Northern Ireland

Margaret Ritchie: SDLP leader 'to face challenge'

Maragaret Ritchie
Image caption Ms Ritchie's leadership has come in for criticism from some within the party

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is expected to face a challenge to her leadership when the party holds its annual conference in November.

It is thought the party's deputy leader Patsy McGlone might be ready to formally declare his interest in the leadership as early as next month.

There has been growing discontent in SDLP ranks since the party lost two assembly seats in May's elections.

Ms Ritchie replaced Mark Durkan as leader at the start of 2010.

She defeated the South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell by 35 votes.

The new leader overcame her first major challenge at the Westminster election of 2010.

She successfully defended the South Down seat, previously held by her mentor Eddie McGrady, and the party retained its other two Westminster seats.

However, during this spring's Assembly election campaign, Ms Ritchie's style and media performances came in for some criticism.

Ms Ritchie's critics blame her style and media performances for the poor results in the assembly elections.

Image caption Patsy McGlone is expected to challenge Ms Ritchie

The divide between Ms Ritchie and her deputy Mr McGlone became clear when she passed him over for a ministerial job and he refused her offer of a Stormont committee chairmanship.

The deadline for leadership contenders to nominate is mid-September but the BBC understands Mr McGlone could publicly declare his hand before that - perhaps as early as next month.

It is also thought that Mr McDonnell has not completely ruled himself out.

Ms Ritchie's critics want her to quit as leader to ensure a smooth transition, but over the summer the South Down MP has insisted she will stand for the leadership again in November.

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