Friday, 5 August 2011

Can MLAs do sums?

ACCORDING to the BBC website the Assembly is shelling out more than £1m each year for security, maintenance and running costs for a property that it wants to sell for £2.5m after buying it in 2001 for £9m.

Ormiston House is a historic property that deserves to be noted, acknowledged and protected, but that is what the planning service does.

The Assembly is not exactly a cheap legislature, so rather than shell out £1m plus would it not be easier to set up an auction where the highest bidder gets the property. It may not be the best solution, but the loss on a piece of capital will be more than made up for by the savings in running costs.

Perhaps the accountants, auditors and actuaries may not be happy at shifting the various monies across the columns of their ‘books’, but then again common sense may break out. If something costs you £1m per year with no real benefits, get rid of it!

Fight Club!

WHAT happens in Fight Club stays in Fight Club is the infamous phrase from the eponymous Fight Club movie and political leaders from the beginning of time must have wished that they could impose such discipline! And prime amongst them right now is Margaret ‘Wooden’ Ritchie.

The ‘wooden’ title comes not from our pen, rather from the wikileaks intercepts of US state department emails. But, if that was all of Ms Ritchie and the SDLP’s woes, then summer would be a time to relax.

Instead there now follows massive uncertainty about the leadership. Patsy McGlone, deputy leader, has tossed his hat into the ring and became the first to break cover. Defeated leadership candidate Alasdair McDonnell is allegedly coming under pressure to enter the leadership race.

The below the line message is that Ms Ritchie’s leadership has seen the collapse of the SDLP vote and the loss of two Assembly seats. And this only goes to prove that pundits sense only the present and lack the perspective of even the recent past.

The reality is that the SDLP’s vote has been slowly sliding away, eroded by a variety of factors, not least by Sinn Féin’s solidity at the ballot box.

And the two seats lost should be seen in terms of losses and gains across the region.
But, please, please Ms Ritchie, Mr McGlone and Dr McDonnell can you keep this going solidly until the party conference? You’ll need extra space for the frustrated journos, bloggers, film crews, twitterers and political anoraks...oh and we’ll be there too.

However, for the SDLP the real problem is that, despite the melodrama of leadership challenges, there really is only the benefit of being a side show.

Whatever the root causes of the disconnect with the wider public - and worse still this internal wrangling – the four years until the next Assembly election may seem like a lot of time to resolve them, but time’s arrow only points in one direction and the seconds tick-by faster than you think. How many votes can be gained or lost in that time? And will any gains be enough for whatever leader the SDLP emerges with?

At least it wasn’t all hidden behind closed doors. And, in this day of smartphones and social media, we’re glad that that the code of fight club can no longer be held to by MLAs.