Could the election claim another leader’s scalp?

Doubts over whether Northern Irish party can be led from Westminster


The fallout from election night continues, with calls by senior figures within the nationalist SDLP in Northern Ireland for its leader to resign.

The party, which informally takes the Labour whip in Westminster, had a somewhat lacklustre election night, holding the three seats it secured in 2010, but seeing its share of the vote fall by 2.6 per cent. This was the largest fall of any of Northern Ireland’s main parties.

Following the election, the party leader Alasdair McDonnell confirmed to the BBC that in line with legislation to ban so called ‘double jobbing’, he would be giving up his seat at Stormont to concentrate on his work in Westminster.

The decision has led one former leader to call on Mr McDonnell to go, arguing that going into next year’s elections to the assembly, the party cannot be led from Westminster.

Speaking last night on BBC Northern Ireland’s The View, Mark Durkan – who last week held his Westminster seat of Foyle – argued that McDonnell had to ‘make a clear decision in relation to the leadership’, concluding that, ‘I don’t think the party can be led into an assembly election from Westminster.’

Arguing that McDonnell’s leadership was ‘real issue’ on the doorstep during the campaign Durkan, who resigned the SDLP Leadership in 2010, continued:

“If Alasdair thinks that just resigning from the assembly deals with the questions, well it won’t because these questions will all surface again once he resigns from the assembly.

“As we move towards an assembly election, the questions won’t go away and therefore I think if we’re going to be in a better position to fight the election, then the leadership needs to change.”

Noting that the message his party received during the general election campaign was that voters were feeling disillusioned with the DUP and Sinn Féin at Stormont, ‘and they want to see that challenged in a cogent, competent way and in a passionate way’, Durkan concluded:

“I think that means that people want to see new leadership in the SDLP that will be going forward with a very strong platform into the next election.”

Durkan’s comments come following similar calls for McDonnell to go by the party’s former deputy first minister Seamus Mallon and its former agriculture minister Brid Rodgers.

Responding to the calls for him to go, McDonell told the BBC that he was ‘not going to run away from a task half done.’

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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