As the SDLP conference approaches all members will be taking stock of the SDLP leadership and the shape of Irish politics throughout Ireland. Many SDLP members like myself will reflect on the recent council and assembly elections and come to the conclusion that change is needed. Having slumped in electoral fortunes to the levels of the 1970’s compared to 1998 for the SDLP to be effective the electoral decline needs to be reversed. To continue as the status quo would be to have learned nothing over the past 5 years so change throughout the party is needed. While leaders like Alasdair McDonnell MP are to be respected for their efforts, it’s time for a new generations of politicians to step forward and deliver the arguments for better housing, the living wage, equal marriage, affordable childcare and sustainable after school provision. These are issues that a new generation of politicians can make priority along with those issues of the past.
Many within the SDLP are reinvigorated by the courage of Colum Eastwood MLA wanting to lead a party at only 32 years old, here is some one that can bring energy and long term commitment to the party and knows that arguing for his generation is as important as resolving issues on the past. What I believe my generation are willing to vote for is a party with a long term economic vision not silver bullets like reducing corporation tax, as Eastwood recently made clear in his economic message to party members “There is no silver bullet that will on its own turnaround Northern Ireland’s weak economy. The solution requires excellent schools; high quality pre-schooling; vocational colleges delivering courses relevant to the needs of the economy; a much larger higher education sector; research and development strength; even better digital connectivity; much improved road infrastructure; and greater cross-border cooperation”.
However as a SDLP member Colum Eastwood MLA being elected as leader will have many practical benefits, it’s no surprise that under the current leadership there isn’t a unified party, A new young leader allows the SDLP to commit to my generation unified as those in senior positions will then have the opportunity to bury hatchets because the election of Colum will mean a new generation leading the party.
Furthermore Colum Eastwood’s commitment to a new generation should manifest itself in younger members of the party stepping up for selection conventions, already evident in Claire Hanna MLA who has endorsed Colum Eastwood.
A huge part of politics today including within the social media sphere is communication. To succeed in the world of politics in Northern Ireland you must be able to handle twitter and trolls, have the ability to argue with Stephen Nolan, there is no room anymore to excuse a bull in the china shop approach or off the cuff remarks which lead to long drawn out apologies.
As one of the youngest members of the party I do believe the SDLP can reverse it’s fortunes and Colum Eastwood can be apart of this because he can deliver a clear message through clear communication and therefore long term vision for the SDLP whereby they become effective again in Northern Ireland politics. Finally this is clear in the message he gave at his leadership launch “There should be a place called opposition, yet the SDLP will continue to seek a mandate to govern”.
Gerard McDonald is 22 years old and a SDLP activist from West Belfast. He is running for the position of SDLP Vice Chair at their upcoming Party Conference in Armagh.