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ANALYSIS: Forecast leaves SDLP a shadow of former self

Former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon and SDLP leadership candidate Colm Eastwood with Jessie, Mr Mallon's King Charles Spaniel. Picture by Cliff Donaldson 

THERE isn't anything necessarily revelatory about the figures in the SDLP's internal report as its forecast is based on Westminster election results which are freely available to the public.

However, the report highlights two stark facts – that the SDLP is facing its worse ever election result and that the party leadership knows it.

It means that whoever leads the SDLP after next weekend's annual conference has a huge task on their hands as they seek to steady a badly listing ship.

If the predictions turn out to be true, the SDLP will be the smallest of Stormont's main parties, in all likelihood lying behind Alliance and the UUP in terms of representation.

Furthermore, the implications for party morale of losing leading figures like Dolores Kelly and Alex Attwood would also be devastating, leaving the party a mere shadow of its past self.

A decade-and-a-half ago John Hume led a united party that had 24 MLAs and Stormont's deputy first minister in the shape of Seamus Mallon.

The rot began to set in almost immediately after the Foyle MP's departure from the top job but it appears to have accelerated in recent years under Dr McDonnell, who often appears oblivious or in denial of the SDLP's ailing fortunes.

The decline must be doubly galling for the party faithful when they see how Mike Nesbitt has revitalised the Ulster Unionists and set them on the path to recovery.

The SDLP has little over six months to arrest its decline and prove the predictions wrong. In seven days' time we will know whether that unenviable task falls to 66-year-old Alasdair McDonnell or a new leader who is less than half the South Belfast MP's age.

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