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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A Special Kind Of Hell For…”

I daresay that most people reading this will have heard a sentence that has begun “There must be a special kind of Hell for…”. Maybe some of us have used the phrase.

There is a context. When I have used the phrase “There must be a special kind of Hell for”  the man in woman in my bank who says that they are happy to take my phone call and then present me with six options 1-6 none of which seem to be what I want.

To be clear, I have not really wished anything horrible to happen to the staff in my bank. A special place in Hell is the ultimate punishment and clearly we do not wish this for anyone other than Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Margaret Thatcher.

So I don’t suppose that Donald Tusk really wants brexiteers who voted to leave the EU without a credible plan to roast in the fiery flames of Hell.

What he was doing was simply expressing the same frustration that I feel when I phone my bank.

So the bizarre spectacle of Angela Loathsome er Ledsome, Peter Bone and Mark Francois pretending that they are upset and demanding an apology is laughable. Ledsome can get a bit personal (ask Theresa May) and Bone has appeared on satire show “Have I got News For You”.

Essex Boy Francois is a bit of an oddity. His Blimp like demeanour reflects that he was an officer in the Territorial Army and he pontificates like a golf club bore. Indeed he looks like he thought he was filling in an application form to be Assistant Secretary at a second rate golf club….and accidently became Member of Parliament for a safe Tory seat.

Still Tusk has written tomorrows headlines in Tory newspapers. I suppose the most obvious pun will be “Take Him To Tusk Theresa”. As I write this The Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express will have already decided their headline.

I don’t suppose Donald Tusk cares.

He was of course talking about people who have manifestly not thought thru the consequences of Brexit. With just fifty days to go, he has actually proven his point. The Brexiteers will use his words as an excuse to further deflect from the incompetence.

Unless the EU are playing a very complex game, it looks like there are no further negotiations possible. And hard to see Theresa May, who visits Brussels tomorrow getting any concessions.

Arguably Tusks words will embolden the Tory Right to reject any deal.

Yet Britain needs the deal more than Europe. Maybe Tusk, Barnier and Juncker just want to add a little humiliation.


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Politics For (Ventriloquist) Dummies

I notice a strange similarity between Politicians (specifically) Theresa May and Ventriloquists.

If you recall Ray Alan, Terry Hall and Keith Harris spoke thru “Lord Charles”, “Lenny the Lion” and “Orville”. Look them up on Wikipedia. The trick was to make the audience look at the “dummy” so that they didn’t see the ventriloquist move his lips.

Of course nobody is really fooled by a “Vent”. The audience is part of the conceit.

The brilliant Morcambe and Wise subverted this. Eric would appear on stage and talk back and forth with his “dummy”, talking loudly and making no attempt to stop his lips moving. When Ernie pointed out that “we can all see your lips move”, Eric explained that the “dummy” cant really talk “I have to do it all for him”.

Which brings me to politicians and Theresa May.

She is involved in negotiations. So… the electorate joins the conceit. The role of the electorate is to believe she is genuine.

Theresa has gone on the road. She plays theatres in Brussels, Dublin, Belfast, Berlin and occasionally playing the Westminster Palladium. But like Morcambe and Wise, she is subverting the traditional act.

The traditional act involves a veneer of honesty and integrity. But in her daily appearances at a lectern, she has abandoned this. She says something different, depending on the audience.

Next time she appears at a press conference, I hope someone gives her a glass of water. Can she say “goggle of geer”?

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Sometimes I Think Slugger is Unfair

Sometimes I think that Sheldon Baker, one of the leading lights on Slugger O’Toole is a bit rude. A few minutes ago, he was rather unpleasant to me on a thread that he started. I am not one to get agitated but I flagged it as inappropriate and hope that the Moderator on Slugger will look at my point in an even-handed way.

I am not in any way discouraged by the fact that the moderator is…..Sheldon Baker.

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The Yanks Are Coming

Interesting to see Congressman Brendan Boyle from Philadelphia on Channel 4 News. He was concerned about the effects of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement.


He is one of the rising stars in the Democratic Party. His brother is also a congressman.

As the name suggests, he is Irish-American America. His father comes from Glencolumcille in Co Donegal and his late mother was from Sligo.

Even more interesting to see ex-Senator George Mitchell talking about the same topic at 5am this morning. It was the lead item on CNN.

It might just be a coincidence but clearly some interest in USA. Looks like the Irish embassy has been busy.

It should be fun to watch unuonists and unionist commentators react. They really despise IrishAmericans.

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Nationalist Re-Alignment 1968-73 (and 2019)

As splits and mergers (aka Nationalist Re-Alignment) is all fashion in 2019, I thought I would reach back into the memory bank and point out that this has happened before…crucially at the 1969 “Crossroads Election”…which reached some kinda conclusion (for a while at least) at the first Assembly election in 1973.

So September 1968…and I have just gone back to school after O levels, a fancy new campus on Glen Road and I have chosen three A level subjects, one of which is new-fangled “Economics and Political Studies” (which would now be simply “Politics”).

So I was 16 year old and the whole Civil Rights movement had got off the ground and I marched for the first time on Monday 7th October 1968.

I think there was already a belief that Politics had moved out of Stormont and on to the streets. There were just 52 seats in Stormont and only 13 or 14, depending on the definition could be classed as non-unionist. To be clear, the two “Labour” seats were unionist but certainly Vivian Simpson, a decent man, who held Oldpark with Catholic/nationalist support was too much of a fence-sitter. NILP were never going to be serious about Civil Rights.

So who were the “nationalists”? Well the Nationalist Party (nine seats) were rural-based…country men (it was always men) while Republican Labour (2 seats) and the single National Democrat (1 seat) were based in Belfast.

I discount Shelagh Murnaghan (the sole Liberal Party member) MP for Queens University (four seats were voted by graduates of Queens) as a “nationalist” but I would  include Charles Stewart, elected as an Independent for Queens but who resigned sometime between 1965 and 1969. Stewart became a Magistrate in Belfast and I was a regular attendee at his court. To be clear, I was in the public gallery. I was not in the “dock”. It was good craic as Charlie did not like the RUC or solicitors very much.

There were of course nationalists outside Stormont. The Civil Righters on the streets and  “Republican Clubs” which the Unionist government saw as a front for the (then Marxist) Irish Republican Army. Arguably there was a third faction of “physical force” republicans who were outside the system. Modern Sinn Féin like to re-write the history of the period, showing themselves to be civil righters but really the majority were disengaged.

The “Crossroads Election” was called by so-called liberal unionist Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill, to get backing for his modest reforms. He failed of course. But it brought some of the people from the streets into Stormont.

In retrospect, the Civil Rights movement was as much a rebellion against the complacency and ineffectiveness of the Nationalist Party as it was against the Unionist government. After 1965, the Nationalists had agreed to be the official Opposition at Stormont.

The extent to which Norn Iron was not a democracy is under-scored by the fact that so many seats , unionist and nationalist were not contested.

This distorts the percentages. The Nationalist Party won nine seats with just 9% of the votes cast and the Norn Iron Labour Party won two seats with 20% of the votes cast. Furthermore, the Nationalists only stood candidates in nine seats that they knew that they would win. Thus whole areas of Norn Iron with significant nationalist populations …North Armagh, North Tyrone and North Antrim did not even have a nationalist or republican on the ballot paper.

While the 1969 Election is best remembered as causing O’Neill’s resignation, it actually marked the end of Nationalist Party dominance on the Opposition benches.

The Nationalist Party held  six of its nine seats. They lost Eddie McAteer (the leader), Paddy Gormley and Eddie Richardson to Civil Righters John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon.

James O’Reilly and Roderick O’Connor held their seats as the civil righters feared losing seats on split votes. Maxie Keogh narrowly held on against a Peoples Democracy candidate and John Carron held more comfortably. At least two of them (Keogh and O’Reilly) refused to join SDLP when it was formed in 1970.

Austin Currie (East Tyrone) became a founder member of the SDLP in 1970 and Tom Gormley (Mid Tyrone) joined the Alliance Party and the Nationalist Party soldiered on, increasingly marginalised by the effectiveness of the SDLP and they seemed out of touch.

But SDLP was not just about the collapse of the Nationalist Party. Paddy Devlin (NILP) had taken the Falls seat from out of touch Harry Diamond (Republican Labour) and Gerry Fitt (Rep Labour) held Dock. Senators Paddy Wilson (Rep Labour) and Claude Wilton a Derry  member of the Ulster Liberals also signed up.

Paddy Kennedy (Rep Labour) took Central from John Brennan (National Democrats) and Kennedy did not join SDLP. Arguably the NDP were the actual winners as they threw their party organisation behind the new SDLP.

While the 1969 Re-Alignment was against a background of Civil Rights, the 1973 (the first to the new Stormont Assembly)  Re-Alignment was against the background of violence.

The re-Alignment of 2019 is against the background of BREXIT as well as a  Stormont Assembly that has been suspended for two years and a declining SDLP vote, They lost all three of their Westminster seats in 2017.

SDLP has tried to reach out to unreceptive unionists and “middle” ground in Norn Iron. All they have succeeded doing is losing votes.

Norn Iron does not work. It is time that SDLP re-discovered its roots.

Yes, John Hume said “you cant eat a flag”. True of course but there are SDLP politicians who would eat the European flag for dinner and eat the LGBT flag for dessert. All good of course…but uniquely, the National Flag of Ireland gives them indigestion.

It is time that nonsense stopped. There is no shame in being Irish and the “letsgetalongerist” tail that wags the SDLP dog, needs to understand that.

Earlier today, in Newry, SDLP voted by 70% to 30% to form a partnership with Fianna Fáil. Thus all-Ireland politics has been embraced.

This 70-30 split just about mirrors my own views. Within the 70%, there are people who are enthusiastic and there are people like myself who would have misgivings. I don’t worry too much that SDLP is “centre-left” and Fianna Fáil are “centre right”. After all the Alliance Party is “centre right” and my own view about Socialism is that “socialism is what socialism does”.

Within the 30% who voted against the merger, there are people who will accept that it was a democratic decision of the Party and go along with it. And there are people who will find it hard to take and maybe leave the Party.

Maybe the SDLP needs to take a step back before moving forward. But there are council elections in May. Many candidates have been chosen already. This includes people who would have voted against the merger. As things stand, they will be on the ballot paper alongside the SDLP logo.

I sincerely hope that those who cannot accept this decision, stand down as SDLP candidates NOW. We could have the ridiculous decision that some get elected as SDLP councillors and maybe later in the year have a very public, teary-eyed twinge of conscience and they will leave SDLP….but not the council chamber.




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