The SDLP needs to find its own voice…

As a SDLP member., I think the first thing the SDLP needs to do is start listening to its own voices. It seems to have an obsession with listening to political opponents. But the Party also needs to be honest with itself.

Those most critical of the current leadership (Alasdair lost only a single council seat in May 2014) need to look to themselves. The collective leadership lost ten Assembly seats between 1998 and 2011. They also need to understand that their own Margaret Ritchie lost two Assembly seats in 2011.

I was actually quite upbeat about the 18 months between Alasdair’s election in November 2011 and Conall’s departure in August 2013. It seemed at that time that the Leadership had been settled: Al a man slightly older than myself and not long term and Conall looking good in the role of Dauphin and obvious future leader.

There is certainly an anti McDonnell faction but I can’t see any obvious challenger. No point challenging before Westminster and South Belfast. Ironically they need him to win in May next year and stand down from Assembly to trigger a bloodless contest.

If Al loses next year then, it could get nasty. But as the anti Al faction got it wrong with Margaret and Conall, then difficult to see the SDLP electorate rallying around the next person who isn’t Alasdair.

I can’t see Alex or Dolores becoming Leader. More likely that it will be Eastwood.

There are obviously practical difficulties about Opposition. The principled time to go for it was when Alliance took the second Executive seat on 52,000 votes and eight Assembly seats. That was the time for SDLP and UUP to walk. As a consequence, we have allowed Alliance to pose as the third Party.

Building a Leadership challenge around Opposition would be difficult. Clearly the first Party to detach itself from the DUP-Sinn Fein ” one party state with an orange and green wing” (Mark Durkan, I think) gets the moral high ground.

But surely, even allowing for a growing momentum for Opposition, (a difficulty for Attwood because he was a Minister) it is a case that cannot be made without an implied criticism of the 1998 Leadership which endorsed the structures and a criticism of the collective retired Leadership post 1998 who don’t seem to have performed well.

The loss of ten Assembly seats cannot all be because SDLP was let down by the British, Irish and American Governments.

The newly appointed SDLP Policy Officer has the easiest job in Norn Iron politics. No doubt he or she will be judged on how many words are in the 2015 and 2016 Manifestos. Or the quality of a Party Political Broadcast. But it is a simple matter of translating the ETHOS of SDLP into REAL Politics.

Write the word DECENCY on every Poster, every leaflet and say it in every interview and you “get” the SDLP. And you get that clear water between Sinn Féin and Alliance.

It would also help if the collective “wastes of space” in the Trade Union Movement and Voluntary Sector and other organisations happy enough to have 14 SDLP MLAs on their mobile phones and happy enough to take a table and hand out free pens at the SDLP Conference actually endorsed SDLP as nearest promoting their agenda.

Time someone on SDLP platform actually called them out on it. In two years those 14 SDLP MLAs might still be 14…or 13 or 15.

Time for the purist “socialists” and Voluntary Sector hangers on to “put up or shut up”. Annoyingly for conservatives, SDLP is a left of centre party. Annoyingly for unionists it is a nationalist Party. Actually SDLP nationalism and republicanism also mightily pisses off Sinn Féin.

With eighteen months to go to Easter 2016, there is an opportunity for SDLP to re-assert its belief in the Republic.

And as for cross party voting…….no that’s a one way street.

SDLP needs to find its own voice.

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