Is SDLP dooming “Opposition partner” talk?

For all the media like to talk about “Opposition”, it should long since have been clear that a formalised structure is impossible (because Sinn Fein must always be in government, in practice) and an informal arrangement can only be on a cross-community basis. It is this need for cross-community basis which dooms it – a seemingly populist and hard-line, SDLP would simply be an impossible Opposition partner for the Ulster Unionists (or even Alliance, for that matter).

The SDLP seems to continue to write its own electoral epitaph by its Councillors attempting to be ‘Sinn Fein-Lite’ across the country – without realising that, by doing so, they remove any need whatsoever for anyone to vote for them. The latest apparent rollover – agreement to retain the name of a children’s playground in Newry after an IRA terrorist – merely served to add fuel to the view that the fundamental dividing line between the SDLP and Sinn Fein (the question of the legitimacy of the “armed struggle”) no longer exists. The SDLP seems to many observers to have utterly bought into Sinn Fein’s view that the conflict was legitimate. Where does that leave “Constitutional Nationalists”, who recognise fundamentally that it wasn’t?

Throw in the rampant populism, and what kind of “Opposition” partner have you got? When it is not trying to have our 200 million Social Fund removed, it is succeeding in costing us 260 million in pension payments for our best paid workers out of the NI pot, all while suggesting another few hundred million be taken out for corporation tax reductions – and this, incredibly, while having the nerve to talk about protecting every single public sector job!

Yet all is not totally lost. Most in the SDLP genuinely feel frustrated by what happened in Newry & Mourne Council. Some recognise financial realities. Additionally, the party continues to be quick off the mark to condemn, in clear and consistent terms, attacks on Orange Halls and such like.

In any case, the Ulster Unionists could still opt to go it alone. If they were to withdraw from the Executive unilaterally, the DUP would in fact pick up their Ministry, and so they would not even be crucified for “costing Unionism a seat”. Nevertheless, such a move would now be seen as an “electoral tactic” rather than a serious attempt at an “Opposition” on anything like the same terms as the (cross-community) “Government” – the time for it was actually when John McCallister advocated it during the Leadership election campaign.

My own view is that, collectively, the Ulster Unionists and SDLP (and perhaps Alliance) need a win somewhere to show their teeth – perhaps, for example, on the seriously flawed local government reform currently being pushed through. Such a success would be to the very detriment of both UUP and SDLP hardliners who continue to want to build their party in the image of their larger opponents rather than as a clear alternative to them. But the time to act, and win, is now.


4 thoughts on “Is SDLP dooming “Opposition partner” talk?

  1. This is the type if cynicism and snobbery that costs people being elected. I didn’t see anything the Alliance manifesto making me feel I’d be better off in their idea of change but you don’t hear me complaining that they don’t accept the SDLP manifesto clause by clause.

    If you want to believe you can be unpopular and still win seats by all means prove it.

    Many in Alliance continues to deny the existence of the additional voters the SDLP and the UUP has earned above them, almost assuming they’ll be dead by the next election because they don’t talk to “Telegraph Polls”. Narcissism at its finest.

    Ian, on the one hand you defend democracy on the other you put polls before it. Make up your mind. Why don’t Alliance win the hearts and minds of the people of Newry and Mourne and get the sign taken down themselves?

    Do they even have the will to even stand there?

  2. With regards to the Playground issue, why hasn’t David Ford the Justice Minister intervened. Surely as Justice Minister he could propose legislation to stop publicly funded bodies from funding anything associated with paramilitaries?

    Didn’t Margaret Ritchie use central government to stop funding to Loyalist communities for a similar reason.

    Is he worried it would cause the polarizing effect that damaged the Alliance party in 1981 when the hunger strikes were still on? That Sinn Féin are really milking the Hunger strikers to secure their own vote, polarize their enemies which boosts their vote again.

    If the SDLP have less relevance than the Alliance Party on this matter, what responsibility have the Alliance Party taken in Newry and Mourne and elsewhere to offer any alternative to polarizing politics? What does their own positives hope to actually achieve for the people of Newry and Mourne that isn’t achieved by their local representatives already.

    Do they even try to compete in that area at local government level.

  3. The post is about the SDLP, not the Alliance Party.

  4. I mentioned both, the reality is that if these parties didn’t have fundamental differences they’d merge like the Social Democrats and the Liberals, they’d merge like the Democratic Left and Irish Labour. If there was no fundamental differences between the parties inside Unionism and Nationalism, we’d have the Democratic Ulster Unionists and the “Ourselves and the SDLP too” There would have to be coalition politics rather than kow-tow ism politics.

    If the DUP and Sinn Féin can work better than all alternatives put together then surely no alternative deserves to be in power. Both are a lot more hard-line and the electorate love them for it in these times of crisis. If hard-line attitudes ensure a 2nd SDLP seat in Newry and Armagh and a 2nd UUP seat in Fermanagh South Tyrone actually empowering the rest maybe it’s the Faustian deals that political survivors have to make to counter the ones by Sinn Féin and the DUP. They don’t have a United front, they have two fronts united.

    It’s why the UUP tried to do a deal with Ervine, It’s why the DUP admit a loyalist terrorist into their own ranks and still demand the SDLP get sucked into Hunger Strikes Games with Sinn Féin, who have been milking the Hunger Strikes for decades, getting rich off the bodies of Bobby Sands and Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell and Raymond McCreesh. Once they can no longer be milked and used, they’ll be decommissioned on the scrap heap. It puts people off politics and ensure that loyal voters put their vote in. That’s not to say there aren’t Sinn Féiners who are competent.

    The electorate controls the parties, not vice versa

    Scapegoating the SDLP on policy matters is a bit rich when the APNI have twice the ministers for nearly half the SDLP vote here. Mark Durkan had set out a brave policy of accepting majority voluntary rule, for a respected bill of rights, it was seemingly rejected by all sides. The moves within the Ulster unionist party were not going to change it either, and the Alliance Party gave up on being the unofficial opposition.

    And before we throw stones at parties for populism and fiscal ignorance, show the evidence that Durkan, Farren, Rodgers, Ritchie, Attwood, Hanna or Mallon had their budgets overdrawn? Under what circumstances has the SDLP facilitated the removal of the Social fund, control the pension payments for private sector workers? The SDLP helped to raise revenue from the lease back scheme, it had suggested privatisation of government assets.

    But If you want to see tough action on government spending, by all means why vote for a united Ireland now? Indeed theres benefits in the dystopia and struggle of a country heavily in banking debt. I see Osbourne’s missing his targets while Noonan’s getting his. Sinn Féin would be happy to remain in opposition there.

    To blame the SDLP for suggesting lower corporation tax, indeed the UUP and Alliance were on board too as were SF and the DUP, it was only really opposed by the motley crew of Jim Allister and Steven Agnew, now there’s a contrast, and backed by nearly everybody else seems detached. That saying, given the Republics low corporation tax the trading opportunities from the North and indeed the East should be developed.

    Put simply Alliance should not be pitying the UUP or SDLP, nor fear the DUP or Sinn Féin. They should try to be a party that has a positive message, that could feasibly be implemented and see their parties in government as the competition not the enemy. People generally don’t vote against a thing when they have a multitude of things to choose from, they tend to vote for something, I’m aware that the UUP and the SDLP aren’t doing that either on the whole but they should.

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