The really good ideas are often the simple ones. Blindingly simple, so when you see them in action, you kick yourself and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” On the other hand, there are simple and really good ideas that, even had you thought of them, you’d have been incapable of translating them into action. That’s why over the next few weeks, the SDLP will not be kicking itself. Otherwise it would be.
I’m talking about the series of ‘Town Hall’ meetings Sinn Féin have announced for their election campaign. They’ve held this kind of thing before. The purpose is to rally the local troops, send activists out energized and determined to squeeze every last Sinn Féin vote into the ballot box. What’s different this time is that there’s going to be a major southern dimension. When Gerry Adams TD starts things in West Belfast tomorrow evening, he’ll have Mary Lou McDonald TD and Pearse Doherty TD on the platform alongside him. Of course there are southern TDs who’d be willing to sit on SDLP election platforms as well, but would the SDLP want them? A Fianna Fáil TD? That’s Fianna Fáil whose meltdown is approaching Fukushima dimensions? You’re kidding. A Fine Gael TD? That’s Fine Gael who used to have Michael Lowry in its Cabinet? You’re kidding. A Labour TD? Mmmm, maybe. Except Labour is now run by ex-Stickies, and didn’t they at one stage…Right. Scrap that one too. No, ourselves alone looks like the best policy for the SDLP.
Which highlights nicely the Sinn Féin strategy. By having the Town Hall meetings, they’re saying in Alex Maskey’s words “We want to go out and listen to the views and opinions of our people”. You may have your own thoughts on how open Sinn Féin are to hearing new views but that’s what it looks like. Even more importantly, the presence of TDs like Pearse Doherty, Martin Ferris and Mary Lou McDonald say loud and clear “We’re not kidding about our nation-wide ambitions. This is what a real All-Ireland party looks like”.
Simple. Dazzling. And it makes every other party, north and south, look provincial. In simplicity of concept and power of impact, it puts me in mind of the arrival of Adams and Co at Stormont in a fleet of black taxis. When the Shinners get a good idea, they do it with style.