Monday 21 September 2009

Durkan's gamble

Mark Durkan yesterday announced that he would stand down as leader of the SDLP. The party's own statement said that:

"Mark Durkan has said both publicly and privately that if he is elected again as MP for Foyle he would be stepping down from the Assembly.

This position clearly as implications for the leadership of the party, which has led Mr Durkan to announce that he plans to stand aside as leader in the near future.

Mr Durkan feels that as a Nationalist party and one that did more than any other to secure the institutions of agreement that the SDLP cannot be long-led from Westminster.

Note that last sentence: "the SDLP cannot be long-led from Westminster". It implies that Durkan expects to still be in Westminster after next year's general election. Otherwise, he would have waited to see – after all, if he fails to be re-elected then he could happily continue to be SDLP leader in the Assembly without having to worry about dual mandates.

Of course Durkan has a good chance of being re-elected for Foyle next year, but he is not a certainty. Foyle was a safe SDLP seat under John Hume, but since Hume left, the SDLP position has weakened. In the 2005 Westminster election the gap between the SDLP and Sinn Féin halved, and it is likely that Durkan got some strategic votes from unionists:

The 'normal' unionist vote is around 20%, but in 2005 the combined unionist vote was only 16.8%. So if Durkan was the beneficiary of these 'missing' unionist votes, his lead over Sinn Féin amongst nationalists starts to look quite slim. If you subtract the 'missing' unionist votes (3,000 or so) from Durkan's 2005 total, it leaves him barely 3,000 votes ahead of Sinn Féin, compared with Hume's 11,500 lead in 2001. That is a relatively insecure majority.

Of course, in 2010 unionists may just vote for Durkan again – not out of any liking for him, but to try to stop a Sinn Féin victory. But if they decide that they dislike Durkan enough, they might just stay at home, or vote for a unionist candidate just to make a point. If this were to happen, Durkan's seat might be within Sinn Féin's reach.


Antrim said...

Durkans exit strategy from SDLP perhaps? He obviously sees the writing on the wall. He seems to accept that FF are not interested in being the cavalry riding in to save them from the shinners. He is learning the same lesson many others have learned to their dismay, it is always dangerous to ask others for help, Diarmuid McMorrough could tell him that as could the Romano Britons, Horsa and Hengist came say and said this is easy. So will FF. So he abandons his own party to the wolves here and sits on in Westminster pulling a fat salary. Wonder how long he can get away with it before declaring himself an independant?

Watcher said...

The SDLP have no future as things stand. The future in the long term for NI is a right wing unionist party (local or Conservative), a left wing unionist party (local or New Labour) and an Irish Nationalist party (NOT The SDLP).

The only credible future for The SDLP is to become the left wing unionist party. Non-sectarian and socialist, but small 'u' unionist. They could merge with The PUP and possibly The Alliance Party (and possibly The Workers Party?). They would certainly attract left wing unionists in the longer term, of whom there are plenty (currently dissatisfied with the options available).

Ultimately they could formalise their link with The British Labour Party in the way The UUP have done with The British Conservative Party.

Far fetched? Not really - The Scottish Labour Party is full of Catholics of Irish descent.

Pedro said...

The wish,as usual,is the father of the thought.

Nordie Northsider said...

Merging with proven vote-repellent parties such as the Workers' Party, the PUP and Alliance doesn't strike me as a solution. But the SDLP seat in Foyle is safe as long as Sinn Fein lack a credible candidate.

SandtaD said...

Step forward Martina Anderson.