With less than two weeks to go before the SDLP’s annual conference, the four candidates for the leadership of the party have been outlining their policies and highlighting their qualifications for the top job.
Party leader Margaret Ritchie stepped down last month saying she wanted to concentrate on constituency work.
Veteran party member and MP for South Belfast, Alasdair McDonnell, has warned that the SDLP needs radical change to survive.
“I am not going to stand by and watch the further decline, disintegration and eventual disappearance of this party,” he said in launching his campaign.
McDonnell told members at his leadership launch that the SDLP could not continue with the myth that it had lots of branches.
West Belfast MLA, Alex Attwood, officially set out his bid for the leadership last week, stating that the party needs “proven leadership to navigate through the next period of politics in Ireland.”
In a letter that will be sent out to party colleagues in the run up to the party conference, Mr. Attwood states that “people are anxious, seeking more than devolved government but good, strong government.” He adds in the letter that the party should have a “considered discussion” on the idea of going into opposition in Stormont.
Speaking this week Attwood said: “Over my own political lifetime I have the proven experience in showing leadership and making the big decisions and I have the toughness to take the decisions moving forward.
“Through my political life in any chamber I have that good authority to make any argument and make them prevail. I’ve taken on big jobs and then delivered fundamental change on policing, housing and criminal justice right across my political life.
“I have demonstrated toughness in negotiations with Blair, Powell and Dublin, with RUC and PSNI chiefs, directors of MI5 in the North, and with other ministers and other party leaders,” he said.
Former Stormont minister, Brid Rodgers, meanwhile, has thrown her support behind Conall McDevitt.
Mr. McDevitt was her adviser when Ms Rodgers was SDLP agriculture minister. He is the youngest of the four SDLP leadership contenders.
“A few people have said to me, maybe it’s too soon for Conall,” said Rodgers.
“My answer to that is, it’s not too soon for the SDLP because we have to act now. Time is not on our side.”
Mid-Ulster MLA, Patsy McGlone, remains the bookies favorite to become the new leader. While the other three candidates are from Belfast, the Tyrone man is the only rural candidate and is popular with the party’s grassroots membership.