David Ford has announced that he will step down as leader of the Alliance Party tomorrow (Thursday 6 October) at noon.
It will be the fifteenth anniversary of his election to the position back in 2001. He will continue to serve as MLA for his South Antrim constituency.
The news isn’t entirely unexpected. Back in February when he indicted before the Assembly election that he would not be putting his name forward to be Justice Minister [before the party decided not to put any name forward], Ford said:
When I became the leader of this party I said [within days or weeks] “when you lot think it’s time for me, don’t bother summoning the men in grey suits, just tell me”. Nobody has yet told me and I think that’s because Alliance has had a degree of stabilisation and then growth in that period of time. Parties are much more inclined to change their leaders when they’re going through bad times – look at the British Tories a few years ago, the SDLP, look at Labour now except they don’t quite know how to get the next leader … Because we have been seen to be in a good position nobody has yet knocked my door but rest assured at the point when my senior colleagues tell me “thanks very much, go” I will not need to be dragged out kicking and struggling.
Whether the (wo)men in grey suits or senior colleagues came knocking on the former Justice Minister’s door, the news isn’t entirely unexpected. With two and a half years before the next expected election campaign, there is time for the next leader to settle in before being tested at the polls.
Commenting on his imminent resignation as leader, Ford said:
“With my 15th anniversary, I felt it the most appropriate time to step aside and pass the reins to a new generation of leadership for the party.
“Alliance has a well-established new Assembly team, which has hit the ground running by successfully submitting a number of private member’s bills and continuing to provide the effective scrutiny of the Executive others have so far failed to do.
“I am proud to represent the people of South Antrim, who most recently re-elected me for my fifth Assembly term in May, and I will continue to do that in Stormont and in the constituency.
“Whoever succeeds me as Alliance Leader will be taking over a party on the rise. I am confident they will continue that upwards trend of growing the party, while providing leadership for everyone in our community.”
Slugger will post an interview with the outgoing leader later this afternoon.
The new leader will be elected in just three weeks time.
While speculation about his successor will begin immediately, the nomination process will open when Ford’s resignation letter takes affect at noon tomorrow and close at 5pm on Wednesday 12 October. In the meantime, deputy leader Naomi Long will step up to be the party’s Acting Leader.
The new leader will be elected by the 250 members of Alliance’s Party Council at a special meeting on Wednesday 26 October at 7.30pm in the Park Avenue Hotel.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.