Mr Eastwood; Your task this weekend if you choose to accept it

In Westminster they say being leader of the opposition is the worst job in British politics, if we were to extend the metaphor to Northern Ireland, then being the SDLP leader must be one of the worst jobs in Stormont.

Think about it for a moment, your party has just come out of a leadership contest and electorally you’re down in the dumps. This is Colum Eastwood’s inheritance and the task he faces to turn this ship around.

His first conference as party leader this weekend in Derry will give him a key opportunity for him to spell out his vision and get his party on a war footing for the upcoming Assembly election.

Here are some of things he needs to do;

  1. Define the SDLP post May 5th– Becoming leader so close to an election provides Eastwood with an opportunity to draw a line under the past and spell out a new direction after the election. He needs to say how the party will be different in its approach to the new Executive and find some semblance of relevance that it desperately lacked during the current term of the Assembly.
  1. Good Friday Agreement- If you attend SDLP events, you notice the party loves the Good Friday Agreement and their own role in bringing it about. Only problem is that yes whilst this was a solid achievement, the voters rewarded the SDLP for it in 1998, it’s now 2016 and nobody cares anymore. Turn the page on the Good Friday Agreement.
  1. Sinn Fein-The SDLP’s main opponents in the city of Derry have had their own problems over the last 18 months. Eastwood needs to utilise the confidence of the SDLP’s strong 2015 general election result in the city and show that he is not worried about Martin McGuinness coming to town.
  1. It isn’t all about the Maiden City- When your leader and the conference are based in the same location, it is easy to fall into the habit of speaking on to its local concerns. However, in Belfast the party is under real threat of losing two seats. If this conference doesn’t do anything but talk about local Derry issues, then Belfast SDLP representatives will get little bounce from it.
  1. Make them believe- One thing that strikes you about Alliance, DUP and Sinn Fein conferences is how much the delegates believe in the party and its goals. This has at times felt lacking in the SDLP, Eastwood needs to have the delegates leaving with a spring in their step and a belief that this election is a do or die moment for the party, which nobody can afford to sit back and do nothing.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Ernekid

    Has anyone else been really disappointed by Eastwood so far?
    At a time when the SDLP should be trying to make itself as relevant as possible, Eastwood has been virtually anonymous. He’s barely made an impact on the local media or in political conversations, He should be making headlines in the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph, leading Bulletins on BBC Newsline, setting the tone for the debate within Nationalism with big ambitious policy announcements.

    He’s failed to face down the rosary clutching God squad in his party over abortion. It’s hard to call the SDLP the party of civil rights when they have such a regressive stance on reproductive rights. As the repeal the 8th campaign heats up across the border. The SDLP is going to find it harder to maintain this position.
    Politics in the South in flux and Eastwood has done nothing to capitalise on it. We could be witnessing the end of the traditional civil war politics with a FG/FF deal and Sinn Fein emerging as the main opposition party. The SDLP doesn’t even figure in this equation, its not much of a nationalist party if it continues to be confined to the six counties
    Has Eastwood said anything about the legacy of 1916? The centenary of the Rising is the perfect opportunity to reflect on and consider the nature of contemporary Nationalism. We still haven’t achieved the vision of the Republic outlined on that spring day on the streets of Dublin. Nationalists have to ask, Why? If Eastwood fails to do so, his silence will be deafening.

    Maybe the EU referendum is a good opportunity for Eastwood to try to make his party relevant, The campaign to stay in the EU is right in the SDLP’s wheelhouse.but there is a big question that Eastwood has to answer, what happens if NI votes to stay in the EU, but the majority of people in England vote to Leave?

    Eastwood is a nice guy, but he’s hardly impressed so far.I hope he has the time to improve before its too late.

  • ted hagan

    Eastwood would need to do his homework better. He was trounced on TV the other week about investment figures and ended up shooting in the dark. Never a good look.

  • DCFC 50

    Pretty harsh and unfair analysis I think. I read his opening speech and his new spokesperson launch and thought they were some of the best things I’d read in a while. You should read them.

    Really thoughful and strategic stuff, granted I do think sometimes our media is very slow to pick up on that.

    Thought his recent piece on Irish unity on Slugger was really well thought out too. He’s definitely coming in with a low profile but that will take time to build. I think his start has been alot better than you think. He was really impressive on Nolan the other morning.

    I’ll definitely be watching this weekend to see what he says.

  • murdockp

    There is not much point in expressing an opinion of the change required as the die hard members who turn up to the conferences and the party leadership have the party literally by the balls at it will always be a leftist, catholic party and resistant to change.

    I think the conversation should move on to which party is going to pick up the centrist liberal middle class catholic pro business / work vote who refuse to vote SF but currently are also shunning the SDLP but are still some way from moving towards the Alliance Party who are the only party in this space. Fianna Fail possibly?

    The comments for SDLP regarding abortion, Disabled Living Allowance and finance suggests they won’t be reaching out to this group anytime soon, so it will be interesting to what happens.

  • murdockp

    but to quote bill Clinton’s campaign slogan ‘its the economy stupid’ there are far more pressing matters that need dealt with that the Irish Unification Question the economy being the obvious one.

  • Robin Keogh

    I have always been of the opinion the both SF and the SDLP should peddle back on the animosity a bit as it is damaging to the cause overall. But a week before the general election Eastwood published a stinging article in the Irish Independent attacking SF record in government in the North. I guess maybe it was to counter balance a more positive article published a few days earlier in the Irish Times.

    The Irish Independent has to be the most anti-nationalist anti-republican anti-left publication in these islands. Eastwood chose to opportunistically attack SF using a forum that has no love for the SDLP or its policy platform and one which viciously and relentlessly attacked John Hume at the time of the peace talks and the GFA. Eastwood decision has left a very sour taste in mouth of nationalist Ireland.

    It was a devious and sly thing to do given his party had no cards in the game. I had hoped Eastwood might have been a force for reconciliation within the broader Irish Nationalist family. Seems not.

  • Ernekid

    The SDLP have no idea what they are for. The only know what they are against and that’s Sinn Fein

  • Gopher

    If FF did not show up SF they would have had not have got half the seats and would have had zero reason to exist. If the SDLP don’t take note then they have no reason to continue their existence.

  • the rich get richer

    His Opposition Sinn Fein/DUP/UUP are not up to a whole pile of much.

    Sometimes , You can be Blessed by your Opponents .

    If , You can’t Slug it out with that Lot, its time to Give Up Slugging !

  • Nordie Northsider

    SDLP figures were even applauding Fina Gael’s Regina Doherty on her disgraceful LMFM attack on Adams and her analysis of Loyalist attacks on Nationalists i.e. ‘ ‘All caused by your own actions’

  • Acrobat_747

    Interesting points, however I believe that the SDLP attacks on SF will increase dramatically over the next few years.

    Eastwood wants the SDLP to be the biggest party in Northern Ireland and the first step in this plan is to get more stormont seats than SF (please note that I’m not making a judgement as to whether this is actually possible). My point is that the pressure and scrutiny on SF by the SDLP over the next few years will be an utterly relentless barrage, especially if SDLP go into opposition or assume an opposition role.

    In fact, I think SDLP may go into opposition purely so they can try and change the voters perception of SF.

    It will make interesting watching but the pressure will be on SF from every direction. Media, FF, FG, Labour, PBP, SDLP, independents and probably more.

  • Croiteir

    Forgive me if I am wrong but FF is against the barbarity that is abortion, and rightly so

  • Robin Keogh

    They might well increase their attacks, who knows how things will shape up going forward however as long as the DUP are the lead party within Unionism and for so long as SF continue to make gains in the South, it is unlikely that the SDLP will over take SF in the Northern Dail.

    In normal circumstances, given that the SDLP and SF are to the left politically it makes sense for voters to transfer accordingly. Never mind the national question, it is important for parties on the left to create an environment where left candidates benifit via transfers to challenge the prevailing right wing dominance of politics.

    While some of us have been busy arguing that Shinners should indeed transfer down the ticket to SDLP in order to maximise the Nationalist / Left vote and SDLP should consider likewise, Eastwood’s underhanded swipe has killed much of that sentiment for now. And arguably it is the SDLP who will suffer accordingly in terms of seats.

  • chrisjones2

    …is to stop your predecessor throwing Teddy in the Corner and making the Party look Silly in front of the bigger boys

  • chrisjones2

    ” SF and the SDLP should peddle back on the animosity a bit as it is damaging to the cause overall. ”

    Dont you realise who the real enemy is Robin?

  • murdockp

    I am not interested in the abortion debate as it is too divisive.

    I am interested in understanding why SDLP have no strategy to expand its voter Base beyond its conservative Catholic core support.

    I want to see the SDLP do better.

    None of the SDLP commentators have any answers on this issue.

  • murdockp

    All the parties record in government deserves to be attacked including SF.

    The have all wasted our taxes and let the majority of normal people who work or aspire to work down as they focus thier efforts on issues relevant to thier core support at the expense of the majority.

    If I was to pick two words to describe SF they would be ‘casement park’ as these two words articulate dysfunction in a way most of us can understand and relate to.

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, I can tell you are either bored or having a bad day Chris when u troll. ???? xx

  • Graham Parsons

    I didn’t know the SDLP were anti business. Must have missed that.

  • Graham Parsons

    He failed miserably in the abortion debate. Showed he’s just another career politician unwilling to risk a few votes by doing the right thing.

  • Acrobat_747

    The big question for Sinn Fein is this election in May. If they don’t return an increase in seats at Stormont it will potentially put SF as a permanent number 2 party in the North. If they loose seats it is potentially the beginning of the end. Especially after only getting 22/50 deputies in the dail. A very poor ratio compared to FF and FG and much less than the 30 target!

  • Robin Keogh

    The question is more to do with getting voters to the polls. The fortunes of political parties fluctuate and history shows us that parties who were once deemed wiped out (Lab, FF, FG ) rise out of the ashes and find their feet again. Predicting the fate of a party is usually a product of our own biased imagination. Events and time in context can shift political dynamics suddenly and surprisingly.

    As for the Northern Dail, I honestly do not see anywhere where SF can gain seats, in fact East Antrim and West Belfast are areas where the party might actually lose a seat.

    In the Southern Dail the target of 30 seats was prophesied by the media, not SF. The 23 seats they have has forced a crisis within the traditional establishment. The shift to the left has delivered a severe migraine on to traditional politics. SF is still growing, far from the beginning of the end it’s more accurately the end of the beginning.

  • Gingray

    The sindo is a rag, but it is a popular rag with Irish people in the south, and there is a significant portion of Irish nationalists in the north who do not like Sinn Fein or its history of supporting militant Irish republicanism.

    Its a very legitimate point of view, and Eastwood should be appealing to those voters, as much as appealing to the rest of nationalism.

  • Gingray

    Robin – seriously stop peddling this nonsense! The Left in Ireland lost TDs and vote share in the 2016 election compared to 2011.

    Its annoying that someone as smart as you is unable to admit that things did not go as well as expected, either for SF, or for the left.

  • Robin Keogh

    Maybe you should try not getting so annoyed. The left is not a homogenous group. From Finian McGrath in Dublin to the Healey Raes in Kerry the left in the 26 counties is a motley crew who have diminished the FF and FG forces of conservatism to the point that they failed to scrape 50% of the popular vote between them. For the left, that’s a huge success. SF vote went up by 40%, seats up by 70%, if that’s failure, I will take it any day of the week.

  • Gingray

    Ah well, sorry Robin, when you beging claiming the Healy-Raes are left wing, it really is time to stop taking you seriously. They are a perfect example of the localised gene pool Fianna Fáil independents, not left wing TDs.

    Nobody said SF failed, just that they did not go as well as expected (you for example set a target of 15% which SF did not hit …).

    But in regards the left wing parties and TDs, they are down from 2011 – thats not good at all obviously.

  • Robin Keogh

    When you start talking about gene pools it’s time to stop taking you seriously. Whatever their grandfather or fathers history they are independents who have opposed FF and FG shenanigans and aligned themselves in deed with the left. Now calm down.

  • Gingray

    Stop it Robin! You are making me laugh here 🙂
    There are traditional independents in Ireland, who fit neither the left or the right, and care more about bringing the pork back home. The Healy-Reas, like their father before them, fit into this grouping.

    Seriously, you are the first and only person I have ever heard call them left wing, you are great gas today!

    Interestingly they indicated they supported the Fianna Fail candidate for Ceann Comhairle, rather than the left wing candidate.

  • Robin Keogh

    They didn’t vote vote for MM as taos each. So much for your gene pool.

  • Gingray

    Ha ha ha, seriously Robin! They are holding out for the best deal they can get. Left, right, doesn’t matter, show them the pork!

    I can’t believe you think they are left wing tho?

    I noticed they didn’t support Barrett or Adams, but they have met with Enda and Michael.

    Next you will be claiming Mick Wallace is a leftie 🙂

  • Jollyraj

    “The sindo is a rag, but it is a popular rag with Irish people in the south”

    You can’t really tell people what to read.

  • Jollyraj

    “The Northern Dail”

    What’s that?

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, you would argues over the colour of the sky Gingray ! 😉

  • Gingray

    Ha ha ha.
    Robin, I just like using facts to point out how people are wrong.
    Perhaps living in the real world means I have a better grasp of the truth, might explain why you struggle to understand why Eastwood attacks Sinn Fein?

  • Robin Keogh

    We are honoured to have you share your talent.

  • Gingray

    Ah, the classic use of ‘we’, last refuge of a man who knows he has got all the facts wrong, but is unable to say nothing.


    Cheers dear.

  • chrisjones2

    No but you can wreck the presses ……..

  • chrisjones2

    Come on…when it doesnt fit you redefine it

  • Jollyraj

    You mustn’t listen to Gerry, Chris…

  • Lionel Hutz

    Question if anyone could assist. Im thinking of dropping by this conference at the weekend. Does anyone know what time it starts? Or when is it best to go if not at the start. Is there a programme?

    Thanks to anyone who can help

  • Lionel Hutz

    I’ve always thought it’s more effective for the SDLP to attack the DUP as a proxy for SInn Fein. If it’s done on substantive points, Sinn Fein tend to look wooden standing next to them.

    But also….I can’t remember the exact quote but during the election campaign Gerry Adams made a point to the effect that the DUP deserve praise for their record in governance with SF- that the southern parties could learn from the DUP. Can’t remember the exact statement but it was along those lines. And I think the SDLP were morally obligated to correct that BS

  • Robin Keogh

    Ah I am caught there !

  • Robin Keogh

    The statement was in relation to power sharing in the context of FF and FG refusal to coalesce with SF. He was basically saying ‘ if the DUP can do it, so can u’.

  • Lionel Hutz

    But the idea of putting SF and the DUP as an advertisement for anything is something that needs to be challenged

  • Robin Keogh

    Possibly but please remember, the 26 county electorate are more interested in the stone formation of the Mongolian hills than they are in the Northern Dail. What they do know is SF shares power with Unionists so it is a logical argument to propose that FG and FF should drop their objections to SF.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Does no one have any idea?

  • Gingray

    Saw Gerry on the news and I thought of you. This is what you had to say about people using the term gene pool:

    “When you start talking about gene pools it’s time to stop taking you seriously.”
    “They didn’t vote vote for MM as taos each. So much for your gene pool.

    This is what Teachta Adams had to say on the matter:

    “We’ve had gene-pool independents in recent days making overtures to Fine Gael in particular.”

    Does this mean you have endorsed the position that it is time to stop taking Gerry seriously?

  • Gingray

    Are you still claiming the Haeley Raes are left wing? Just, I see that the Sinn Fein press office are calling them right wing, and gene pool Fine Gael TDs, and I wondering if you got the wrong memo on this one?