SDLP has run out of ideas

SDLP Leadership contender Colum Eastwood describes a “United Ireland” (code, by the way, for a “United Irish Republic with no constitutional connection to Great Britain”) as the “greatest idea that we have”.

In so doing, he sums up the SDLP’s pointlessness in AD 2015.

Indeed, when asked straight out how those unconvinced might be persuaded of this “great idea” on television last week, one of his own Assembly colleagues literally had nothing at all to say.

If it were a “great idea”, people would be converting to it; practical debate would rage about it; indeed, anyone would be able to see the value of it and make a case for it. None of that is the case.

In fact, across the island, in the short and medium term (even in the long term given the current financial reality), this “greatest idea that we have” is a minority interest among all groups in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.

What would be a “great idea” would be the development of a welfare system which actually helps people out of poverty rather than trapping them in it. What would be a “great idea” would be a health reform which focused on patients not bureaucracy. What would be a “great idea” would be an economic development policy which created real jobs in high-value, export-focused industries. Suggesting that the “greatest idea we have” is a long-term constitutional change which may never happen is completely out of touch with those whose real interests are living standards, health and jobs.

The Nationalist parties received a lower vote share and 40,000 fewer votes in May than they did in the last equivalent election pre-Agreement despite “favourable demographics” – and even of those, the SDLP received barely a third compared to three fifths less than two decades ago. It is hard to ignore the obvious conclusion that broadly Nationalist voters are growing tired of politicians with nothing to say to them on real-life issues, and who keep harping on about a long-term aspiration which they may share but which does not affect their lives right now.

Why – versus a decade or two decades ago – are fewer people voting? Why, even among those still voting, are fewer voting Nationalist? Why, even among those voting Nationalist, are fewer voting SDLP? I have not seen a single one of these questions posed. It is hard to find the right answers if you haven’t even bothered with the right questions.

What people need are “great ideas” on reducing poverty, improving health, and creating jobs. Given by its insistence of focusing on a long-term minority interest, the SDLP has run out of them.

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One thought on “SDLP has run out of ideas

  1. I find the decline of turnout consistently may indicate the entire political class has run out of ideas in the eyes of the electorate and the issue extends equally to Unionism and Others too. There’s also a antipathy to “ideas people” who do very little but philosophise and offer rhetoric. The movement of UK Labour from coffee drinking Fabian society members and Blairites to the Corbynites might indicate that. And then there’s Irish Labour. It’s not only nationalism that feels the pressure but social democracy too.

    The UUP are considered to be on the bounce, but I don’t think there was really great ideas around the resurgence. There’s a lot of show but little tell. If there’s one strength it is they’ve become more “militant” not in terms of violence but discipline, which is the strengths of the two big parties here. With Fianna Fáil moving North in 2019, the luxury of Sinn Féin being the main competition for non-unionist votes outside of the Belfast hinterlands may be over.

    The leadership contest at the very least is giving the SDLP a media show. It is very rare that the Belfast media does give airtime to other parties but the DUP and SF, so if a party gets this they need to take it. There are a lot of ideas and intelligent people in many parties but converting those ideas into practical actions and going through the deadlock in Stormont.

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