At some point before the Leadership vote, I will have to blog on the contest between Alasdair McDonnell and Colum Eastwood….and just as important, other contests within SDLP.
The conventional wiisdom is that divided parties do not do well. And that the second seat in South Belfast is vulnerable and might be lost in the Assembly Elections.
I view the McDonnell-Eastwood contest (if it does happen….watch this space) as an unwanted distraction. And obviously in a six seat constituency like South Belfast, where the five main parties have each got a “safe” seat and SDLP have the sixth…holding it is always going to be difficult. Not least because the Green Party is making a nuisance of itself.
But my spirits have been lifted by two successive nights way hing TV….Claire Hanna MLA on “Spotlight” on Tuesday and Fearghal McKinney MLA on “Nolan” last night.
Both are South Belfast MLAs. Neither has fought and won an Assembly election. Fearghal was co-opted to replace Conall McDevitt in September 2013 and Claire was co-opted to replace Alasdair just two months ago.
From a SDLP perspective, Fearghal is doing well with the Health portfolio. He seems to have doctors, nurses and health staff on board…and thats important for a MLA who has constituents who work at City Hospital, Musgrave Park, Knockbrcken…or who teach and study at Queens University. It also helps that he is a former UTV journalist and the UTV studio is a short walk from SDLP Headquarters in ….SouthBelfast.
And again from a SDLP perspective, Claire has hit the ground running and is already a regular in TV studios where she is a capable performer. It helps that she is a “progressive” and well liked by the metrotextual bloggerati….certainly well placed to negate any threat from Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) and Claire Bailey (nominally Green….but investing maybe to much in a “look at me, I am a woman” platform) tailor made (by John Barry, the Green Guru) for the youthful South Belfast electorate.
The “Spotlight” Q & A (with audience participation) allowed Claire (and indeed Mairia Cahill, newly selected by Irish Labour Party for Senate) to shine against a subdued Michelle O’Neill MLA (Sinn Féin wisely deciding that it was not a good idea to put up a male spokesperson against Mairia who was raped by a senior “republican”), a fence -sitting Mike Nesbitt MLA (UUP) and a typically boorish Gregory Campbell MP (DUP).
Even when moderated by a real journalist like Noel Thompson, these shows tend to generate more Heat than Light but Claire and Mairia seemed to go down best with the viewing public….and survived the bear pit of the studio audience. Claire seems to effortlessly play the role that Naomi Long (biding her time for an Alliance contest) used to play. Claire is a lot less hysterical and pompous than Ms Long.
Of course, the Nolan Show and its audience is more akin to the Jeremy Kyle Show and the Jerry Springer Show than serious politics ….Stephen Nolan is little more than a blustering windbag of a “radio shock jock” who has conned the political parties that his daily radio show and occasional TV show sets the political agenda. Its bear pit atmosphere and audience (often grotesques) and freak show human interest stories …is a winning formula. Am I right in saying that Stephen Nolan was once Slugger O’Tooles “Journalist of the Year”.? (Nope…I am wrong as Alan Meban has pointed out).
But last night, Fearghal McKinney did well in a five man (hmmm no women) panel against Danny Kennedy MLA (UUP) who was trying to be as boorish as Alex Maskey MLA (Sinn Féin) and Edwin Poots MLA (DUP) …all three lost the run of themselves. Fearghal, helped by being a Health spokesperson was able to score ey points against health and welfare cuts and DUPs “pop up ministers”. The Blogosphere seemed to think he had won. He was also helped by a totally inept performance by David Ford MLA, the Alliance Party Leader…who owes his position as Minister for Justice to the DUP and Sinn Féin. I have rarely seen an Alliance politician so obviously irrelevant.
Sooner or later, Alliance needs to put up or shut up.
But the conventional wisdom says that divided parties do not inspire voters. And the conventional wisdom suggests that Fearghal or Claire are vulnerable in South Belfast.
There is a third conventional wisdom that SDLP is a Party in managed but terminal decline but thats really just the agenda of anti-SDLP message boards like Slugger O’Toole.
Two or three “conventional wisdoms” were confounded.