First a few facts…I was a member of SDLP from 1973 to 1982 and voted SDLP until 1993. For personal rather than political reasons, I voted Sinn Féin until 2009. I must emphasise that my wife has never voted Sinn Féin and has always voted SDLP. We are a typically nationalist household and we both have “leftish” leanings. We have both voted SDLP since 2009 and I rejoined the Party in 2011.
My wife sensibly is not a member of SDLP. But we are both products of our West Belfast background. Born into poverty to parents who wanted us to succeed thru good education and good jobs. And I dont think we should be embarrassed to say that we havent forgotten our roots and want to see a more fair and just society.
It is something that a lot of SDLP “gene pool” people of a certain age can identify with. Sinn Féin for all their leftist rhetoric are tainted by the History that they wont admit…and Alliance Party merely represents people like them.
For all our flaws and shortcomings, SDLP has its heart in the right place…on our sleeves. Working for the disadvantaged…jobless, homeless, low paid, human rights, justice, victims etc.
Not that we get much thanks at the ballot box. In fact Jesus got more gratitude from lepers (10 per cent) than SDLP does from the people for whom we advocate.
I am a semi-detached member. I hold no office at any level in the Party and I hold no paid position. Although I have applied for about five positions in Press Office, Policy and Organisation, I have never been interviewed for a post. Sometimes this makes me angry and most times I just feel resigned that SDLP staff are young whizz kids with a smart phone…but absolutely no idea of the history of SDLP.
Rejection hurts. I cant deny it. But so does being under-used in an unpaid capacity. But actually being patronised hurts more.
I digress. The point is that I owe “nobody nothin”. So I have no (personal) loyalty to any individual.
And as a 1970s veteran and a 21st century “newbie”, I neither know or care about internal arguments that seem to make personal relationships difficult.
But one of the things that struck me most when I rejoined in 2011 just two months before Alasdair McDonnell was elected Leader was the immediate campaign to undermine him.
As far as I can see, the biggest crime that Alasdair commits is that he is “unfashionable”. The shallow world of Internet Politics measures success in the number of times he is re-tweeted and shared on Twitter and Facebook. And of course he is a man who is “in your face” with political opponents….just as Seamus Mallon was in 1973/74. But of course his critics would say that was a different age.
Yet the core value of “Anybody But Alasdair” base is that Alasdair is Alasdair. I am told by his critics that he is an issue on the doorsteps “Get rid of him and we will consider voting for SDLP”. I have no doubt people are hearing this…but obviously not in South Belfast, where he won the Westminster seat against the odds and maintains it against the odds.
Yet his most vocal critics see their vote share drop….for years. Is that Alasdairs fault? Hardly.
The real difficulty is that the SDLP vote has been in decline….SDLP voters are simply not energised. And there has been a curious stalemate since 2011. Conall McDevitt the obvious Leader-in-Waiting left Politics two years ago. Alasdairs fault? Hardly.
Despite a good Westminster election (SDLP held its three seats, SF lost one and Alliance Party lost their only seat), Al has had little credit. Frankly, I think the SDLP Leader should be at Stormont and it certainly means that he has increased the number of critics beyond the usual suspects. Likewise Opposition IS an issue and on balance I support that option …but I see the irony that those advocating it did not see that the time to go into Opposition was in 2011, when the SDLP mandate was undermined by DUP-SF-Alliance deal.
So there is a coalition of “Anyone but Alasdair” (unreasonable) and Stormont-centrics and Opposition advocates (both resonable positions) but it would be a mistake to under-estimate Alasdairs election winning credentials.
It is still a somewhat sterile debate. The record since 2011 shows no great evidence of his success….and nor does it show signs of disaster. He can point to addressing the holes in SDLP organisation, the head-hunting of good candidates like Daniel McCrossan and Roisin Lynch….but even in this area there seems a certain amount of resentment that other people have been overlooked. He has a duty to be ruthless.
Yet Colum Eastwood has a lot going for him beyond the rhetoric of “youth” and “change”…..not to mention “vision”. To be honest, every time a politician talks about “vision”, I cringe.
A Leader at Stormont and going into Opposition ARE legitimate issues. But there are too many “Anyone but Alasdair” people around him for me to be really comfortable. Likewise the SDLP heavyweights who have endorsed Colum need a reality check. They cant go on forever blaming the British and Irish governments for SDLP leadership failings after the Good Friday Agreement.
I have no vote. I am not a delegate. I cannot influence the outcome. So no point speculating. And I dont encourage any here.
I will not attend the hustings in South Belfast (Thursday) or Derry (Sunday).
Nor will I attend the SDLP Conference on the Saturday on which voting takes place and the result announced. There are three groups in SDLP. One supporting Alasdair and one supporting Colum….but dont ignore a large body of opinion that this contest (for two different reasons) should not be taking place.
But I will be at SDLP Conference on the Friday. An interesting “fringe” meeting on the Internet and Politics. I really really really need to learn about that. As does SDLP. It is surprising that there is nobody within SDLP ranks who knows about Internet and Politics. If there was such a person…he/she could say a few words at the meeting. Sadly the SDLP does not have a record of any talents individual member might have.
As I know feck all about this Internet and Politics stuff….I will sit quietly in audience while all this Facebook, Twitter and Blogging gobblygook is explained.
Who knows….I might even be tempted to start a SDLP-supporting blog….and next time I apply for a staff job, I can put it on my CV….and they are bound to select me for an interview.