The Party’s Over…..

Are we witnessing the death throes of the Social Democratic and Labour Party?

I have never subscribed to the notion that SDLP has been finished for years. That’s just Sinn Féin talking themselves up and Slugger O’Toole talking up their friends in the Alliance Party.

But SDLP seems to be committing political suicide.

The partnership with Fianna Fáil is a matter of necessity. Since losing all three seats at Westminster in 2017, the Party is financially stretched. SDLP needs Fianna Fáil money and Fianna Fáil needs SDLPs reputation.

Of course SDLP voted 70:30 in favour of this partnership and the “look at me Im a socialist wing of the Party” do not like it. They look like a Semi Detached Labour Party who might stay together using the SDLP logo to get elected at the Council Elections, just eight weeks away. Later this year, we might see tearful resignations as there may be very public crises of conscience plus the familiar refrain that “I have not left the Party. The Party has left me”.

The coup de grace seems to have been dealt by former Leader, Mark Durkan, who is the best parliamentarian SDLP ever produced. His passionate speeches on behalf of the Bloody Sunday victims will long be remembered. Now he will be standing in a Dublin constituency in the European Elections for…..Fine Gael.

It is actually a familiar path. SDLP- founder member, Austin Currie de-camped to Dublin and became a Minister in a Fine Gael government. Again, an excellent parliamentarian who was disenchanted with a Stormont that did not exist.

None of this benefits the under-privileged that SDLP works for.

We have the pathetic situation that many in SDLP and many friends of SDLP were happy to retain SDLP identity. Then there is the Fianna Fáil partnership, discontented lefties and now a former Leader attaching himself to SDLP.

No party can survive splintering like this. At its formation in 1970, SDLP was a coalition. So there is a logic that when the coalition breaks, the Party splits.

It leaves around 90-95,00 voters disenfranchised. Who do I vote for in May? well our local SDLP candidate deserves our support, not least for being there when members of my family needed him.

But longer term, it does not look like SDLP can stand by what it says on the tin.

And depressingly that means that I will likely be voting Sinn Féin. What they are…is on the tin. I do not like what is inside their tin. But there is no choice left to me.


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Chuka Can! Chuka Can’t! Chuka Cant!

One of the things about being old is that I have seen a few politicians who were tipped for the top…and failed miserably. Michael Heseltine. David Miliband. Conall McDevitt. And Chuka Unumma.

I suppose he could say that he is leading a political party but strictly speaking the TIGs are not a political party…yet.

But back in 2010 when he was first elected for the safe London seat of Streatham, he was too easily hailed by the journalistic elite as the British Barak Obama. It was a lazy stereotype but one which Chuka did not do much to deny.

Within six months he was PPS (ie bag carrier) to Ed Miliband. And things certainly went well for him under Ed Miliband and he was “shadow” Business Secretary and was even considered as a contender for the Leadership when Miliband resigned.

He did in fact put his name forward but critical profiles damaged him and he withdrew. Standing for Leadership of the Labour Party, with little chance of victory (eg Liz Kendall…who Umunna backed) is little more than a ploy to be recognised as one of the top six or seven MPs in the Party….and shadowing one of the top jobs like Treasury, Home Office or Foreign Office.

But that was the high point of Chuka’s career. With Jeremy Corbyn elected, he did not accept a post in the new shadow cabinet. He judged incorrectly that Corbyn would not last long as Leader.

He was visible in the EU Referendum and Streatham having one of the highest levels of Remain votes might even be considered a victory for him except of course the Brexiteers won. And with  Corbyn and Labour doing better than expected in the 2017 General Election, Chuka was probably aware that his career was on the slide.

Indeed last summer, it was widely known that he would jump ship.

But the curious thing is the way that this new “non-party” has been formed.

“Gemini A Ltd” is a company set up which has some kinda curious link to the group that claims to be setting up a whole new way of doing politics. Is this it?

Is it “privatised politics”? This goes beyond the wildest imaginings of Margaret Thatcher. Or Tony B Liar.

Privatised Politics. I see potential. Political parties should perhaps have the logos of their sponsors. And politicians should perhaps wear livery with gaudy decals.

Marlboro Team Conservatives. Benson and Hedges Team Labour. Paddy Power Team Lib Dems. Budweiser Team DUP. BUPA Team Sinn Féin.


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Sajid Javid Can Strip Sajid Javid Of British Citizenship

I don’t like Sajid Javid, the British Home Secretary.

There are many reasons but if I say that thirty years ago, he was a teenage fan of Margaret Thatcher, then you probably don’t need any more information.

But there is more. He is not just another Tory Boy. He is from a working class background (father a shopkeeper) who studied the stock market as a teenager, got rich and got to be a Conservative MP.

And there’s more. Nothing wrong with being a “self-made man” but I always observe that most men who boast about being “self-made” should really have hired a professional builder.

And there’s more. Javid has seemingly distanced himself from his background. That, in itself is not a bad thing. It becomes problematic when it is done solely or mostly for advancing a career. All profiles of Sajid mention that he is ambitious to become Leader of the Conservative Party. Some profiles mention that he has climbed the “greasy pole of politics”. No profile has mentioned that he is greasier than any pole he ever climbed.

It should not be relevant that Sajid Javid is a non-practising Muslim. But his behaviour makes it relevant. He has had to withdraw a statement that Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the British Labour Party is “a Holocaust denier”.  Amid allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, he has rubbished calls from British Muslims for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

And he himself has been accused of Islamophobia in noting that British girls were being groomed by “Asian men” (sic).

Grooming? Hmm wasn’t another type of grooming noted four years ago when three teens from Asian backgrounds were shown on CCTV, running off to join the Islamic State in Syria. Didn’t everyone say it was grooming and radicalisation?

Now as Islamic State is defeated in territorial terms, we know that one of those three teens is dead. The fate of the second is unknown. And the third, Shamima Begum (19) is in a refugee camp with her week-old son. Her husband is a Dutch-born “IS fighter”. Ms Begum wants to come home.

Former “IS wives” are back in Britain. So are “IS fighters” and while some are in prison, many are not. Any reference to Islamic State has to include their cruelty and inhumanity and the rape of thousands of women.

Sounding like a Daily Mail editorial, Javid declares that Ms Begum stripped of British nationality. She may be eligible for citizenship of Bangladesh but she was born in Britain and has never even been to Bangladesh.

What is Javid playing at?

It appears likely that any court would actually uphold Javid’s ruling. The precedent is set that some people have already returned to Britain. Besides her infant son is not guilty of any crime.

But Sajid Javid is savvy enough to know that a court ruling against him can be turned to victory…over human rights lawyers and the “liberal media” and “political correctness gone maaaad” agenda that the Tory Party love to hate.

And by the way, that is the same Tory Party that “principled”  Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen left earlier this week.

So expect Sajid Javid to get the biggest cheer at this year’s Tory conference.

But here’s the thing. Sajid has institutionalised two tier Britishness. If you are eligible for another nationality…born in Britain but thru family entitled to another citizenship, you can be denied British nationality.

If you are Danny Dyer and can trace your Britishness back to William the Conquerer, then you are probably safe from UK Border patrol. But a lot of people born in Britain can be eligible for (say) Jamaican, Nigerian, Cypriot, Irish, Indian, American nationality. Indeed many are eligible for citizenship of er….Pakistan.

So Sajid Javid could actually strip himself of British nationality. Maybe his friends in the Daily Mail will start a campaign “Save Sajid Javid from Extradition”. But I doubt it.

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Tim Attwood Stands Down

I think Tim Attwood is probably the best known SDLP member who is not a MLA (Member of Stormont Assembly). In part, there is the name recognition factor. He is after all brother of Alex Attwood.

Unsurprisingly Tim is opposed to the SDLP-Fianna Fáil partnership agreement. But he states he is not going forward in the May Council elections because of “personal and political reasons”. And we have to respect that. End of at least half the story.

He remains a member of SDLP. The SDLP has lost surprisingly few members since it ratified the partnership by a factor of 70:30. No doubt many who lost the vote will accept the decision while others make the (reasonable) judgement that it will all end badly and they can help pick up the pieces.

If the experiment fails, it is likely that Colum Eastwood will be challenged as Leader but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would be replaced by a “I told you so” candidate.

The electoral consequences are more problematic. SDLP has a reasonably safe quota in Blackmountain DEA and I think Tim has actually increased his profile since 2014. But there are warning signs.

While a quota of approx. 1,700 and a first preference vote of 1,400 seems comfortable, it was a very unbalanced vote…Tim took around 1,250 while running mate, Gerard McDonnell took only 150 votes. This is due to name recognition, an excellent record, the inexperience of Gerard and a very high personal vote for Tim.

Things have changed of course. Gerard is now Vice Chair of SDLP and better known and from the same “labourite” wing of the Party. Logically SDLP will field one candidate and most likely, Gerard McDonnell.

At best, I rate SDLP chances of holding its one seat in this seven-seat constituency at 50:50. Sinn Féin predictably hold five seats and People Before Profit hold one seat.

I declare an interest. In the 1970s I was Secretary of the Falls Branch of SDLP and I lived in (what is now) Blackmountain DEA. Who knows? Maybe if I had stayed in Belfast, I would be the candidate.
Yet I feel no connexion to the party in West Belfast. I have found them surprisingly lacking in knowledge about Party history in the 1970s. For example the location of constituency offices at the time or their elevation of Paddy Devlin above Desmond Gillespie (most don’t even know the name) in SDLP West Belfast history.

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The Right Side Of History…

We all want to be on the “right” side of History

The problem with History is that it usually takes a long time. If a 14th century peasant was transported to the 17th century, he may not notice a lot of difference.

But someone transported from 1969 to 2019 would notice a lot of changes, not least me sitting here on a computer.

There are basics about the “right” side of History. Universal Suffrage. Anti-Bullying. Anti-Sexual Harrasment, Anti-Racism.

People under 40 have it easy. They were born on the “right” side of History. But somehow the real heroes are the people who were born before the big changes in Society. Don’t entirely right us off. We did actually have to wrestle with the Past, the Future and worst of all the Present.

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Semi Detached Labour Party: Claire Hanna MLA

I am not sure that the Slugger O’Toole headline “Claire Hanna Resigns from SDLP Whip at Assembly…” is entirely accurate.

It seems that Claire will no longer be attending SDLP Assembly Party meetings and has resigned her position as SDLP Spokesperson on BREXIT. She remains a member of the Party.

All of which looks like a bit of a sulk rather than a major crisis for SDLP.

Claire has SDLP in her blood. Her father was the General Secretary of the Party. Her mother, Carmel was a MLA and a minister in the Stormont Executive. Her husband Donal Lyons was co-opted to succeed Claire on Belfast City Council.

Indeed during the leadership election at the SDLP Party Conference in 2011, pregnant Claire jokingly  wore a “Conall McDevitt”  sticker on her “bump”. So she does not lack commitment.

Of course McDevitt was defeated in 2011 but Claire successfully backed Colum Eastwood in the 2015 leadership contest.

I doubt if she or the other 171 delegates who voted for Colum would have thought that just over three years later, Colum would be leading SDLP into a partnership with Fianna Fáil.

Does this represent SDLP turning away from its “social democratic” roots to embrace a centre-right party in the Republic of Ireland? Or is it more fair to say that the Party has given up on an internal solution and cash-strapped since losing three Westminster seats and against the new dispensation of BREXIT, is trying a new approach?

As always, there is no clear answer.

To be fair to Claire, she makes a good point that it is a bad idea for SDLP to have an exclusive relationship with one party in the South.

I have always assumed Claire to be ambitious. So the steps she takes now will be careful.

Clearly as the only MLA not to attend the launch of the new Partnership, and while some certainly have misgivings, she is somewhat isolated. True, if this partnership is a failure, she can shout “I told you so” loudly. But with the partnership backed by 70-30 and some losers already left, then she seems to have a small base on which to build a leadership challenge.

Now that Britain is leaving the European Union (or are they?) there will be no European elections in the summer. I think Claire might have been SDLP candidate and as demographics are changing, there was certainly a chance (a long shot) that she could have picked up the third seat.

Likewise, the South Belfast Westminster seat might well have been a target for Claire. But Alasdair McDonnell lost that seat in 2017 and with it the advantage of SDLP incumbency.

I firmly believe that SDLP has a shot at winning South Belfast back…or as I feel tonight SDLP HAD a chance of taking the seat.

Look at 2017 figures….DUP 13,000. SDLP 11,000. Alliance 8,000. Sinn Féin 7,000.  Green 2,000. UUP 1,500.

So Emma Little-Pengelly won thru the collapse of the UUP vote and the division in what might be called the “progressive” vote. I am not in favour of electoral pacts but it must be clear that the best placed candidate to take the seat would be SDLP, especially in the context of BREXIT.

Arguably Claire would have a better chance of taking the seat as an Independent but I don’t think that SDLP should stand aside.

Claire Hanna is reputed to be the SDLPs best asset but this is the judgement of the insiders…the journalists and the bloggers. It is not necessarily the view of real people who live more than 20 kilometres from UTV and BBC Studios.

Certainly she is good with words. But as she said being in a political party is a bit like choosing a husband/wife. Its not about a perfect fit, its about a good fit. This seems to be the place where Claire Hanna finds herself.

But increasingly, this looks like a bigger problem than just one person. Elections for all councils take place in just three months.

Belfast looks like a real problem. SDLP had seven seats at the last election but will go into May with just four seats. Pat Convery in North Belfast, Declan Boyle (South Belfast) and Kate Mullan (South East Belfast) have been expelled from the Party. And at least three candidates Donal Lyons (Claire Hannas hubby) and Tim Attwood and Brian Heading are on the Hanna “wing” of SDLP.

Increasingly I don’t think that the SDLP problem is BEFORE the Council Elections. Whatever misgivings SDLP members have about Fianna Fáil, they stand a better chance of getting elected with the SDLP logo beside their name on the ballot paper.

At the end of the day, there is no quick fix to SDLP problems. But Colum Eastwood has at least chartered a direction. The Party might need to take one step back to eventually take two steps forward.



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Where Is Superman?

Seven weeks to go.

The clock is ticking by and we are getting close to the time when Superman shows up and dismantles the Brexit time bomb.

It cant help “re-negotiation” or “sham re-negotiation” that senior folks are lining up to make “Hell” jokes at Britain’s expense. It looks like EU have drawn a line and do not mind winding up Brexiteers who are foaming at the mouth about Britain being insulted.

Some might say that insults do not help. I take the opposite view. We are much to polite about politics. In Norn Iron, the downside to Peace is having to be nice about the DUP. There are a lot of bad things about DUP and their people. The nicest thing to say about them is that they are a bunch of crazy creationists who think or more likely pretend to think that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

“Pretend to think” ?

Yes. There is too much Science to believe that rubbish. But more so, DUP must know that to wrap the Bible around you makes all sensible debate impossible.

Brexit might well be a tragedy. But increasingly I think that the clock can only be stopped by a world wide disaster in Korea or Iran. Or maybe a great loss which concentrates minds.

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