One, well the SDLP are getting good at changing their leaders. And that is a thing. In a democracy it is a pretty good thing actually. Eastwood won over a fair number of swing delegates, not just the core of the ABA lobby of old.
Two, that it flowed from a disruptive process rather than the leader stepping down by private and a priori agreement probably says something positive about Eastwood’s ability to play the game of competitive politics.
Third, the thrust of the campaign was less a matter of policy or where the party should be heading than an ability to sell its message. Indeed there was no big difference between where Al wanted to take the party and where Colum wants to go.
Four, that should provide continuity (in the short term at least) in the things that Al did well. Indeed Eastwood put some McDonnell commissioned reports on longer term thinking to much more effective use than the incumbent himself.
Five, the party needs to build on the work McDonnell has done in fundraising both internally and through external donors. In its closest rival SF it is up against the wealthiest party (by far) on the island. To build capacity beyond where it is not, it needs a lot more resource.
Six, in “Making Northern Ireland Work” Eastwood has (from one of Alasdair’s reports) a powerful narrative. It needs grounding in an all island frame, but his acceptance that failure to get buy in for unification is a failure of the SDLP’s as much as SF’s signals an intent to fix that.
Seven, is his youth. In demographic terms Colum is a Gen Xer, and very close to the Millennials. That may help him open doors with younger voters who are currently turned off by divisive constitutional politics grounded in meaningless and formulaic phrases.
Eight, although we have barely seen him in action, his handling of the media so far has been pretty firm. Unlike Al, he’s not afraid of them. He doesn’t ruffle easily under pressure and on the few occasions we’ve seen him, he’s stuck to his last and got his message out.
Nine, Al brought on new talent, but he wasn’t beyond suppressing those upon whose fealty he could not rely. But there’s almost nothing better for a garden than the suppressive actions of a hard winter and/or the harsh pruning of a grumpy gardener.
None of this means the SDLP has turned a corner. Structural problems remain. What some former supporters refer to as micro meddling should not be done by the leader, but tough advice is the job of a staffer with the political blessing of the leader.
But the party now seems to have a voice and a differentiator. Eastwood remains largely untested. Perhaps this weird and messy deal that is unwinding from Stormont today will provide him with his first real test?
NB, Hopefully David will offer Spotlight his own insights into Eastwood’s succession to the leadership when makes an appearance on tonight’s Spotlight programme on BBC1 NI at 10.45.