McDonnell faces immediate questions and longer term dilemmas

Alasdair McDonnell gives first speech as party leader Image copyright bbc
Image caption Mr McDonnell said he wanted to give united leadership

When Patsy McGlone decided to challenge Margaret Ritchie for the SDLP leadership, one of his first stops was the Glens of Antrim holiday home of the South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell.

Mr McGlone and Mr McDonnell were firm friends, who worked closely together when the South Belfast MP last stood unsuccessfully for his party's top job.

Mr McGlone's argument was simple - Margaret Ritchie had failed to make sufficient headway in the Assembly elections.

Dr McDonnell had had his chance to challenge her and had lost, would he now stand aside to let the Mid Ulster MLA try his hand?

It might have seemed logical to Mr McGlone. But Dr McDonnell wasn't convinced.

Despite his previous loss he still felt he was the heavy hitter the SDLP needed to take on Sinn Fein and the other parties in TV election debates.

The South Belfast MP told his friend he could do whatever he felt he must, but he wouldn't be standing aside.

Dr McDonnell denies he was ever a dark horse, but there were times during this contest when it felt that way.

His launch was less well attended than that of the young pretender Conall McDevitt whilst some wondered whether the venue - the Linenhall library - was too historic for someone wanting to lead his party into the future.

Old fashioned lobbying

Questioned about what were then long odds at the bookmakers, Dr McDonnell quipped that he had advised his supporters to hold off splashing their cash until they could get a good return.

It turned out to be more than just a good one liner.

His supporters say he concentrated on old-fashioned face to face lobbying of the 350 or so voters, repeating his mantra that the SDLP has one last opportunity to end its decline and that he was the only man to do the job.

Better organisation and a promised "collective leadership" don't amount to a radical ideological shift.

But the SDLP will hope that in choosing Alasdair McDonnell they have gone for experience and feistiness - a politician who sounded like he meant it when he talked about "stoking the SDLP fire in every parish".

Immediate questions for the new leader will be who the party's only minister should be? What role in the "collective leadership" should Conall McDevitt play, given his impressive second place?

Longer term dilemmas include whether the SDLP should remain in the Executive or go into opposition.

At his campaign launch Dr McDonnell said the party might eventually be forced to leave the Executive, but it didn't sound his first priority.

Instead he stressed that the Good Friday Agreement shouldn't be dismantled.

As the crow flies, Dr McDonnell's Glens home isn't that far away from the Rathlin island cave where Robert the Bruce was reputed to have been impressed by the spider which tried and tried again to complete its web.

Dr McDonnell can now take satisfaction that he was right not to allow himself to be persuaded by Patsy McGlone to stand aside and, instead, to try again to capture the leadership denied to him once before.

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