Chuckling

A few months ago The Watchman provided a pair of extremely interesting articles on Dr. Paisley and the DUP entitled “When the chuckling had to stop” and “The unbuckling of the Bible Belt”. They are well worth re-reading as they provide an excellent insight into anti agreement unionist thinking. Subsequently Fair_Deal produced what to my mind is the finest piece of unionist political analysis on this web site in his blog “Telling a new story.”

It might be worth revisiting “chuckling” especially in view of the new at least less superficially friendly relationship between SF and the DUP. Brian Walker has pointed out the recent speech by Adams again raising the possibility of collapse of the institutions whilst fair_deal has noted the latest DUP idea which is far from openly conciliatory.
It has become an accepted fact amongst politicos that chuckling helped end Paisley’s tenure as First Minister; as such to suggest that it was a potentially good idea seems barmy. Much more sensible to ascribe it to Paisley’s foolishness and self importance or maybe somehow imply that it is an example of him becoming demented, the fact that he is a man with absolutely no other sign of such a thing being conveniently ignored. Alternatively (and I have done this) one could ascribe it to Paisley’s known personal friendliness, which is widely documented and can probably be vouched for a surprising number and range of people in Northern Ireland possibly including some sluggerites.

To try to see a political reason behind chuckling one might do worse than go back to the days when Trimble was First and Mallon Deputy First Minister. Clearly Trimble had many problems: he had a party of which only about 60% backed him, he had Republicans failing to decommission, he faced pressure to back track on every stand he took by the government, he had the DUP gaining momentum and he was not a man noted for interpersonal skills. However, his constant look of almost pain at what was happening was often seen to show that he knew he was being out manoeuvred and defeated. Many within unionism felt that he (and in the process unionists in general) were losing and that the inexorable decline towards a united Ireland continued with Trimble merely helping to manage rather than arrest let alone reverse this process. Trimble did little in his speeches or interviews to suggest that he felt he had won but also (and maybe most relevant to the chuckling that was to come) his body language was extremely poor. I know I have mentioned it recently but he did always remind me of the defeated Shylock “Send the deed after me, And I will sign it” (Merchant of Venice IV, i).

Paisley in marked contrast to Trimble is a master of public speaking, a true orator; anyone who doubts me should go along to the Martyr’s. Even now in his old age he can speak brilliantly and he understands the nuances of language and actions. The fact that Paisley (to my analysis) had sold out his principles to almost a greater extent than Trimble simply made the need for an act the more vital.

As such I submit that Paisley’s chuckling was all about the perception he wished to put on the deal. It was an attempt to say, whatever about the U turns, that actually through him “The Big Man” unionism had truly defeated its enemy; that so complete was his victory that he could smile and chuckle with McGuinness. He may have felt that it showed that he Paisley could pose for friendly photos the way one might with a muzzled and caged crocodile. Not for Paisley the look of pain and the voices off saying that he was failing to sell the agreement to his own people.

Of course if that was Paisley’s idea it shows that not for the first time he miscalculated. He may have felt that such was his popularity amongst unionists, especially the fundamentalist wing of the DUP that he could sell the deal U turns and all. His errors were two fold: he was mistaken in thinking that people had enough belief in him to overlook the U turns. Secondly he forgot just how reviled Martin McGuinness was and is within many unionist circles and how apparent friendship with that man would be far too much for many ordinary unionists who blamed McGuinness and his ilk for the many times they had walked behind the coffins of friends and relatives. This was not helped by Paisley’s tendency betimes to adopt a different position and like Trimble admit that all in the unionist garden was not that rosy and claim that plan B stalked outside the hedges.

The dichotomy between the victorious and magnanimous Paisley and the man who was forced to compromise was a fatal flaw in the chuckling strategy. Whether of course this Janus-headed approach was any worse than Trimble’s Shylockian one is of course debatable: both ultimately failed.

What Robinson’s approach will be is interesting: it is still developing but seems to be an attempt to combine the irritation and distain of Trimble with the studied victorious-ness of Paisley. That will be a hard act to pull off.

To finish by referring to Shakespeare (I know it annoys some of you): if Trimble was King Richard II, a rather weak and vacillating individual, could Paisley have been Henry IV described in my copy’s introduction as “A usurper himself, Henry IV has no ground on which to base his authority over the rebels who were once his allies. The only basis of his power is victory on the battlefield. In each part this is achieved by means of a trick.” To continue my analogy does Robinson see himself as Henry V the great ruler who defeats the French. He might do but personally I am rather doubtful he is.

  • Loyal Ulster Unionist

    Any news on the Dup’s candidate for the Enniskillen by-election?

  • Sam Flanagan

    It does not matter who the candidate is they all suspect closet queens.

  • Loyal Ulster Unionist

    Any names for us?

  • Brian Walker

    It’s fascinating to see Peter Robinson starting to develop those elements of a modern party, an ideological think tank and the language of political marketing. Just like that model moderniser, Tony Blair. Peter never was a member of the patriarchate, just as Blair was never in hock to Labour’s old guard. I doubt though if Peter will ever have a “clause 4 moment” and specifically disavow the old DUP.

    He doesn’t need to ; on gay rights he is bound by anti-discrimination laws, as he made clear over Iris’s little sally, and the rest of the legal superstructure erected during Direct Rule to regulate political behaviour when devolution was achieved.

    Robinson has the terrific self- discipline learned in all those years of waiting, relieved by those bouts of cold anger against his intimate opponents the UUs and now the TUVs.

    Sure, he appears Janus-like just now as he plans his next moves. What we all want to know is, if he is building a new laager or creating a firmer basis for moving out into the wider world.

    I suspect the latter, but we shall see.

  • Brian Walker

    P.S. … and incidentally, we will want to know if Peter Robinson can match David Trimble’s courage, should the need arise.

  • dewi

    Turgon – lucid, fluent and eloquent as ever (and long!)- but so absolutionist (is that a word?). Winning and losing ain’t the game IMHO – A shared future is the game which requires not so much compromise but rational decision making. I’m beginning to think that Robinson might be making progress in that direction. Let’s all hope so.

  • Garibaldy

    Dewi,

    The problem being we aren;t getting a shared future so much as an agreed carve up.

  • EWI

    the inexorable decline towards a united Ireland[…]a muzzled and caged crocodile[…]

    Less emotive, nay, trollish, language please. Flaming and name-calling on Slugger should be for the peanut gallery only (i.e. us).

    p.s. what is the story with the grandiose codenames that Loyalist contributors to this website give themselves? “Turgon the Wise”. “The Watchman”. “Sammy the Naturist”. “The Doorman”.

  • Loyal Ulster Unionist

    Will be interesting to see who goes up for Enniskillen by-election for the Dup.

    The nominations closed today if my sources are correct. The candidates are as follows:

    Mandy Mahon- generally disliked in DUP circles due to her wealthy background. Does she want to lose another election?

    David Black- generally regarded as a complete idiot and laughing stook of the town. PLEASE select him lol.

    Thomas Hogg- another one of the Dup’s new landed aristocrats. From school I know he is an obnoxious and sceaming individual.

    Andrew Gowen- as above. Complete arogant idiot. Follows under his daddy’s coat tails. Pathetic individual.

  • joeCanuck

    Turgon,

    I really do wish that you would stop calling this most unchristian person “Doctor”. It diminishes the hard work that most of the holders of that title did to earn their title.

  • Rory

    “Anti-Agreement Unionist thinking”

    What exactly is this “thinking” that it deserves a separate category that demands recognition? Is it somehow like “a Happening”, simply silly? Is it a concept? Can we formalise it into a movement, a broad concensus of thought?

    More importantly, if we are to accord it with any integrity, it might be useful to know what it was thinking when it voted at the GFA poll and if it accepts the responsibilty that was implicit in the outcome of that resounding “Yes”. Or is it that there is a section of people within Unionism which would glorify itself with the title of ” Anti-Agreement Unionist thinking” that simply will not accept democratic concensus as neither do dissident republicans?

    And then finally we must ask if there might not be a threat of violence implied in any failure to meet its demands? Certainly there has been a liitle frisson of such threat running through your statements of thought on this issue, Turgon.

    You are of course, as a self righteously declared pacifist always anxious to declare your distance from such threats and I completely understand this. I am also absolutely opposed to violence and always insist that someone else mash my potatoes out of my sight and hearing. But then I do so like eating those creamy, buttered mounds that I forgive those who violently mashed the poor innocent spuds.

  • joeCanuck

    Chuckle raising, as always, Rory.

  • Mick Fealty

    Not so sure it was fatal, even for Dr Paisley. What the DUP and SF have in common is a certain (Shakespearean?) ruthlessness. They understand each other absolutely. In the case of the DUP they seem set upon journeying along a unionist continuum from the fringes in which the party had its genesis to the mainstream, where the UUP once dominated.

    This is where the Richard analogy doesn’t absolutely fit for me. There was a victory of sorts on the field of battle (and it was actually won by Trimble, not Paisley), but it was so conditional that it would pay unionism not to treat it as such.

    If the strategy works (and no one in the DUP appears fool enough to claim victory before we see its final outcome), then the old stagers who ‘fought the war’ will simply drift off the stage at the point at which the pain of the new settlement becomes personally bearable for them to ‘stand down’.

    Junior’s line was as good as any I have heard, http://url.ie/hky:

    “Given my father’s power as a leader, and the fact that he has ultimately been the unionist guard dog, the unionist insurance policy if you like for all those years… it was always going to be his call. If he was for it, even if it was tough, it would at least have stickability.”

    That and the erosion of the forces of ‘independent unionism’ to its flank have allowed the DUP to act almost with impunity in the short. That said, it is still a very febrile ecology. That, as Brian has noted above, is why the mission to build a modern, secular political party is critical to the future health of political unionism.

  • Brian Walker

    The phrase “democratic centralism” that someone used somewhere in one of these discussions is one that works for me. It’s a theoretical Marxist term that applied to the the USSR and the “People’s ” democracies of eastern Europe before the wall of the Wall. When you think about it, it’s also an oxymoron.

    The DUP and Sinn Fein at their most characteristic recall those regimes towards the end when they were first exposed to public scrutiny. There are two differences : first, our two are getting used to power, not being forced to give it up; and two, here are two hitherto closed, opposing but mirror-image party systems compelled cooperate, a phenomenon unimaginable under communism.

    Will they adapt or collapse as they emerge blinking into the light?

  • Dave

    Mick, Junior’s point about there being a mass fallacy that if the extremes accept a deal then it must benefit their position is equally true about why the Provos were so useful to the British government in persuading the disenfranchised to integrate into the new political structures (on the basis of accepting Trimble’s demand that the Unionist Veto should be endorsed by them – which it duly was, renamed as the Principle of Consent so as not to frighten the horses). Of course, the fallacy is also self-cancelling since one extreme can only gain at the direct expense of the contrasting extreme: both extremes cannot gain. And the Shinners (and the nationalists) come out on the losing side of that zero-sum actuality. They gave renounced everything, embracing all that they previously rejected. Instead of achieving Irish unity (the last thing they wanted), they are administering British rule in an internal settlement which accepts that Ulster is British, having hoodwinked the nationalists into endorsing an agreement that renounces their right to self-determination. The only way they could every achieve unity under that deal would be if they could persuade the citizens of the Republic to follow suit and renounce their own right to self-determination (inseparable from a nation state) and thereby dismantle the Republic and replace with a joint British-Irish entity that grants parity to British nationalism and Irish nationalism (these two are also self-cancelling when they share a territory, which is why there is one ever one legitimate claim to self-determination per sovereign territorial entity). Trimble, though he Unionists don’t see him as being of the stature, is up there with Carson – which is where Paisley would dearly love to be but simply isn’t.

  • Briso

    Posted by Dave on Jul 01, 2008 @ 10:08 AM
    having hoodwinked the nationalists into endorsing an agreement that renounces their right to self-determination

    Us taigs are thick. If only we wur smart lik Dave.

  • Mick Fealty

    Speak for yourself Briso, not others.

  • Bigger Picture

    “This was not helped by Paisley’s tendency betimes to adopt a different position and like Trimble admit that all in the unionist garden was not that rosy and claim that plan B stalked outside the hedges.”

    But we don’t need to look for a plan B to see that devolution is better for unionists. Direct rule brought us a range of concessions to the republican movement and that was evidenced by SF’s desire to tear down the institutions when they could not get their way and go back to British direct rule. Interestingly the same position as the TUV. It will be hard for them to square that one.

    Interestingly enough, I was watching Let’s Talk the other week with Gregory Campbell on it. A TUV supporter came on and said we shouldn’t be there with terrorists. Ok… His point being, as he helpfully explained, was that the war may be over but it is now a political war that SF are involved in. Well in a political war would it not be better to be in there fighting them rather than standing outside kicking and screaming as decisions are made over your head?

  • Briso

    Posted by Mick Fealty on Jul 01, 2008 @ 11:33 AM
    Speak for yourself Briso, not others.

    Mick, it’s not me who is speaking for others. Dave’s contempt for us drips from every dreary, self-regarding missive.

    He knows why we Nationalists all supported the Good Friday Agreement. It’s because we’re a bunch of dumbasses who didn’t realise we were being ‘hoodwinked’. It’s difficult for me to argue with that, because Dave starts from the point of view that I was too dumb to understand the agreement, so it would be hard to persuade him that I understand his elegant intellectual argument. I know my place.

  • Dave

    Briso, it’s not a case of me regarding you as being stupid, but I will demurely defer to your declaration in that regard because, obviously, you know yourself better than I will ever know you. 😉

    It’s a case, as Junior pointed out, of a certain mass hysteria/fallacy of reasoning existing that leads people to believe that if an extreme supports a position then it must be because it benefits its particular brand of ideology. In short, if Paisley supports Devolution, then it is assumed that is because it guarantees the continuance of the Union. The contrasting fallacy for the republican community would be if the Shinners support Devolution, then it is assumed that is because it guarantees the destruction of the Union. The fallacy is thereby self-cancelling since both aims cannot be served. Ergo, one side has been hoodwinked by default. Unfortunately, that side is nationalists.

    A claim to self-determination is inseparable from a claim to a sovereign territorial entity. Where a claim to that territory is disputed, then it can only be resolved by one side either renouncing its claim by its own volition or being defeated in that claim. This is why Trimble won the argument. He succeeded in getting the disputing claimant to renounce its claim to self-determination by forcing them to accept the Unionist Veto (which they did after it was rebranded under a new name and elevated to the status of a principle, no less). The consequence of this formal acceptance that Ulster is British by the nationalists is that they now have an aspiration toward self-determination rather than an inalienable right to it. Rights create an obligation on others to facilitate them whereas aspirations are purely discretionary. That’s a big culture shift, and that’s how the outside world progresses.

    That profound ramification of that shift hasn’t quite sunk in it yet, but in another 50 years, it will. 😉

  • Dave

    And by the way, I have never claimed that I understand Northern Ireland. If I was smart, I’d have understood the place by now rather than still being fascinated by the mystery of it. NI is the place that surpasseth all understanding. 😉