South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell may have faltered through his acceptance speech after being elected leader of the SDLP at the weekend, but he has been making the most of opportunities to communicate with other political leaders since.
Mr McDonnell, who beat fellow south Belfast MLA Connall McDevitt to the post after Margaret Ritchie stepped down, quickly put his poor performance behind him.
“It was a technical problem,” said a party spokeswoman of his complaints about the lights. “These things happen.”
Mr McDonnell, who has been MP for south Belfast for six years, has spent this week in Dublin, meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny as well as the leaders of Fianna Fail and the Labour Party.
The spokesperson said he already had a good relationship with the southern politicians and added, “Alasdair has had a very warm, positive response from the Dublin government.”
She acknowledged that the duties of party leader were likely to take up more of the MP’s time but added that this work “is in the interests of people in the constituency as well.”
“He lives in south Belfast and will still be representing the people. There’s a busy office in the Ormeau Road and it will continue to work hard for the people.”
In his inaugural speech, Mr McDonnell emphasised the need for the party to put forward its economic vision.
“Now is the time to say that clever government spending can be used to boost the economy, to protect existing jobs and create new ones,” he said, adding that the SDLP will be holding a special economic conference as soon as possible.
He also detailed plans for rebuilding the SDLP. He said there will not only be “a new leader — but a new leadership system.
“I think it was during the last leadership contest that some commentator referred to me as a bull in a China shop. Well, I can tell you we are going to have a smashing time over the next few years. I will play to my strengths — diplomacy is over-rated and I think I can leave the gimmicks and the media spin to others.”
The MP believes that the SDLP can progress by following his constituency’s example: “We have created, and will continue to nurture, an atmosphere where it is possible to sit down with many strands of unionism and tease out where their best long-term interests lie. We have been doing a little of this in South Belfast and elsewhere and the debate, private and considered, is very promising.”
“We must now spell out what a united and New Ireland might actually look like.
Irwin Armstrong, chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, congratulated Alasdair McDonnell on his success but went on to accuse him of being “in denial” about the threat the deficit poses to the whole UK economy.
“I sincerely hope that Mr McDonnell will choose to build rather than destroy and that his comments on spending yesterday were just another unfortunate facet of a less than sure footed speech.
“We need constructive leadership from the SDLP going forward and not cheap rabble-rousing or faulty |economics.”