MID ULSTER MLA Patsy McGlone is to challenge Margaret Ritchie for the leadership of the SDLP.
Deputy leader Patsy McGlone said he will stand for election at the party’s annual general meeting in November.
Even though South Down MP Ms Ritchie only took over at the beginning of last year, Mr McGlone said it is time for change at the top.
The move follows a poor performance by the party in Assembly elections earlier this year
Ms Ritchie is the first leader to face a challenge since the party was founded in 1970 and Mr McGlone is likely to have the backing of several key members.
The Mid Ulster MLA said “After listening to party members and supporters, as well as friends and family from right across the North in recent weeks, I have decided to seek election as leader of the SDLP. All those who have spoken to me share the belief that now is the time for change in the party.
“I am proud of my Irishness and proud to offer myself as Leader of a party which represents an Irishness of inclusivity, regardless of race, colour or creed. These core values, articulated by John Hume and Seamus Mallon, are precisely what attracted me to the SDLP in the first place.
“The SDLP has revolutionised Irish politics. The founding principles of the party are as relevant today as they were during the civil rights campaign. The unity of the people of Ireland, a unity built on trust, along with practical social democracy – being there for people through the good and bad times – lie at the heart of every SDLP member and supporter.
“The way forward for us needs three strategic elements: strong leadership, clarity of message and radically improved grassroots organisation.
“The SDLP has a wealth of talent within its ranks, and each member has a vital role to play in contributing to the community as we strengthen our grassroots base. Now, as over the last 40 years, we are here as the strong voice of integrity in politics.
“It is time for us to reassert those proud core values of the SDLP.”
Mr McGlone said that though the party’s 94,000 votes proved the SDLP still has a solid base, some seats had been lost needlessly.
“We lost seats in North Antrim, South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone and some of those losses were very narrow.
“There are a lot of success stories in the SDLP but it’s about building that base and experience and reconnecting with our grassroots.
“It’s for us to rebuild and in some areas, it has to be said, we need to rebuild from scratch.
“There are areas where we have done exceptionally well and then there are areas that need a complete makeover.
“In some areas the SDLP has been left to wither on the vine.
He described Mrs Ritchie as a ‘good colleague’ and a ‘most effective MP’ for south Down.
However when asked about her media performance which has been criticised he said: We live in a media age and it is crucially important to be able to put out a message of strong leadership on the radio or on TV.
Patsy said he was ‘very confident’ of success.
“It is not about Patsy McGlone winning. It is about the SDLP putting itself on a winning footing and starting to rebuild.”
Mr McGlone said he wanted to put an end to ‘doing business with cliques’.
“This is about not putting that clique or this clique first. It’s about putting the SDLP first,” he said.