Someone asked me back when Colum Eastwood was elected leader of the SDLP if I was in some way keen that a younger person had taken the leadership of one of the then Executive parties in the North. Given that he’s the leader of a rather sneaky quasi-conservative (Catholic) grouping of greying establishment wannabes, I can’t say I was particularly enthralled. But nor was I impressed by Colum’s ‘electrifying’ oratory, or lack thereof really, especially when it comes to carrying the public mood along with him.
Let’s be honest – as a political leader, he’s nothing special, and he’s certainly no leader in the literal sense of motivating people. He was simply the best of quite a proverbial “bad bunch”. If he had not been the only somewhat energetic egg left unscrambled in the SDLP; and if a few talented candidates were evidently there; people would barely even know who Colum Eastwood is, particularly those outside of the greater Foyle area. Whether you love them or loath them, everyone knows who Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are across the globe. They are recognisable figures who can fill a hall quite easily wherever they go – whether that’s in County Cork or New York. They’ve got more people to join Sinn Fein with their membership campaigns these past few weeks than he could do for the SDLP in a lifetime. Could Colum even do that in his own constituency let alone across the Atlantic? However, when you observe the redundantly small number in the obscure SDLP Youth or at their ever receding conference, it’s hard not to chuckle at their perceived sense of self-importance. They have no pertinence to the big debates in modern Ireland whatsoever.
In his conference speech before the last Assembly election, Colum more or less asked people to judge his leadership (so-called) and ability (again, so-called) by making the SDLP an election-winning machine which could keep up with Sinn Fein. On that basis, he should have resigned the day after the election results – on his watch and by his own measurement, the SDLP lost their Deputy Leader’s seat and their past Deputy Leader’s seat, and several thousand more votes. It was, and I say this euphemistically, the last kick of a dying old horse. He couldn’t even hold their current risible level of seats without failing miserably. And now, even when some prominent Ulster Unionists are ditching the UUP for the DUP, Colum is still getting into bed with them (politically). Never mind a rat jumping off a sinking ship, Mr. Eastwood has the providence of a rat jumping onto a sinking ship.
But why the sudden marriage with the Ulster Unionists? And better still, why are the SDLP getting into bed on a community level with the extremists of GARC? If Dee Fennell thinks Sinn Fein aren’t ‘green’ enough then surely the SDLP must be light orange to him and the ranks of Saoradh? I could go into a big long rant but I think most of it is just idle desperation and irrelevance. He was an untried leadership candidate, who had no experience of senior office and certainly doesn’t demonstrate much charisma in any real abundance. It actually annoys me that I’m paying taxes to salary Mr. Eastwood, when what does he actually do that is economically constructive? Yes, there are too many MLA’s, but why should I pension off Colum Eastwood for managing the terminal decline of his weak and dying organisation? It’s a horrid and unnecessary waste of public resources.
Additionally, the SDLP’s noticeably opportunistic move of their office to the top of the New Lodge Road in North Belfast shows, both fundamentally and geographically, how there’s a bit of a bad PR attempt going on here. They’re trying to position themselves as the party of working class people or as somehow “concerned” about the residents of deprived areas in the local area when they pathetically opposed the building of nearby Girdwood and have a dire lack of working class people among their representatives. For years, they had an almost ‘contempt’ for working class people in ways.
Now forgive the strong words, I don’t doubt that there are some good people in the SDLP. But now more than ever this party echoes strongly of James Connolly’s warning about colonial pacification and subservience within the Irish nation. When Connolly asserted his seminal alert, to paraphrase him, he wasn’t just talking about the pro-British banks, commercial assets and state institutions which subvert Irish self-determination; he was warning of the self-serving Redmondite professional class and establishment political parties embracing UK ethics and pro-British political consensus. Connolly, from beyond the grave, would have you be extra weary of those willing to cosy up and align with past British Militarists (in the Official Unionists) and at the same time the “Blood Nationalists” of GARC. You can’t have both Colum, so make your political bed and lie in it!
But crucially, what’s the future for the SDLP? Are they going to disappear like the Progressive Democrats in the South? Or are they going to amalgamate with the UUP and form a buffer to the spread of Irish republicanism politically? Because let’s be perfectly honest, it sounds awfully like it -in schizoid fashion, they talk more about Sinn Fein than they do themselves at their conferences. History, true to form, really is repeating itself – the Home Rulers have been revived to inhibit the Shinners. And we all know who ended up winning that battle 😉
Beyond just attacking the SDLP for their underhand aims and shady objectives, I would actually hope some of them would read this and react constructively by challenging their leadership to articulate a more coherent and rational sense of direction for themselves. Yes they still have a small mandate, but can they not see that years of moving further and further away from nationalist/republican aspirations and ethos has landed them in the dire circumstances now engulfing their party, terminally? I know they are opposed to euthanasia, but I predict that Nicola Mallon will be the timely assassin who administers the knockout blow and robs Mr. Eastwood of his leader’s “crown” (if you would even call it that), and then yet another PR exercise will grace us. The best advice I could give them is that those who park themselves in the middle of the road “politically”, end up getting run over by the traffic from the Left and the Right.
Mr. Eastwood once sought to portray himself as a bit of a Bolshevik in a Tsarist cabinet. His actions over this past while highlight for all to see, authoritatively, that he could not advance the interests of a birthday party never mind a political one. He has no vision or grand plan beyond resorting to the bygone days of glory under John Hume, blissfully unaware that he’s certainly no John Hume.
The SDLP may talk left but they have always acted to the right. They are in no way opposed to the economic model which has caused disastrous emigration and the export of our children across the globe – after all, it rids Ireland of those who could otherwise oppose the status quo. The objective for republicans now has to be to knock them off the political stage in the North in its entirety and absorb their votes; while concentrating efforts on a referendum on reunification in the South. The best way to get the Unionists to agree to a real Irish Republic isn’t to align with them but for a Corbyn-led government to compose a timetable for eventual British withdrawal. Then and only then, it will hit the Unionists that they have no Big Brother to hide behind, forcing them to come to some sort of amicable arrangement with their republican neighbours. Now that’s what’s going to happen eventually, Colum, but it won’t be on your watch. And as the song goes, “all of Ireland will be singing, when we bring our sons and daughters home!”