Belfast Telegraph

SDLP must show vision to convince voters

The SDLP has long played an important role in helping to consolidate the centre ground in local politics.

However, it cannot rest on its past successes, and at its party conference this weekend it needs to spell out how it proposes to stake its claim to continue as a significant focus of nationalist opinion.

The party, under its new leader Margaret Ritchie, managed to hold on to its three Westminster seats in the general election, but its share of the vote decreased slightly in comparison to a small increase for Sinn Fein.

Margaret Ritchie has also intensified her party's regular contacts with Dublin, which is in keeping with the SDLP's commitment to nationalism, but it is a far cry from the heady days when the party was making its name through the strategy of people like John Hume, Seamus Mallon and others.

Margaret Ritchie, however, has her own approach and in all fairness she needs more time to develop her strategy. It is also important that voters are given a plurality of choice, in a situation where the DUP and Sinn Fein remain too dominant.

Nevertheless, the SDLP needs more vision and bolder political strokes if it is to capture the imagination, and more important, the votes of those people who can continue to make it a force in the land.

It is not always easy to know what the SDLP stands for, and it is a considerable challenge for Margaret Ritchie to widen the party's appeal. This is much more than a question of changing the profile of a party which has been associated more recently with that of grey men in suits.

A change also requires a challenging policy, and an appeal to the younger voters. The SDLP has earned much respect and goodwill since its inception, but like any successful party, it needs continual renewal.

The challenge facing Margaret Ritchie and her colleagues is to convince even more people today that a vote for the party and its policy will really make a difference.

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