It should be remembered that when Margaret Ritchie led the SDLP into the 2010 Westminster elections the SDLP share of the vote was 16.5%, but at the recent general election that share was reduced to 13.5%.
That 3% difference may seem small but in the forthcoming elections it could be the difference between the SDLP holding 16 Assembly seats or 12.
Ritchie was hounded and criticised for her media appearances but her solid, if wooden style was never as gaffe prone as the current leader.
It’s arguable that McDonnell’s infrequent media appearances during the Westminster elections were actually an asset to both him and the party.
The SDLP is a party deeply divided and it’s not about conservative v liberal or green v red differences, it’s divided over its leaders and its leadership is divided too.
And, “to man who would be leader, Colum Eastwood”…
He certainly isn’t taking the easy route. Eastwood could have waited until after the Assembly elections. His timing is akin to taking the helm of the Titanic just as it strikes the iceberg.
Eastwood is making a gusty and bold move. Many outside of the SDLP don’t know who he is but that may be no disadvantage because they do know who McDonnell is and its clear that three elections on, they are not buying what he is selling.
What Eastwood is selling has yet to be spelt out but he does represent change. He looks and sounds different and that for now may be enough.