Nine points on the succession of Colum Eastwood to SDLP leader…

Okay, so a few days on,  the latest show to hit Broadway Stormont is being unveiled (piece by unappealing piece, and the SDLP has a new leader. So what can be usefully said at this stage?

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.

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  • Robin Keogh

    As much as Allisdair is a likeable chap he should have known himself that it was time to step aside, he could have saved his party a lot of trouble if he was honest in that he couldnt succeed in doing what he set out to do which was to revive the fortunes of the SDLP.

    You hit the nail on the head, not much seperates them in terms of where they want to see the party go. Eastwood won not because of confidence in his ability to deliver but because their was a lack of confidence in Ali.

    Eastwood has already set himself as a reasonably balanced practitioner. He is “green” for sure but also very convincing as an advocate to support a successful NI.

    Ultimately, he is attractive. He has charisma and will appeal to the shallow subconscience. People will listen to him whatever he says, if he is lucky he will strike a an original note.

  • Zig70

    I was thinking on Colum’s greenness and you could easily argue that SF and the armed struggle have made an united Island as far away as possible. The spotlight programme tonight highlighted that most of the political gains were made by the civil rights movement in the early seventies and the IRA campaign mainly succeeded in getting Southerners to turn their backs and say ‘not in my name’. So I’d debunk the idea that you can’t out green SF. Actually could be possible to out green and say that you have more strings to your bow than just that. I guess time will tell.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I have eight or nine policy papers, now I’m an SDLP diehard and I haven’t yet read any of them yet.

  • mickfealty

    Thought Chris Donnelly had it about right, the old self pity (and blaming SF for stealing their clothes) has to go. Eastwood himself noted that plans going forward have to be realistic, grounded and credible. Or as I might put it, new stories where the data actually underpins rather than undermines the data.

    Given our past we should always choose carefully the stories we wish to tell about ourselves particularly with the future that we want in mind.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well that’s fine, but I really haven’t heard any self pity from any of the political candidates standing for elections, it seems like the regrets of grandees like Mallon, Currie etc. who no longer have to compete for an election, not that it would actually be relevant to the electorate anyway.

    Who’s honestly above self pity? Are you Mick?

    What I believed the Spotlight program failed to show was the disaster to the Sinn Féin vote coming from Enniskillen bombing, does any one really think they gave up weapons simply because the Hunger Strikes boosted their international profile? The reality is the IRA outlived their usefulness after the Hunger Strikes, and the violence began to kill their cause. Hume-Adams was the only way Irish republicanism was going to survive avoiding the isolation that dissidents have now.

    The electorate would not tolerate any more Enniskillen bombings and they used the ballot box against the bullet.

    All the money in America and every seat in Irish Politics won’t wipe the guilty consciences away. What the SDLP has lost is minor in comparison.

  • tmitch57

    “As much as Allisdair is a likeable chap he should have known himself
    that it was time to step aside, he could have saved his party a lot of
    trouble if he was honest in that he couldnt succeed in doing what he set
    out to do….”

    This is true enough, but neither Adams nor McGuinness have succeeded in doing what they set out to do either in terms of Plan A– a united Ireland through the Long War, or in terms of Plan B– a united Ireland by 2016 as a result of the peace process and a Sinn Fein presence in government on both parts of the island. When do they intend to step down?

  • Kevin Breslin

    McCann (Eammon, not the other one who’s name I forget) was right about the gains of the Civil Rights movement, which was not just an SDLP vehicle of course. However the Human Rights violations that persisted in the Troubles had to be dealt with too. The SDLP dealt with the pressure of the Republican Movement and by an large came out on top electorally.

    With the tables turned they need to be pressurizing Sinn Féin complacency and asserting their own ideas. They need to be making a better SDLP or forcing their competition to up their game, or they are the mudguard that Alasdair was talking about.

    I’d rather Sinn Féin be the political competition than the IRA remain a persistent enemy.

  • Galena

    His appointment is a step in the right direction for the party. Unfortunately for Alasdair he just seemed a bit too aloof (a criticism that could be leveled at the party in general).

    Now the work needs to begin on getting the message across that they can offer the voters something other than SF lite.

  • Robin Keogh

    Theres a lot more to be getting on with than delivering Irish Unity. Building SF into the biggest party in the country has shown their mettle

  • tmitch57

    This non sequiter In addition to avoiding your own logic (“what is good for the goose is also for the gander”) is also untrue. Sinn Fein operates in two countries and is not the largest party in either of them,

  • Catholic political party elects a Catholic leader. Remarkable!
    You say that is an indication of ‘democracy’. Didn’t you mean ‘theocracy’?

  • Kevin Breslin

    So Catholic Croatia is a democracy because its PM is an atheist and Catholic Malta isn’t because its PM is not?

  • TruthToPower

    The SDLP was in its heyday sharpened on the stone of civil rights and a peaceful solution. Now that’s now achieved, it’s nothing to whet itself against. It’s a knife in search of a stone. There’s little point in having a Labour-like party here as we don’t have the history that gives rise to such a popular movement let alone a major party of government. Its function is for Catholics who cannot stomach voting for SF because of its baggage.

  • TruthToPower

    Do you think it’s healthy for a modern day party to have had the one leader for decades such as Gerry Adams? Is he now the glue that prevents SF from sliding into the eventual post Charasmatic Leader breakdown that inevitably occurs ? Even the DUP are looking shaky after holding it together pretty well til now.

  • Zig70

    I thought Ivan Cooper’s input was astute in that the SDLP were aggressive to SF and their electorate were not, which damaged their support. That’s the thing Michael Martin is still to find out and possibly all the Irish nationalist parties in that if you make Irish nationalism a big issue then you can’t attack other Irish nationalist parties on it without attacking your target audience.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sinn Féin were overly aggressive themselves until Hume-Adams.

  • Robin Keogh

    Gerry is elected every year by the membership. Under his leadership SF have grown from a small party on the fringes to the most popular party in the country.

  • Robin Keogh

    Sinn Fein fights elections in Ireland north and south. One party one nation and it is the biggest party in that nation.

  • tmitch57

    A nation is not the same thing as a country–a country refers to territory and a nation refers to people.

  • TruthToPower

    And who stands against him every year ? What internal debates are there? Both these are rhetorical questions as some who joined SF out of good intentions have judged it to be a cult where dissenters are frozen out, where the membership is somewhat glassy eyed.
    Not to mention how you stomach Being in a party that still thinks it right to have behaved like Isis in Enniskillen, Belfast ,London, Ballykelly, Guildford, Birmingham etc

    Don’t condemn the Paris killings please unless you condemn the IRA unequivocally and without weasel words. I’ve read many of your posts here Robin and you take many people in with your faux reasonableness which I am sure belies a great and deliberate and calculated restraint. Many are take in by it but not all. Your sugared posts are the mere mews of a fox outside a chicken shack

  • Robin Keogh

    Spare us the faux concern on the machinations of SF’s internal structures. Cone to a couple of cumann or cuige meetings and you’ll see plenty of robust debate and disagreement. The difference of course is that as a democratic party, once a decision is made or a policy initiated by popular membership vote, it is accepted by the membership and we move on. We dont go crying to the media. We domt force people out either when they are clearly doing a good job like GA.

    As for IS and the Paris Massacre, Unlike the failed Stormont regime of old, there is no evidence that the French Government operate an institutionalised policy of discrimiation against a section of its people, it doesnt deprive people the opportunity to find a job, it doesnt refuse people housing or the right to vote, it doesnt gerrymander its electoral boundaries to exckude minority representation, it doesnt harrass and arrest people because of their religion, it doesnt bludgeon demonstrators off its streets and it doesnt arrest innocent people, torture them and beat them unconscious. There is no excuse for any attack on the French State or its people. The ISISmassacre and mentality of tge culprits is more in line with a Unionist penchant to gun people down whilst sitting in a bar enjoying a social evening.

    You believe what u want about us shinners, it makes no odds at all. Easier for you to cloak your envy at the SF growth in assumptions and immature name calling.

    You obviiusly were asleep during tge GFA, its over, we are moving on and SF is in the driving seat of the move. Deal with it, get over it and if you cant do so, move somewhere you can live your political fantasies out in full – North Korea sounds like it might fit.

    No excuse me while i check my email for instruction from the great leader as to what time i can use the loo and for orders as to what I am supposed to think for the rest of the week. Baaaaa !

  • jimjam

    And as we all (or should) know, there are two nations on this island – isn’t that what our problems are all about?

  • Skibo

    Or is it too late? Has the rot set too deep? Colum’s team were shrude in releasing the report of five seats being under threat. That way if he only loses two or three, then he has a success. He does not seem to have set any targets that I am aware of. Maybe that will happen later. Was he not the main planner for the SDLP in the last election?