After the election… The SDLP…

The late Maya Angelou’s once said “surviving is important, thriving is elegant.” With each year that passes the SDLP is living proof of the resonance of that acute observation.

They do, very much against the odds and the broader dynamic within the voting classes, rather inelegantly survive. Just enough to keep hope, now that almost everything else has fled, alive.

Despite the influx of some new blood in Fermanagh and Omagh, and the appointment of the first female nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast, the SDLP is probably ageing more visibly than any other of Northern Ireland’s political parties.

Being the Good Friday Agreement’s very best friend has not served them well. Quite the opposite in fact. In constantly fixing ‘other peoples’ problems’ the party disperses its limited energies in the service of people and causes who will never vote them.

On the doorstep, when Stormont comes up party canvassers find SDLP itself is swept into the broad criticism of ‘useless institutions’: this despite the fact that this arises directly from the stand-off in OFMdFM between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Since the media routinely ignore the causes of the trouble their voters blame them.

Paradoxically whilst Peter and Martin’s inability to work together enervates their base it is slowly switching off the SDLP’s voters There must be lesson here, if anyone is listening?

The most important lesson for them to internalise however is just how robust the institutions have proven.

No one ever resigns, unless you’re in the SDLP of course. Two weeks ago the deputy First Minister was mumbling about the ‘dark side’ of the police. Today an old RUC man is Chief Constable and yet the bunny has been put safely back in the box.

Peter Robinson’s fumbling mishandling of his Pastor’s flouting of his own ignorance of Islam would cause severe political embarrassment if not outright damage anywhere else. But here stability of the institutions is so priced in that no one seriously expects serious political consequences to arise from any such poor behaviour.

In such circumstances doing a good job in a ministerial post appears to create more damage than benefit for parties of the broad middle.

They might learn from three of their rivals:

  • TUV: Opposition works but only if you can publicly connect what you do in the Assembly with the direct interests of your constituents.
  • Sinn Fein: If you want to thrive in competitive democratic politics, do one thing well and consistently: wreck your opponents comfort and ease.
  • UKIP: Spot the dramatic moment early, move to the centre and shamelessly narrate your own rather than your opponents story.

There’s no way they can do any of that and remain in the Executive. And there’s no point in leaving the executive with having a political reason for doing so. There’s even fewer Brownie points to be had for just being ‘not the government’ than there is for being in one.

To make any such a move viable they should pick three of their opponent’s most obvious weak points (Sinn Fein’s might be education, agriculture and cross border development) and then talk about nothing else, weaving in real stories of people suffering through the system.

The recent drift into populist discourse further debilitates citizens engagement with the institutions in turn creating fresh insecurities of its own.

On this showing, the alternative for the SDLP may be to remain in God’s waiting room and abide inelegantly for the end that never quite comes.

The last four of these post election profiles will follow next week for Sinn Fein, the DUP, a post mortem on the NI21 project and a look at just who the Independents in the south are along with the implications for the future.


  • Mc Slaggart

    The SDLP…

    …needs to become an all Island party.

    If I was them I would merge with Irish Labour…they haven’t gone away you know.

  • Morpheus

    Excellent blog Mick

  • PaddyReilly

    Despite every favourable outcome, the number of votes by which the Unionist side is in excess of two quotas continues to fall. This might seem like a purely European Parliamentary concern, but in fact two quotas in the European Parliament translates into 50% in the province, which is of course a highly significant figure in provincial terms:-

    THE SECOND UNIONIST CANDIDATE: votes in excess of a quota

    1994 no final redistribution
    1999 15,036
    2004 9,738
    2009 (11,113 UCUNF surplus) + DUP deficit of -5,422 = 5,691.
    2014 1,680

    However, the overall result from the SDLP’s point of view is also unfavourable:-

    THE SECOND NATIONALIST CANDIDATE: votes short of a quota

    1994 84,752
    1999 50,319
    2004 28,789
    2009 18,676
    2014 41,259

    So we have a major reversal in voting trends. Why? I think you can find the answer by comparing the All Ireland results for 2011 and 2014. In 2011, in elections to the Dáil and Assembly, Unionists were 11% of the voters of Ireland: now, after an election to the European Parliament, which normally attracts a much lower turnout, they are 13.8%.

    Unionist turnout has increased dramatically. It seems they have decided to start a turnout war, and Nationalists, hindered by Sinn Féin’s attention being in the Republic, have been slow to respond to it. We cannot cry foul, because trying harder is part of the game. However, previous turnout wars, most notably that of Mid-Ulster and Fermanagh/South Tyrone, have always been won by the Nationalist side.

    The two contrasting faces of Nationalism, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, have very different patterns of voting. SF gets a full quota from its enthusiastic followers: this fact means that in European elections we do not notice how transfer repellent a party it is. The SDLP starts low, but then attracts the SF surplus, the bulk of transfers from Alliance, probably the Green Party and even a significant number from UKIP. It’s a matter of yang and yin, the SDLP being the yin, the dark feminine sea into which all rivers flow.

    Polemicists from other parties may scorn this result, but the fact is that a 7th count transfer from half a dozen other parties has exactly the same electoral value as a sole selection, made in blood, by a fanatical SF or TUV adherent.

  • GEF

    What happened to the rumours some time ago that the SDLP might merge with Labour and Fianna Fail. See here:

    My question here is, how would this effect Sinn Fein?

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s no way they can do any of that and remain in the Executive. And there’s no point in leaving the executive with having a political reason for doing so. “There’s even fewer Brownie points to be had for just being ‘not the government’ than there is for being in one.

    To make any such a move viable they should pick three of their opponent’s most obvious weak points (Sinn Fein’s might be education, agriculture and cross border development) and then talk about nothing else, weaving in real stories of people suffering through the system.”

    This is a good blog but you lose me here. The way I see it, being in or out of government will not change the fundamental approach. If they are in, they will get crticized for not in opposition. if they are in opposition, they will get criticized for not taking up their available portfolio and for the simple fact that oppose all you want, you cannot remove a party unless you remove the mandatory right to a seat at the table (which is anathema to the SDLP point of view).

    Your UKIP observation is spot on. The SDLP simply need to be shameless about promoting their own narrative and the three policy areas you quote are on point. I also sense that that the SDLP might benefit more from attacking DUP problems than Sinn Fein problems, because whilst attacking the DUP, their is a inferred criticism of SInn Fein’s ability to tackle the DUP.

    And make no mistake, the number one reason why many nationalists (particularly young nationalists) vote Sinn Fein is because they look at the DUP and the likes of Allister and ask themselves “who do we want to be in our corner to stand up to them?” You look at Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly and then glance over at even the most capable of SDLP reps and its a no-brainer.

    But Fundamentally, I don’t see how going into opposition helps never mind going further, as the blog has, to say that it is essential. The SDLP and the Alliance and UUP need to promote this idea that that there is an inner government at OFMDFM that they can oppose whilst being in the wider executive. Say it often enough and the public will get it. Because it is true and whether you temporarily go into opposition, the key goal is to get into that central office. You can argue that from within the executive.

    Finally, they need to co-opt a performer or two into the assembly. Claire Hanna for Alasdair in a year or two, Nicola Mallon for Alban, or maybe one of their new councillors in West Tyrone for Joe Byrne

  • Lionel Hutz

    my italics didnt work for the first two paragraphs

  • Newman

    Whileas SDLP have occasionally attracted soft unionist/Alliance votes in a Westminster 2 horse race (Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell being the best examples), there are few first preferences for them outside nationalism in a PR election. Their policy of focusing on anti austerity measures and other left wing is easily eclipsed by Sinn Fein. They have spectacularly alienated a lot of their base by trying to be “right on” on issues such as same sex marriage.Shutting down dissension on the issue was lunacy and instead of reasonable accommodation they have permitted mere abstention.Their surprise at the Bishop’s letter was a marvel to behold. Opposition with a focus on key issues as suggested by Mick is critical to preventing them going on to life support.

  • PaddyReilly

    There are few first preferences for them outside nationalism in a PR election.

    Newman, in a PR election one gives one’s first preference to one’s favourite party. No party receives first preferences from anyone except its followers, unless another party is not standing.

  • mark7694

    GEF: After Fianna Fail’s dreadful 2011 Dail election performance, I thought this merger notion with the SDLP was dead due to the toxic brand, but the 2014 council election suggests Fianna Fail seem to be recovering in achieving 25.3% share of the vote, as opposed to 17.4% in 2011.

    I also thought that Labour were a better suited party for such a merger, but I don’t think there’s much of a party to even merge with now. 7.2% share in the council elections, 5.3% share in the EU elections and I can’t see that level of support changing much come the 2016 elections to the Dail.

    The downside of the merger option is that they’d be inheriting unwanted baggage associated with Fianna Fail and Labour if they were to amalgamate with either party. Then again, not considering a merger will mean the SDLP continues in its current form as a northern regionalist party, declining in its significance.

  • Newman

    addy..point rather clumsily put..understand PR . Point is that trying to base appeal on a pitch to unionism is electorally myopic, even if in government it would be statesmanlike …I was countering the perception that they should focus on attacking the DUP..that is a given in broader nationalism..they need to work on winning back votes from SF by taking them on and not sounding like Sinn Fein lite.Eddie McGrady Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers understood this.

  • Charles_Gould

    Reality check

    SDLP’s share of councillors elected: down 0.3% on 2011
    SF share of councillors elected: down 2.2% on 2011

  • Charles_Gould

    The SDLP did well to maintain its share of councillors, but it should also be noted that SDLP added a lot of young councillors this time, and women too, as Alasdair McDonnell has pointed out. This is a good investment for the future, as many of this new blood will in turn form the future MLAs that the SDLP will elect in 2016. There are a number of constituencies that the SDLP can aim to take MLA from SF, such as FST, Newry and Armagh, and West Belfast, though some of these may be two-electoral-cycle ambitions.

  • Reader

    Newman: ..understand PR . Point is that trying to base appeal on a pitch to unionism is electorally myopic,
    Actually, it might have worked. I contemplated giving the SDLP a transfer this time for the first time ever. However, there wasn’t an SDLP candidate on my council ballot paper; and on the Euro ballot, it was fairly obvious that any transfer after Nicholson #3 was a waste of graphite.
    Maybe next time.

  • Another reality check:

    The SDLP’s three worst ever results in a Northern Ireland-wide election:

    3rd worst: May 2014, local government elections, 13.6%
    2nd worst: May 1973, local government elections (the first the party ever contested), 13.4%
    worst of all time: May 2014, European Parliament election 13.0%.

    How’s that organisational drive working out, then?

  • Mc Slaggart


    “There are a number of constituencies that the SDLP can aim to take MLA from SF, such as FST”

    On what basis do you make that claim? SF now have a army of workers from the border counties to help get their vote out.

    The people they will worry about are the more extreme republicans who may start winning seats.

  • Charles_Gould

    SDLP have a strong band of workers too!

  • Charles_Gould

    If you take your own predictions of councillors, using 2011 as a base, theSDLP did as you projected, wile DUP and SF are well down.

  • mjh


    Your reality check is actually a little kind to the SDLP. Although their performance in LG73 was marginally worse than in LG14 the two elections are not directly comparable since they fought a smaller proportion of District Electoral Areas in 1973.

    As you noted that was the first election contested by the party. They had been slow off the blocks after their formation in 1970 and by 73 were still not properly organised to fight. As a result they failed to contest 9 DEA’s where they should have won a seat, such as three in Fermanagh and two in Omagh. When they did contest these in 1977 they won votes equivalent to 1.5% of the 1973 vote share.

    Looked at in this light their two worst election results ever were the two this month.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Mjh, Charles

    The Sdlp had a bad election in terms of vote share but did well in converting their share into seats. It’s a mixed bag and there is no need to suggest it is either terrible or good when it’s neither.

    I would say its disappointing with a silver lining. The silver lining being that they managed to bring in alot of young blood. I think that is very hard when your votes dropping.

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk


    “Reality Check” – yeah right.

    SF will be a bit disappointed in the North but their eye was clearly on the South. I agree with Mick – it was a reasonably good hold – no more than that.

    In the Republic – their results were excellent

    I’m not a Shinner – I just deal in facts.

    The SDLP had a bad election. The result in their stronghold of Derry shocked me and shows how far they have fallen. IMO (and many others) – Durkan was making a very thinly veiled attack on McDonnell.
    You may think that McDonnell is a great leader – fair enough – but clearly the majority don’t agree with you.

    I would suggest that there are many in the SDLP who don’t like him. The SDLP have major issues and I’m not sure they can turn it around – I certainly don’t think they’ll do it under the “Leadership” of McDonnell.

    Your attempts to twist these figures into somehow showing that SF are on the skids and the SDLP are coming good are frankly laughable.

  • Mick Fealty

    The thing SF have in the south that will bring them seats in the Dail is momentum. The UKIP have that too in Britain.

    The thing the SDLP don’t have is momentum. It may be that this was a relatively good performance despite being the third worst ever and that Big Al’s organisational has saved them from a worse fate.

    Personally, I don’t have a view on that.

    I do know there is little momentum for anyone in NI, and what there is is on the unionist side. It’s very convenient for Big Al haters inside the SDLP to blame him, but decline was the trend before he took over.

    His only sin is not to have stopped it.

    That’s not much of a defence because it is not intended to be one. The party is benefitting from the polarising nature of their main rivals. But their voters are either dying out, leeching out of the system of voting Alliance or Green.

    They need to make the right trouble, just as they did at the time of their birth. The age of liberal entitlement is over lads. You have rivals to the left and right who want to gobble you up.

  • Charles,

    I’m flattered that you take my 2011 projections as gospel. But they are a slender reed by my own admission. In any case it is not true that the SDLP performed as I had projected; they are one seat down (66 to my 67) and actually 8 seats down from the projections made by Faha over at Bangordub’s blog.

    These projections are, of course, not reality; the reality is that (as mjh points out) this was an unprecedentedly bad election for the party in terms of vote share. In particular, the results in Derry/Strabane were poor for an area of traditonal strength, and the West Belfast vote doesn’t look much like the springboard to greater things that you keep talking about. I don’t have a solution for you, I am just trying to accurately describe the problem.

    Having said that,


    I have not yet crunched the numbers reading back to the Westminster/Assembly constituencies from the local election results. But I would be surprised if those figures don’t lead me to projecting an SDLP gain at least in Fermanagh/South Tyrone; they got a councillor in each of the relevant DEAs so should in principle be on for one MLA out of six. Of course, considering that their vote overall is down, a gain there must be balanced by a reduction in strength elsewhere. As one’s vote overall bobbles around the 14% mark, which is a quota in a six-seat election, those cases of sneaking into the last seat can turn rather quickly into missing it.

    I have some thoughts on overall Nationalist turnout and what it tells us about the relationship between voters of Catholic background and traditional Nationalist politics, but I will save those till I have finished crunching the numbers (which will be several more weekends).

  • FJH

    Mr Whyte …
    It might be more worthwhile to compare the notional number with the actual number of councillors elected last week.
    Back of an envelope type stuff but am I right in saying that in a comparison between number of notional councillors going into election and the number actually elected….
    DUP “lost” 15 seats.
    SF “lost” 10 seats.
    Alliance “lost” 3 seats
    SDLP “lost” 1 seat.

  • Actually Alliance “lost” two seats not three from their notional total.
    A back of an envelope can be confusing.

  • Gopher

    I believed the running of Attwood was a mistake and it proved to be the case less votes than the party total in the elctions and failure to get any of the some 15,000 micro nationalist and socialist votes. In effect Attwood cost the SDLP 20,000 votes.

    Alliance without question got SDLP votes which makes a nonsense of the lets go more green and more socialist conclusion that is made after every SDLP disaster.

    There is effectively no ground for the SDLP to stand on as they exist at present. They need to merge with Alliance.

    The SDLP gene pool is ever diminishing meaning no one sees them as giving anyone a viable career in politics. That is the fundamental reason why they need to merge. The pool of talent in the SDLP is non existant

  • Charles_Gould


    Good post.


    You may not realise it but there is a good level of talent in the SDLP. Case in point: Claire Hanna and Nichola Mallon in Belfast just to mention two. More generally the council elections saw a lot of young and far more female candidates being elected. Declan O’Loan has consolidated the SDLP’s position as the lead nationalist party in Ballymena. In my opinion Alex Attwood ran a very positive and progressive campaign and that has strengthened his brand for forthcoming elections. The council elections have allowed a lot of good quality candidates to come through who will make great MLA candidates in a couple of years. The Westminster elections will be a great time to raise their profile.

    SDLP stands for labour and socialist values and the politics of equality and civil and employment rights; the Alliance party does not – it stands for I think liberal-style policies – and so its clear there is clear “water” between these two parties.So there is no question of these parties merging. Their traditions are quite distinct. The SDLP has a very proud history of standing up for equal rights. Claire Hanna’s “living wage” policies introduced at City Hall are an excellent example of the politics of the SDLP and she polled very well indeed.

  • Zig70

    Gopher, there certainly is no room to the left but an open gaelic pitch to the centre left which they sit in. Merge with a much smaller party with different values sounds nuts. The SDLP voters are there, they just don’t have right party yet.

  • Mick Fealty

    Left right has little to do with it tbh… The question is more what can the SDLP do that SF cannot? It also matters that these are things that can be done, and not just a wishlist.

    SF and the DUP have brought us relative stability and peace. Not to mention some pretty weird places.But essentially we can be pretty sure both are more or less committed to the institutions.

  • Gopher

    That is correct Mick, basically as it stands if you want a 32 county Socialist Ireland SF represent your views. Nationalism is not like unionism in that all nationalism is essentially the same because the end results are identical and final. Because the Union is open ended you will always get variety. The SDLP simply say at election after election we will be better Nationalists and Socialists than SF. Its completely ludicrous

    I think the emotional attachment to nationalism (and to unionism) displayed on here is not reflected in the real world. There are UUP voters out there it is alledged also, but no one can actuate them to vote either. You invent a mystical nationalist party and give it fantastic properties no matter how you dress it up it is just standing in the same phone box as SF.

    The only space for the SDLP left is one that is neutral on the union and that means if you want that third seat and to hold on to Westminster seats and possibly winning back Newry and Armagh and more importantly create success so as people will look at your party as having a future is merging with Alliance.

    Charles I appreciate your commitment to the SDLP but in the real world our electorate is tiny , the size of our population that would benefit from socialist policies is even smaller practically exceeded by parties that espouse those ideals. There is no great proletariat the SDLP are stuck in a 1970 Portrait of Dorrian Grey nightmare. The SDLP need to get new pragmatic values if it wants to actually help people it has to get elected first.

  • Icky

    The SDLP need to start promoting its younger, more energetic representatives to help get rid of the notion that it is a party filled with boring, middle aged (conservative) men. Their representatives in the Assembly are a case in point.
    How likely do you think it is that McDonnell will manipulate the membership into selecting one of his cronies for his MLA seat, rather than promoting someone with personality and fresh ideas like Nichola Mallon or Claire Hanna? Hanna is exactly the kind of person which the party should be pushing forward (and badly needs, particularly after McDevitt’s departure), but the pessimist in me thinks it is highly unlikely that she will receive the leader’s backing.

  • boondock

    Gopher touched on the subject a bit earlier and that is the SDLP keep selecting poor candidates.
    People keep saying nationalists didn’t turn out to vote but the fact is once you add up all the socialist/left/republican parties and nationalist leaning independents from the council elections you get about 41-42% which is probably not far off the catholic community background make up of the electorate. From these results the SDLP should have been confident of increasing their vote share in the Euro election to about 16% but they actually managed to get an even worse percentage of the vote. Quite clearly a number of voters were turned off by Attwood himself. He performed very well in the debates but I’m afraid he has a knack of losing voters exhibit A – West Belfast. It is quite clear from the Alliance transfers that Anna Lo lost some Unionist lite votes but gained a huge number of potential Attwood votes.
    Some might say there is just a lack of talent in the party and that may be true but there are plenty of articulate young members that need to be fast tracked and quickly

    The merger idea with Alliance is a strange one but I would expect some sort of agreement with one of the southern parties in the not too distant future

  • Lionel Hutz

    I will never understand why people say a party should fundamentally change your parties core values to win more votes. Such a party would be seen to have no principle. If it is the case that what you stand for makes you no longer electable, then surely the honourable thing to do is that the SDLP accept that it is what is and they either get better at getting the vote or they die off.

    No party can last for ever.

    The SDLP is in favour of a United Ireland. To redesignate as constitutionally neutral would be more ridiculous than NI21 doing it or even the UUP doing it. Personally i believe that it is a cop out to be constitutionally neutral anyway just at it would be to be neutral on the EU. But that should be the extent of its nationalism – fairly minimal.

    Most Nationalists don’t wear Easter Lillies or go to the local Sinn Fein commeration ceremony.

    Most Nationalists don’t spend their waking hours fervently agitating for a United Ireland.

    Most Nationalists just happen to be Irish.

    The SDLP is a social democratic party, though it is in no way a labour party and I do not know why the “L” remains in the name. It should not abandon that simply because there is notionally a gap in the nationalist marketplace for a party of free market advocates. If there is such a gap, a new party should exploit it. I suspect that such a gap is small because most nationalists who you would think would vote for such a party tend to think of themselves as more left wing than they actually are and would vote more left wing as a consequence.

    I think the simple problem for the SDLP has been the lack of visible talent. The Ritchie/Attwood style of speaking is very off putting, even if you agree with what they say. And the only thing the SDLP offer beyond that style is a sea of grey.

    You might think that this means that you go for style over substance but I dont think that the SDLP have ever been lacking in substance. When people say they dont know what the SDLP stand for, to my mind this is so because of poor communication. If you look in detail at their policy positions, I think these would resonate with general nationalist opinion.

  • gendjinn

    Because the Union is open ended you will always get variety.

    Under Milliband, Cameron & Clegg the parties greatest difference is the colour of their rose.

  • Gopher

    @ Lionel, By your own admission the SDLP is out of step with most nationalists who seem content with the “ideal” rather than the practicalities. Problem is the SDLP seem to spend most of their time “fervently” trying to prove they are a United Ireland Party which aint working for them.

    The fact is most Irishmen in the North understand they can get a better deal out of HMG and more frequently than they can in the one shot United Ireland. The Union evolves, its evolution not revolution for the majority. Zero sum politics just aint cutting it within Nationalism. If unionism annoys them the nationalist electorate can yank their chain but I get the impression that they arnt wanting it yanked just for the sake of it. So by definition the SDLP will suffer more electorally than the more enthusiastic voters of SF.

    The only future for the SDLP is a merger with Alliance that way they can get elected and more importantly grow without scaring the s**** out of their own voters.

  • Lionel Hutz

    A party’s vote falls to 13-15% and the solution is to become the party who after 40 years of trying can muster 7%. Where’s the logic there? However depressing it must be for the Sdlp they are not as pathetic as Alliance.

    There’s room for more than one nationalist party and even if there was only room for one, that one can never be Sinn Fein. They’re not exactly a broad church party for everyone. They’re not even Fianna Fail

  • Gopher

    Unfortunately Lionel there is room for only two nationalist parties the Dissidents and SF. The de facto nationalist Party is SF.

    7%+13% = 20% and a tilt at being the biggest party is kinda the logic, Alliance hold the position the SDLP need to be in competition is out of the question merger is the solution

  • Lionel Hutz

    You’re making the mistake of thinking that sdlp voters are not really nationalists. I don’t think we are going to agree on this one. I’ll just say that a nationalist cannot become neutral on the union because neutral is no middle ground. It supports the status quo. You’re an advocate for change or you or not

  • Gopher

    The reality is “nationalists” are happily becoming neutral on the union by either not voting or switching to Alliance and the Greens. Evolution I believe is change and the discerning electorate are supporting the status quo and evolution in increasing numbers.

    The first reality that is going to hit is the ex Mayor and Lo will be standing in South Belfast in 2015 and there will be a near run thing in Foyle. The next will be the differential in vote between the SDLP and Alliance in that election will narrow.

    The second reality for what is left of the party clinging to the wreckage is an election in 2016. You either live detached from reality or you dont

  • Lionel Hutz

    Writing their obituary always backfires. Foyle will be held easily enough. South Belfast may or may not be. Any loss will be blamed on Sinn Fein, who are much more likely to lose FST.

  • Gopher

    So the SDLP dont mind losing seats if they have someone to blame? Hardly a winning strategy.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I mean that last time Sinn Fein were blaming the Sdlp for nearly losing FST and it hurt them. This time that won’t work and Sdlp are well placed to take back the seat in FST

  • stewart1

    After watching the View last night it’s clear that another bout of internal blood-letting is about to ensue after their worst ever Euro results.

    SDLP has always been made up of self-interested factions & looks like the cracks are appearing again.