DUP leader facing a political limbo?

Frank Millar indicates in today’s Irish Times, that there are some flurries of anxiety within the British government that the succession in the DUP could lead to fresh instability within the Executive:

Given Dr Paisley’s crucial ongoing role in securing and cementing the powersharing deal with Sinn Féin, there are indications that the British government would be reassured that a Robinson/Dodds leadership pact would spell security for the devolved administration. However, in the House of Commons yesterday Mr Dodds told prime minister Gordon Brown that “the horrific murder of Paul Quinn” had cast “a serious shadow over the stability of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland”.

Dodds has been notably quite of recent times, but there are thoughts within the party that Paisley almost symbiotic relationship with the Deputy First Minister has cost the party core support to its estranged MEP, Jim Allister. As one party insider put it to Slugger, it’s part of his character as a Pastor. He is just full of bon homie that he just can’t help himself.

Others believe that this is, as Pete has hinted, a question of contamination of the Paisley rather than the party brand. Millar further notes:

Long-serving deputy leader Peter Robinson MP now appears the hot favourite to succeed Dr Paisley when he does finally stand down. In an echo of the original – though in the end disputed – Tony Blair/Gordon Brown “Granita deal” over the Labour leadership, the growing expectation seems to be that Nigel Dodds MP will back a Robinson succession on the understanding that Mr Robinson will in turn support Mr Dodds to become only the third leader in the DUP’s history.

There was a time when Dodds was widely considered to be the ‘anointed one’. Observers note that on occasion Paisley would redirect questions aimed at Robinson to Dodds. But the tides have been shifting inexorably towards the erstwhile DUP Deputy Leader, not least since an internal poll of DUP members for the Hearts and Minds poll put Dodds with a tiny amount of support within the party a few years back.

And in the last year, as Suzanne Breen has noted, Robinson has been consolidating his power within the party:

“With a meticulous eye for detail and unsurpassed organisational abilities, Robinson was made to be a minister and has excelled himself in the finance department. His professionalism and competence have won him admiration from even those in the fundamentalist wing of the party, who had long disliked him because of his eagerness for a political deal.”

This is a new game calling for new skills and new metrics for political success. However long it takes for the old Rhinoceros to cede the ground, there is a growing consensus that his day is almost over. Possibly by May, a government source suggests. And possibly sooner, if the Parliamentary Commission for Standards makes a negative ruling on Junior’s performance as a parliamentary assistant to his father.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty