the SDLP it has a leader who appears to recognise the challange and intends to spur his party on to confront it. But if he is to succeed he will need to develop some promising lines of attack against SF for his whole party to hammer home for the next six months.

    And his party supporters will have to stop believing that losing a bit more ground to Sinn Fein doesn’t really matter that much.

  • Charles_Gould

    Mary Lou seems more powerful and central a figure than Doherty. She is the Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP whereas Doherty is perhaps (at best) John Swinney.

  • Mary Lou does not resonate North of the border…except with Sinn Fein core.
    Doherty…the Donegal man does resonate.
    Maybe SF isnt the complete 32 County Party that it thinks it is.

    I would not obsess on “good candidate, bad.candidate”.
    Some brilliant candidates are born losers.
    Some awful candidates are born winners.

  • Charles_Gould

    fjh I think that Mary Lou would do as Gerry Adams is doing and allow the DFM in the Assembly to do the leadership of SF in the north. That could be a figure such as Michelle O’Neill for example.

  • Mr Gould,
    The current leadership of SF reaches parts of a constituency that any future leadership wont reach.
    Its as simple as that.
    There is some talent in SFs second tier…Sue Ramsey or Michelle O’Neill.
    Some of the co-options have talent.
    But most of the co-options …little more than a balancing act to keep the ex prisoners happy and fresh faces without baggage….are merely destined to be third tier lobby fodder.

  • Charles_Gould

    “The current leadership of SF reaches parts of a constituency that any future leadership wont reach.”

    What would happen to those voters when the new leaders such as Mary Lou etc come forward?

  • No idea.
    But Id think most would think “Mary Lou Who?”

  • Charles_Gould

    Mary Lou is very present on the media mind you, so there should be a recognition factor. In any case north of the border the people can still vote for their local person such as the new co-optees such as Ian Milne etc., so if Mary Lou were to lead the national leadership would be supplemented by local activists who are well known to base voters.

  • Red Lion

    FJH, I think your answer probably reinforces my hunch that the wee degree of fluidity between some of the SF and SDLP vote will quite possibly lead to SDLP taking a little bit of the SF vote. I think it’s what McDonnell is aiming for in the first instance and is realistic.

    I also think it part generational, people just getting sick of the same thing and prepared to give the other fellow a go if he seems alright.

  • If you believe that Mr Gould….why are you asking me?

  • Charles_Gould


    Because I am interested to hear your view!

  • Charles_Gould

    “I also think it part generational, people just getting sick of the same thing and prepared to give the other fellow a go if he seems alright.”

    That’s not enough. You need to have a good line to argue in presenting your case. Does the SDLP have a line to argue.

    I think McDonnell’s strategy is to have local representatives working hard on the ground – a build up strategy. Not sure he has a “line to argue” though – what is the SDLP’s message?

  • Red Lion,
    Thats reasonable. With a bit of good luck and without Margaret Ritchie, SDLP probably would not have lost two seats and the first priority has to be to restore SDLP to 2007 levels and the bonus of restoring Alliance to that level.
    The most impressive speech of the 2012 was the young man from Strabane…not yet a public figure….who in accepting the award (along with a party member from Mid Ulster) for Person/Branch of the Year…said that they had been told “we never left the SDLP…the SDLP left us”.
    That was greeted with very loud applause.
    Its too easy for political anoraks to put too much heed in the MetroTextual World of Twitter….the Man from Strabane had the authentic voice of SDLP and thats what needs to be tapped into.

    Yes I think so. In 1998, the SDLP looked five years past their prime and were just a little bit too content to get behind ministerial desks. SF looked younger.
    After next year that wont be the case.
    There is always a degree of people in Youth Politics not realising their early promise. But the SDLP Youth Group seem highly capable.

  • Charles_Gould


    “SF looked younger.
    After next year that wont be the case.”

    Sinn Féin with all the co-options already in place seems to be working to have a fresh/young team of MLAs with the old guard replaced with new such as Ian Milne etc? Just wondering.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Those obsessed with replacing Gerry Adams should either join Sinn Féin and force change from within, or put two and two together and work out for themselves why the British authorities have yet to touch the murdering b***ard.

  • Charles_Gould

    Does anyone here think that Mary Lou resonates in NI?

  • Morpheus

    Does Mary-Lou need to resonate in NI?

  • Charles_Gould

    fitzjameshorse has said that Mary Lou does not resonate in NI and this could cause base SF voters to disengage.

  • I said that?

  • Charles_Gould

    Sorry I see now you said

    “Mary Lou does not resonate North of the border…except with Sinn Fein core.”

    Sorry. You seem to be saying though that she does not resonate North of the border and that this could have implications.

  • No.
    What I am saying is that political anoraks have heard of Mary Lou.
    Most people havent….except if they watch the RTE News they might say to each other “who’s the woman sitting beside Gerry Adams?”.

    As a political anorak, I have indeed heard of her. I am not aware of any obvious talent except that she gets to sit beside Gerry and walk beside him at photo opportunities to give the impression that not everyone in SF is from the North, and to provide general soft focus.

    I cant see her ever being Leader of Sinn Fein. And Pearse Doherty seems to be stealing some of the limelight.
    While SF obviously regard her highly, she just doesn’t have enough recognition factor in North Antrim, East East Derry or West Tyrone.

  • Charles_Gould

    fjh it could be good for SF in terms of growing in the Dail to have MLM as leader and she can appoint a well known person such as Michelle O’Neill in the north to the post of deputy first minister to hold the fort there and manage the base on a day to day basis.

  • Charles_Gould

    She has a *very* high profile in the south, you see.

  • Larne man

    A cursory glance at the new DEAs indicate the SDLP will do well to get above 60 councillors, never mind 70. Dr McDonnell is setting himself up for a fall I reckon.
    There are a whole raft of DEAs (mainly protestant) where the SDLP won the nationalist seat on offer by very small margins- think Waterside, Coleraine, Portstewart, Killultagh, Cusher ect. Sinn Fein need only a small swing to pip a whole swathe of seats, which could reduce the SDLP to as few as 50-odd councillors.
    Furthermore even the remaining pockets of SDLP strength in Derry and Down are being combined into larger, Sinn Fein areas, which will result in none of the supercouncils having the SDLP as lead party. That can’t be good for morale.

  • son of sam

    Do you seriously see Michelle O ‘Neill as a leader of Sinn Fein in the North?

  • Charles_Gould

    Son of Sam

    Hard to see anyone who out-classes her among the present crop of SF ministers.

  • son of sam

    And her qualities are——-?.In terms of relative competence,I would place John O’ Dowd higher,Of course ,coming after Caitriona Ruane, anyone would seem more competent!In sexist terms he is not quite as good looking as Michelle,admittedly !!

  • Mick Fealty

    LarneMan, thanks for the much needed injection of realism… You can see exactly the thin line they have to tread to pull off even a modest rally…

  • Charles_Gould

    “In terms of relative competence,I would place John O’ Dowd higher”

    Not sure he has the qualities of a deputy First Minister. I am sure that Michelle O’Neill has. She is highly viewed in rural republican areas as her election betokens.

    A party led by Mary Lou in the south and Michelle in the North would be able to reach parts of the electorate that the present leadership do not get near.

  • son of sam

    O’Dowd seemed to perform adequately when he stood in as D F M during Martin’s Presidential crusade.Do you think that Sinn Fein are ready for an all female leadership ?Despite its protestations about equality,I can’t see it in the near future.All of this of course is hypothetical as Gerry will still want to be there in 2016 .

  • mjh

    LarneMan and Mick

    You are setting the bar too low for the SDLP at 60 seats.

    In an STV election with mainly 6 seater Electoral Areas the number of seats gained will be very close to the percentage of votes gained. The only significant deviation from this rule of thumb comes when a party polls considerably better or worse in Belfast than elsewhere, because it takes more votes to elect a councillor there.

    So there are only two ways the SDLP end up on 60.

    By far the most likely would be that their vote had dropped 2 more percentage points – to around 13 per cent.

    The less likely cause would be a surge in their support in Belfast coupled with a considerable drop elsewhere.

    McDonnell is right to class 70 seats as failure. 60 would be a disaster.

  • Charles_Gould


    How do you feel about SDLP chances in West Belfast: surely an area where substantial recovery is possible.

  • mjh


    I don’t know of any reason why there should be a substantial recovery by the SDLP in West Belfast. In fact, given the political history of the constituency and the sheer scale of the SF forces raised against them this could be the toughest constituency of them all for an SDLP fight back.

    Paradoxically that could be the best reason for the party to make it a priority.

    Strategically the overwhelming short term priority must be to defend their three heartlands. If they lose.them the party really is over. But if that defence is to be more than a noble rearguard action to delay the inevitable, the party will have to learn how to take lumps out of the SF vote.

    I suspect that means a culture change for the SDLP. It will have to stop hoping that the voters will somehow come to see them as a better alternative to SF. As fjh says, it will have to give voters a reason to vote for them. But more than that it will have to become ambitiously aggressive towards SF.

    Setting recovery in West Belfast as the party’s number 1 long term objective, dedicating significant head office support and drawing in activists from all other constituencies between elections might be the best way of achieving that.

    Lines of attack against SF could be tested in the constituency and the lessons applied throughout the party.

    If fight-back is central to McDonnell’s thinking his speech this weekend will set out two or three central themes on which the party as a whole will hammer SF over the next 6 months.

  • Charles_Gould

    Excellent analysis, MJH.