Again I emphasise that I am not a delegate at next weekend’s SDLP Conference. And I therefore do not have a vote…as instructed by my local branch.
And again, I emphasise that I do not intend to be in Armagh City Hotel next Saturday when the election takes place and the vote announced.
But we are in the final furlong and to some extent, party insiders can make a reasonable prediction based on opinions in the public domain and news emerging from SDLP branch meetings across the north. The deadline for delegates to be notified to Party HQ passed yesterday so the names are known to both camps.
Some of course…notably ex-officio delegates …might not have expressed opinions …and their vote may be still “in play”.
Incidently SDLP seems a bit careless about “membership”. I purport to be a member. I am clearly on the mailing list but in absolute strictness, I have not paid a 2015 membership fee. To some extent a membership fee is a token figure…it is relatively meaningless as the average member/supporter will contribute a few pounds in ballot tickets and “nights at the races” and table quiz events during the course of the year.
It never really matters. Clearly anyone intending adoption as a candidate in a local election would need to be pretty sure that he/she and likely supporters are all fully paid up. But frankly thats only likely to be a problem if there is a real contest to choose a candidate.
The problem rarely arises for me. Maybe my 2014 membership fee (fully paid) gives me voting rights in 2015…I was not at the local meeting which nominated Colum Eastwood (so clearly I didnt have a vote) but I was at the meeting a month later which chose delegates for next weeks conference. Nobody nominated me annd I happily endorsed the people who are going.
I was also at the local meeting which endorsed Dolores Kelly to be on the ballot paper in next year’s Assembly.
So maybe I am a full member of SDLP after all.
Whatever the rules, the first job for Party HQ is to check that the delegates selected by local branches are fully compliant. Likewise the MLAs who pay a levy to party funds need to be fully compliant. Some have reservations about how Party finance is used…but I hear stories that some are “as tight as a ducks arse”.
Either way, those overseeing the Election might expect some challenges from the McDonnell or the Eastwood camp. It is not unduly sinister…just a reflection on the culture of the SDLP.
Which brings me to the strange case of John Manley’s Irish News report…happily siezed upon in Slugger O’Toole that five SDLP seats are under threat at next years election. It does seem curiously timely…but I cant see it as a direct leak in the last couple of days.
More likely….some journalists would have been aware of SDLP internal reports for months. There is not much that happens in SDLP that our local journalists dont know. The lips of some MLAs are notoriously loose…and no doubt, there is an agenda at play. But it makes no sense to leak these reports at this late stage of the game.
For the record the loss of five seats would be a disaster but I cant see that as anything more than an absolutely worst case scenario. The internal report is more upbeat in other parts. There is a best case scenario.
At my most pessimistic, I can see SDLP losing four seats…most commentators would agree that Upper Bann, the second seat in South Belfast, North Belfast and West Belfast are vulnerable but few would go so far as to think that East Derry is vulnerable.
SDLP go into this election with fourteen seats….and I think a reasonable projection is twelve to sixteen.
Maybe the comments on Slugger are more revealing as they suggest not only SDLP losses but specific gains for other parties.
South Belfast….Claire Hanna has hit the ground running and she has positioned herself as the successor of Naomi Long (Alliance) as the darling of the so called progressives. fEarghal McKinney is doing alright as Health spokesperson in a constituency where there a lot of health workers. Of course, there is always going to be a fight for the last seat…DUP, Green, SDLP. But those talking up Alliance chances of a second seat are not understanding the dynamics of Alliance in the constituency. Ask yourself a simple question…if you were a loyal Alliance member in South Belfast, which of your two candidates would you prefer to win?
Upper Bann….with SF always talking up a second seat (see 2011) and also talking shite that Cat Seeley would win at Westminster, SDLP are squeezed but probably not enough to lose a seat.
West Belfast….Alex Attwood is in a similar situation to Dolores in Upper Bann and Gerry Carroll will certainly take a quota but at the expense of Sinn Féin. I would expect Alex to hold on.
North Belfast….no selection conference has been held and notwithstanding Alban Magennis wants re-selected, I would expect that Nichola Mallon would be the right person in 2016.
East Derry….not a problem. Look at Slugger archive and see how Alliance were talked up. No selection as far as I know but most likely a highly regarded female candidate.
Of course thats just the downside…worst …..absolutely worst case scenario.
But delegates and attendees next week should see thru these …..er “reports”.