Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

We must be ready to face the challenge of change

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell believes the party can reverse its recent electoral decline by choosing him for the top job and putting policies into action

The importance of choosing the right leader for the SDLP has been put into intense focus by the recent events at Hillsborough Castle.

There has been a concerted effort to exclude the centre-ground parties and their electorate from playing a valid part in the talks.

Now we find ourselves in another political self-induced 'crisis' courtesy of the Sinn Fein/DUP axis of failure.

Whatever unravels in the days and weeks ahead can anybody really believe that anything of substance has changed?

The truth is, under the present DUP and Sinn Fein monopoly of power-carving, we will be pushed by polarised politics towards the precipice of failure, again and again.

Our voters, our party members and the people of Northern Ireland deserve better. They deserve a strong and re-energised SDLP providing real moral leadership in an Executive which actually delivers on the bread-and- butter issues. That is why I make four core pledges, if elected as leader of the SDLP.

Firstly, I will rebuild a new, dynamic, open, transparent and successful SDLP from the ground up.

Secondly, the SDLP will deliver more for hard-working families on the issues that matter to them.

Thirdly, we will win at least 20 Assembly seats in 2011 and more in 2015.

Fourthly, we will build an open, honest, welcoming, reconciled and united Ireland for all.

Under my leadership, the new SDLP will value the input of every member. There will be firm direction and firm discipline and I will make big demands of each and every member.

The SDLP will be totally committed to working for all our people. Community or class or culture will be an irrelevance in pursuing that goal. An Alasdair McDonnell-led SDLP will use every means possible to hold to account both the DUP and Sinn Fein.

They will no longer be allowed to dictate the political agenda simply on the basis of sheer numerical sectarian strength.

They will not be allowed to use the threat of conveniently manufactured crises to distract attention away from their failures.

I am determined that a new and invigorated SDLP team will be one that will, from day one of my leadership, face up to the realities of life as it affects every man, woman and child.

The message will be that in the new SDLP there will be a welcome and complete accommodation for all talents. I will encourage and attract more young people into the party.

However, those voices must be listened to and they must be given a voice. That voice will be encouraged and it will count.

There is no getting away from the fact the SDLP has declined electorally over the past decade. The voter figures don't lie. That has to change - and it will change under my leadership team.

The real issues that matter to people are self-evident. The public does not want more intellectual theories. It wants action.

It wants to see politicians being prepared to tackle problems by facing up to the responsibilities of collective government.

In relation to the economy, the construction industry is on its knees. The education of our children has become a bartering tool between political ideologies.

Our health service is a bureaucratic mess made worse by a gross level of under-funding. Our rural dwellers face a collapse in their quality of life through the increased centralisation of services.

These are real bread-and-butter issues. They won't be solved by those parties that play the flexible card of abstention in relation to Westminster.

They won't be solved by politicians who indulge in playing sectarian card politics in the hope of influencing the formation of the next British Government.

They will however, start to be solved by an SDLP strong on vision and with the capacity to confront the realities of life and deliver that vision.

They will be solved by a party with the courage to face up to the challenge of change. We are ready to implement change. My experience of life will be a key factor in delivering what our party requires.

Effective political leadership is not about wasting time on the theory of politics. It is about making things actually work.

Policy documents are important, but they are no substitute for practical politics. Under my leadership the SDLP will listen and will deliver for communities.

Through my role as a family doctor and my involvement in business, my commitment and vision has always been to make things better for the wider society. Support for the politics of inclusion and outreach will be the cornerstone of an Alasdair McDonnell-led SDLP.

My vision of a new, self-confident SDLP is one that will never back away from the reality of taking tough decisions in pursuit of positive change.

My track record as a political motivator, as being able to mobilise and win against the odds, is a consistent demonstration of my credentials in relation to change.

And it sustains my belief that I have the experience, passion, energy and commitment to lead, drive forward and continue that process of vital change for the SDLP.

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