Thursday, 8 September 2011

Who next to lead SDLP?

With Margaret Ritchie tonight announcing that she will step down as leader of the SDLP and not put her name forward in the forthcoming leadership election, the obvious question is "Who next?"

He stepping aside frees up her loyal lieutenants much in the same way that another leader called Margaret did, despite her topping the first poll in a leadership contest. So who are those lieutenants who might stand in her place against the challenge of Patsy McGlone.

The obvious first option of someone who is freed up is Alasdair McDonnell the MP and MLA for Belfast South, who came runner up to the Ritchie in the leadership contest in 2010 and as the Deputy leader under the previous leader Mark Durkan. Although one of the things that Ritchie said today in her resignation announcement was that she did not feel it was possible to be an MP, an MLA and lead a political party. That may be a coded remark, despite her saying criticising any of her colleagues that she hypocritically it would seem doesn't want a double jobber to once again be the leader. If it is seen as that it will work against the Ormeau Road Doctor.

Another contender would have to be the SDLP environment minister Alex Attwood the MLA for Belfast West. His history includes helping to negotiate the first nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alban Maginness in 1998. He is one of the three ever present SDLP MLAs with a long history of political experience.

North Belfast MLA Maginness of course was the SDLP choice for Justice Minister at the re-election period, and is another of the original intake and unlike John Dallat the other of the triumvirate still seems to want to take on high office. As a Barrister Maginess used to be a ever present sight walking past my window between City Hall and the Law Courts when I worked on Chichester Street.

However, with one issue being the slide in SDLP support there is a possibility that one of the new generation might step up to the mantle, someone like Conall McDevitt. Though many rule him out for his lack of time in Stormont, he has been around the top of the party since 1996, was involved in the Good Friday talks and been in or around the power of the SDLP ever since. Of the other SDLP MLAs the most prominent is possibly Delores Kelly.

I'l wait and see who throws their hat into the ring unlike some SDLP branches who even this even with only one declared runner have nailed thier colours to the mast.

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