In recent days I've been berated by a number of people for the things I say about the SDLP. "You've a good word for everybody but never a single good thing to say about the SDLP!" one man told me, and for a heart-stopping moment I thought he was going to hit me, but then I remembered he was an SDLP supporter and didn't believe in violence. But it made me think, I must say. Maybe I HAVE been too negative about the Stoops.
Let me see if I can right the balance. As every unionist in South Down now knows, Maggie Ritchie has been elected to Westminster, and while she won't be resigning her MLA seat ('Double-jobbing my bottom'), she will be passing the Minister of Regional Development portfolio to Alex Attwood (after all, he did support her against the Demon Doctor). So will little Alex do a good job, do you think?
As Bill Clinton might have said, it depends on what you mean by the word 'good'. The acid test of Maggie's tenure as RD Minister was in North Belfast, and if you ask the many overcrowded Catholic families waiting for housing in that area, they'd tell you she was as useful as a gelding on a stud farm. But if you were to ask those who lean towards the Alliance view of the world, or even the DUP view of the world, you'd find they thought she did a grand job. Certainly she didn't give any green light for social housing that might have imperilled Nigel Dodds's shaky majority, and she didn't build houses in an area where unionist voters might be upset. It's a long way from North Belfast to South Down, but word travels fast in unionist circles.
So whither little Alex? Who knows? He may follow the lead of his leader and continue to lean towards Alliance ('No good in creating bother in a sensitive area') and the DUP (['Keep those bloody Shinner voters out at all costs'). Then again, he may figure there are relatively few unionist votes that'll help him staunch the vote-leakage machine that is the SDLP in West Belfast , and build loads of houses for Catholics, on the grounds that it's not all that long a way from North Belfast to West Belfast and desperate circumstances require desperate measures.
So now - who says I don't say good things about the SDLP? My guess is that little Alex will do the right thing as RD minister in North Belfast, even if it is for the wrong reasons. One thing is sure - if he does do the right thing, he'll shout it from the newly-built housetops. In very long sentences, of course.