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.