SDLP leader ‘not countenancing’ losing battle to represent Foyle

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he is “not countenancing” the prospect of losing out in the General Election.

Mr Eastwood is facing a challenge from Sinn Fein candidate Sandra Duffy for the seat he won with a sizeable majority at the last poll in 2019.

In an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, Mr Eastwood conceded his political career would be over “for now” if he lost in the race for Foyle.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (centre), with South Belfast candidate Claire Hanna (left), and Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole at Stormont
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (centre), with South Belfast candidate Claire Hanna (left), and Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole at Stormont (PA)

“I am not countenancing that,” he said.

“The currency of this business is votes, so if you want someone to be there, you have to vote for them. But if people don’t vote for you, you’re gone.”

Asked if he would be “gone as leader” if he lost the election, Mr Eastwood responded: “Absolutely, I wouldn’t even be on a parish council so I couldn’t be party leader.

“We’re working very hard. We think the polls are telling an interesting story and we’re knocking lots of doors, and I think we’ve been on it more than our opponents. We were knocking doors before the election was called and I think that is bearing fruit.

“The message we’re hearing is that people want us to turn up and speak and vote and represent people here.

“There really isn’t any point, in my view, of being elected and then not using that power that you’re given.”

The SDLP is running candidates in all 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Mr Eastwood conceded his party has had two “very difficult” elections but said it has been indicated that voters “moved” to back Sinn Fein to support Michelle O’Neill becoming the first nationalist First Minister, and being able to take up the post after two years of political instability at Stormont.

“I think the vote is coming back and I think things are beginning to settle back into themselves,” he said, in reference to a Lucid Talk opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph which indicated the SDLP vote was up three percentage points to 13%.

The SDLP leader emphasised that any MPs from his party will “turn up”, in reference to Sinn Fein’s long-standing abstentionist policy where its MPs do not take their seats in the House of Commons.

“I respect Sinn Fein’s position around that, it’s up to them. I just think it’s kind of bonkers, that you would run for an election and then not do the job,” he said.

“But they’re very open and honest about that, and equally we’re open and honest that we will go.”

Mr Eastwood contended his party was missed between 2017 and 2019 during the Brexit debate when they had no representation in the House of Commons.

The party regained representation at the 2019 general election, with Mr Eastwood in Foyle and Claire Hanna in South Belfast.

“I think people got a bit sick of that, particularly given it was the Brexit years and all the chaos that ensued because of the DUP’s messing around with it,” he said.

“Claire Hanna and I have been, I think, a voice for sanity from the north of Ireland in the House of Commons and it has been badly needed because I think it was badly missed.

“In the hundreds of thousands of doors that I have probably knocked in the last few weeks, I think people get that and they support that position.”

Mr Eastwood also contended that he believes as the “sister party” to Labour, his SDLP will have influence in the event of the Conservative Party losing their majority.