Next Deputy Leader Of SDLP?

To be very clear, this is NOT a comeback. I will not be resuming my Blogging career. I am enjoying retirement far too much. This post is in response to a request and also to tie up some loose ends.

When I retired on 11th August, I closed the Blog. This unfortunately meant nobody could actually view the Archive. That was not what I intended….I intended the Blog stay open to facilitate anyone who was interested in things that I have said over the past five years. So a few weeks ago, I changed the settings so the Blog is still “open”.

I digress. A few weeks ago, I was sent a link to a post on Slugger O’Toole by Kris Nixon (aka Barman) regarded by some as a leading blogger in the Belfast Metrotextual Mutual Admiration Society.

The subject of the post was Claire Hanna, SDLP MLA for South Belfast. It was really a non-post that observed that Claire is on TV a lot, the post of Deputy Leader in SDLP is vacant and Claire might be a candidate.

In other words, it was a Dog Bites Man story …too obvious to be interesting. Surprisingly when I read it on Slugger, there was already over one hundred comments. I did not read any of the comments but was tempted to comment myself but I have not made a comment on Slugger since May 2015 and I have no idea what my password is.

There are some events …ie Claire Hanna on the TV ….that are simply too obvious to blog about. The story here is not so much “More Than  Meets the Eye” as “Less Than Meets the Eye”. And sometimes the Eye misses what is really going on.

There is really no special significance in Claire being on TV a lot. The BBC and UTV studios are in South Belfast…in Claire’s constituency. If the case can be made that the previous Deputy Leader, Fearghal McKinney was the SDLP man most likely to be on TV with Mark Carruthers and Paul Clark….then it has to be said that Fearghal was also a MLA in South Belfast. Of course the previous Deputy Leader, Dolores Kelly also appeared a lot …she lives in Upper Bann, less than 25 miles from TV studios…..but the man who could not be beaten out of BBC and UTV studios was Conall McDevitt….surprisingly BBC and UTV never charged him rent. Conall was Deputy Leader but of course represented South Belfast.

So….Claire Hanna’s frequent TV appearances are as much to do with South Belfast as “Deputy Leader”. Kris Nixon speculates that Claire is the leading candidate to be Deputy when the post is contested.

Again…….how surprising is this? I suspect that a straw poll of SDLP watchers  would arrive at the same conclusion. Which tends to invite the question ….why is Claire’s TV appearances such a big story.

Logically when SDLP elect a new Deputy Leader, it will be at the next full Conference. And logically, it will be one of the twelve MLAs currently at Stormont. Of these, only four were in Stormont at or before 2011. Colum Eastwood is Party Leader, Mark H Durkan can be ruled out as a Leader and Deputy from the same constituency (Derry-Foyle) would not work. Patsy McGlone     is on the Speakers Panel and that requires bi-partisanship. Alex Attwood is certainly a possibility but he is maybe a senior statesman in SDLP rather than a contender.

Two  MLAs Daniel McCrossan and Claire Hanna were first co-opted to the Assembly in 2015 and the other six were all elected in 2016. With respect to the other five, Nicola Mallon has a seniority as she was a Special Advisor (to Mark H Durkan).

Factkor in that “gender balance” was a theme in the 2015 Deputy Leadership which Dolores lost to Fearghal and it is almost certain that the next Deputy Leader will be a woman….Claire or Nichola.

Both are star turns…Nicola is quietly effective while Claire is more…energetic.

I would think that Nicola sees her future at Stormont and therefore more suited to the role of Deputy Leader. Claire might well have had one eye on being SDLP candidate at the Euro Elections in 2019. She is a former International Secretary of the Party and has good European connexions and fought a good campaign in the EU Referendum. Brexit means that there is unlikely to be Euro Elections and thats a career path that is now closed to Claire. I am not suggesting she would win a European seat, merely stating the obvious …she would be a very credible candidate.

Likewise any aspiration to succeed Alasdair McDonnell as SDLP MP for South Belfast is not very realistic with boundary changes creating a new constituency which SDLP will have difficulty holding.

This means any future for Claire within Politics is at Stormont. Unless of course she leaves frontline politics and goes to a Quango.

SDLP has reached a curious compromise with itself. The buzz-phrase is “progressive nationalism” but nobody seems to know what it means. To me, it looks like a band-aid to cover the nationalist and “progressive” wings of SDLP.

Famously SDLP was formed by Civil Rights activists (Hume, Cooper, O’Hanlon), Republican Labour (Fitt, Wilson), Nationalist (Currie), Liberal (Wilton) and Norn Iron Labour (Devlin). …and the organising of NDP activists. There were always arguments of course….Wilson was murdered by loyalists in 1973, Devlin and Fitt left the Party after a decade or so. But in general, SDLP seemed pretty co-ordinated in its best years. But as the Party declines, the fault lines are starting to show.

Claire self-identifies as a “progressive”. Well I am sure most people say that about themselves. But other people say it about Claire. But those other people also say it about themselves.

Conall McDevitt (former SDLP MLA for South Belfast) praised the election of two “progressive women” in South Belfast…ie Claire Hanna and Claire Bailey (Green Party). That would be the same Conall McDevitt who stood for the Party Leadership in 2011 and Claire was one of his cheerleaders.

To some extent, Conall is the forgotten man. He resigned from Stormont in 2013 (and Claire lost out to Fearghal McKinney inthe co-option convention)….a result which did not surprise any SDLP watchers but surprised Dr David McCann of Slugger O’Toole.

Since 2013, Claire has been one of the leading critics of Alasdair McDonnell, succeeding him in the Assembly as a co-option about a year ago and successfully backed Colum Eastwoods leadership campaign. She has also been succeeded in Belfast City Hall by Donal Lyons…who is her husband.

Yet despite having impeccable SDLP credentials….her father is a former General Secretary of the Party and her mother a former MLA and Executive minister as well as having a husband on the City Council (he is also a SDLP staff member)….any Deputy Leadership campaign would have to involve people outside the Party rather than within the Party.

Why do I say this?

South Belfast is a very important SDLP constituency. Perhaps more members than any other and it will carry a lot of weight at any Deputy Leadership election. But it would be a mistake to think that all SDLP folks in South Belfast will support Claire. The McDonnell-McKInney faction is as strong as the Hanna faction. And no SDLP Leadership campaign is complete without Claire covered in stickers supporting the “progressive” candidate. She is somewhat the face of “change” or “rock the boat” within SDLP. It wont always play well with the Party as a whole.

While Claire has outreached to a demographic in South Belfast….self styled progressives , students,academics, “economic unionists” and refugees from the failed Platform for Change nonsense….she really needs to nurture SDLP members in (say) Ballycastle, Maghera, Derrylin and Camlough.

These people in North Antrim, Mid Ulster, Fermanagh and South Armagh have paid a high price for SDLP membership and for the electoral consequences of division within the Party.

Claire is good with a catchphrase. Her onservation that people choose political parties on the basis of “best fit” rather than “perfect fit” can go down well when talking to Queens University  or chatting to ex-pat Labourites from Australia, USA and England but back in Ballycastle, Maghera, Derrylin and Camlough, there are people who are totally and absolutely SDLP.

When trying to sign up new members at a QUB or UU “Freshers Week”, there is a choice …ask people to join  to further the values of SDLP or ask people to join and use SDLP as a vehicle to bring SDLP in a “progressive” direction.

SDLP Youth is really “SDLP Students”, not representative of the Party as a whole or even young people as a whole. It is a mixed blessing. They were the footsoldiers in the Equal Marriage and EU campaigns and thats to their credit…but there is a narcissistic silliness about the youth wing. They need to abandon  the Facebook postings of “being blocked”, too much nonsense about support for “progressive” campaigns for Democrat candidate in the 4th Michigan Congressional District, the latest Social Democrat superstar in Denmark and endless selfies with Irish Labour feminists in An Dáil.

That’s all bollix. There is more to Politics than a degree, a Twitter account, a selfie-stick and a block booking for the Stephen Nolan show. It is unreal. It is Fantasy Politics.

To this end, SDLP needs to have a quiet word with young activists who are involving themselves in the “Repeal the Eighth” (ie abortion reform) campaign in the Republic of Ireland. Of course they can act as individuals but SDLP remains a “pro-life” Party. Whatever the merits of the campaign, it is counter-productive. Thats the line that Claire needs to walk in South Belfast….and with the SDLP as a whole.

To emphasise, I no longer give a tinkers curse about elections in 2019 and 2020 but I wish SDLP well as they have selflessly represented me and mine. But the Party is riddled with inefficiency and an amateurism that betrays those it seeks to represent.

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12 Responses to Next Deputy Leader Of SDLP?

  1. Back with a bang not a whimper 😉

    With Brexit, the ballot box boycott by a significant number of nationalist voters, the continued (if shrinking) domination of SF, the possible growth of the PBPA, the promised intervention of Fianna Fáil in 2019 and so on there seems no clear path forward for the SDLP. A party must have a purpose, a vision thing, but I’m not sure what the SDLP’s purpose is beyond being a familiar part of the political garden furniture. The old bench that you keep year after year but that you give no real attention to until one day it’s too far gone to bother with a lick of varnish and you chuck it in the skip.

    • To some extent “LetsGetAlongerism” was the new “Liberal Unionism” but LetsGetlongerism is now in the dustbin of History. Just look at those pathetic Alliance MLAs in the Assembly.
      I might write a book called “LetsGetAlongerism…My Part in its Downfall”.
      But “Progressive” or rather faux Progressive is the new LetsGetAlongerism. As a self-styled progressive myself, I can hardly be opposed to it as an idea….but obviously I reserve the right to note posturing, jockeying for position and a compliant social media.
      But even if I observe it, I dont have the energy to oppose it all.
      I wish I had £1 for every politician who used the word “vision”. I hate to see a SDLP member talk at Party Conference about “vision”.

  2. FJH, Can you drop me an email so I can reply to you about another SDLP matter? I tried your old email address with no luck.

  3. Vince says:

    Welcome back FJH – you have been missed. Great to have your analysis – cutting through the nonsense. Completely agree about the “progressive” obsession and rather narrow definition of it. They need to focus on practical day to day issues of interest to the many – health, education, social care, support for young families, housing and not fluffy campaigns/collaborations of niche interest to a few. Nichola would be a good choice for Deputy, Daniel McCrossan a strong option if leadership ever came back East.

  4. zig70 says:

    I just thought there is so much going on, there was a good chance you wouldn’t resist. And why not. Glad I checked back.
    I like watching Claire Hanna on TV. She is very capable. Feargal was a bit wet in the last election showing I watched. Abortion is a minefield but in essence I think many are on the same page. Access to abortion in exception circumstances but after that the grey area hits. Nobody really thinks you should be able to abort a child any any stage, there is always a line. Same as every seed is sacred is too much the other way. SF do seem to think their stance on abortion sets them apart.

    • Oh I am retired.
      Abortion is the next big issue. I think a reasonable person can be both pro-choice and pro-life.
      Neither side likes a nuanced approach. The confrontationalists on the Nolan Show are too absolute.
      But looking at the Twitter feeds of young SDLP women, then its obvious that in generational terms, SDLP will face the issue within five years. And interesting to see which way Claire jumps.
      There was no real division over Equal Marriage. For an elderly man, it is just advisable to stay off the subject. But a mistake to think, people are divided on religion or gender. It is generational.
      Yes theres too much going on but I only “came back” because I was alerted to the Slugger post by Nixon.
      The fact that Claires TV appearances are “dog bites man”, the real issue is why it made the Slugger site.
      Looking forward to Slugger recording recent Alliance problems, two of which are in the News headlines today. Maybe not.
      I just cant be bothered any more.
      Yes I like the Peace….but not a fan of money going into “community groups”, not a fan of how British Govt and Sinn Féin or indeed DUP dont want a light shining on the Troubles.
      And not a fan of our one Party (DUP-SF) state with an Orange and Green wing. I wont give it lip service.
      Today Colum Eastwood addresses UUP conference. It is either a mistake or five years too late.
      If I bother to vote in next Assembly Election, I will vote SDLP (an acknowledgement of their decency rather than a ringing endorsement of their policies) but I wont be giving UUP a second preference.

  5. Political Tourist says:

    “We haven’t gone away, you know”.
    Sorry FJH, couldn’t help it.

    • I have definitely “gone away”.
      I am actually quite proud of the Czar of Russia.
      The statistics were amazing. And I did it all by effectively banning letsgetalongerists from the comments. I did it all by putting myself outside the cosy cartel of bloggers in the Mutual Admiration Society.
      And I did it all without any meaningful encouragement from SDLP, whose views I was promoting.
      As another Ole Blue Eyes might have said “I Did It My Way”.
      But Norn Iron can go to Hell without my assistance. I am retired.

  6. Catholic voter says:

    Good to see you posting. I disagree with claire on catholic traditional.values.

    • Actually on the issue of Abortion I have only ever heard Claire say that SDLP is a pro-life Party (South Belfast hustings April 2016) but she did say a sensitive issue.
      But if Claire has ambitions to be Deputy Leader, Leader or merely use SDLP as a vehicle to steer towards a so-called “progressive” agenda, then clearly she needs to be politically astute.
      She cant alienate the folks in Keady, Warrenpoint, Belleek and Portrush AND patronise SDLP Youth (many of whom see her as a mentor) AND outreach to “progressive” non-SDLP elements in South Belfast (including English Lecturers at QUB) AND get the Bloggerati like Kris Nixon, Mick Fealty, Alan Meban, Brian Walker, David MCCann (ie Sluggerites) on board.
      With Liberal Unionism and LetsGetAlongerism consigned to the dustbins of History, the Deplorables will turn to “progressives”.

      Thats a delicate balance. Now that Anna Lo has retired from Politics, there is an opening for “Slugger O’Toole Favourite”.

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