N. Ireland Politics

SDLP's Colum Eastwood doesn't rule out Westminster run

Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has not ruled out standing in the next Westminster election in Foyle.

Speculation is growing Prime Minister Boris Johnson will call a snap General Election before Christmas and some parties have begun planning for a poll.

BBC News NI understands Mr Eastwood is one of a number of SDLP candidates being considered to contest the seat in Foyle.

The SDLP lost the seat to Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion two years ago.

Others names in the frame include:

  • Former minister and MLA Mark H Durkan;
  • Derry City and Strabane District councillor Sinead McLaughlin, a former chief executive of the local chamber of commerce and an outspoken critic of Brexit

'Nothing ruled out'

The SDLP has refused to comment on any speculation about a future candidate in Foyle, but when asked if the party leader was planning to run, a party spokesman said: "Nothing has been ruled in or out."

"The party has a process for selecting candidates which only starts when an election has been called, that hasn't happened yet," he added.

Mr Eastwood has in the past suggested the "door remained open" for the party's former MP Mark Durkan to contest the seat in Foyle, despite standing for Fine Gael in the European election in May.

Mr Durkan was the Foyle MP for 12 years before losing his seat by just 169 votes to Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion in the 2017 Westminster elections.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Mark Durkan lost the Foyle seat for the SDLP 2017, ending almost four decades in power for the party, starting with the election of John Hume in 1983

Sources close to the party said it was "unlikely" that Mr Durkan would be on the ballot paper if a snap election is called.

Analysis

By Enda McClafferty, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

Nothing energises a political party like the whiff of a general election. That scent has been growing stronger by the day.

And nothing energises SDLP supporters like the prospect of retaking a seat they held for almost 35 years.

The added incentive is having a vote and front row seat in the Brexit battle ground at a crucial time in Westminster.

That is why Colum Eastwood is reluctant to rule himself out of the race in Foyle.

Though it would be a gamble for the SDLP leader and one which he could not afford to lose.

His fate - if he runs - could rest with unionists voting tactically to remove the current Sinn Féin MP.

But expect a "turbo charged" campaign from Elisha McCallion to hold the seat her party has battled for decades to claim.

Battle to reclaim seat

Mr Eastwood polled more than 78,500 votes when he stood in May's European election - the fourth highest first-preference vote - but did not get enough to take one of the three seats.

He was buoyed, though, by the party's performance in the local election in Derry City and Strabane District Council, which claimed an extra seat and retook two places filled by former SDLP councillors who had left the party.

Sinn Féin lost ground in the elections, losing five seats in the council chamber.

Mr Eastwood at the time said the result showed his party's electoral strategy was working.

He described the local elections as "a staging post" in the party's battle to reclaim the Westminster seat in Foyle.

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