The Taming of Shrews (and others)

With the Ulster family Robinson apparently safely off on holiday it is maybe time to have a brief look at the politics of Mrs. Robinson’s recent outbursts rather than the comments themselves and indeed what this tells us about the DUP.One of Shakespeare’s most sexist plays is “The Taming of the Shrew.” In this several suitors wish to woo the beautiful Bianca. However, she cannot marry before her shrewish older sister Katerina. Petruchio marries Kate for her dowry and also for the challenge of getting her and then proceeds to take her away and “tames” her at his country house. It is a pretty politically incorrect play and I must admit to not liking it very much.

The role of the whip in a party is amongst other things to prevent other politicians saying and doing things that might be damaging to the party. I suspect the problem is that there are some in the DUP who are beyond reproach, no matter how damaging their comments. As such “taming” Iris’s outbursts is probably difficult.

Robinson like many of us seemed to get fixated on one particular set of issues: in her case it was homosexuals and the specific application of religious views to politics (however confused her theology was on that). After the initial storm on the Nolan show she should probably have kept a low profile but like many of us was attracted back to similar issues like a moth to a candle. We all do this, when in a hole we all continue to dig at times, feeling that we are being (often deliberately) misunderstood or misrepresented.

She is of course not alone in the DUP in being attracted back to issues on which she would be wiser to remain silent. Ian Paisley junior has also returned moth like to the issue of selling land to (amongst others) Seymour Sweeney.

Over the last number of years whatever the political position changes or not of the DUP there has been a marked professional-isation of the party and its media image. It has become rare to have a DUP member on air who is anything other than polished and professional in both content and delivery. Peter Robinson and those whom he has gathered around him have undoubtedly masterminded this transformation. There was always the possibility that Dr. Paisley might say something a bit mad but with him now gradually leaving the stage it looked like the days of DUP spokespersons inflicting significant damage upon themselves and the party had ended. Paisley junior and Mrs. Robinson have shown that that is not necessarily the case. The danger is that the DUP whips may find it difficult to “tame” both Paisley junior and especially Mrs. Robinson.

Mrs. Robinson’s comments may not be a particular problem with some of the fundamentalist wing of the party and indeed initially I wondered if her first set of comments was to please such people. The ongoing comments have, however, probably played less well with some of the ex-UUP supporters. With the albeit distant and unlikely prospect of the UUP emerging as a new shiny Conservative and Unionist party containing plausible representatives; the DUP should probably find a way to keep Mrs. Robinson quiet. Maybe whilst on holiday Mr. Robinson should try to “tame” Mrs. Robinson’s outbursts.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

  • Rabelais

    Why tame her. Iris is a God-send for journos. She must add inches to their columns…

  • Peat Blog

    Surely our wee Sammy should also get a mention? After all, he is actually a minister rather than simply a Committee Chair or big-mouth.

    I think Iris-gate also highlights the problem of spouses (family members) involved in politics, especially at a high level. There tends to be a greater propensity for arrogance and, with that, a feeling of invulnerability and complacency. If one is besmirched (usually self-inflicted) it can often rub off on the other (think of Mr Mills and Burlesconi) and, as you allude to, there is perhaps a fear amongst party officials of reprimanding.

    Internal party dynasties based on family ties are hardly conducive to engendering long-term loyalty as cynicism creeps in. This might begin to manifest itself more within parties in Norn Iron now that politicians actually have decisions to make which can please some but alienate others.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it


    I have to say that although it is some time time since reading the Taming of the Shrew I remember thinking that it was not sexist, at least in the sense that the quality of the exchanges suggested parity between the combatants, although the social conventions of the day always led to the domination of the male.

    Re. Iris. I feel that unless you are from the same side of the constutional/religious fence you cannot fully understand the attitudes of Unionisist’s to their religion nor Republicanism’s attitudes to armed insurrection.

    But one thing I admire about ulster unionists is their toatal disregard for the impact their behaviour and comments have upon their audience. The negative impact of Iris’s remarks on the vast majority of British mainlanders is undoubted and there must be some negative political fallout for the DUP and therfore some beneift to Nationalists. Fair play to her, although I disagree heartily with her – she probably knows how it will go down on the mainland and doesnt really give a feck.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    “One of Shakespeare’s most sexist plays…”

    You’re criticising Shakespeare for sexism? You may as well slag him off for his carbon footprint or racist attitudes. And do we know whether he really was supportive of the GFA? I mean, really?

    I’m not sure section 75 was law when the Bard was writing and judging him by modern standards is as much use as criticising the hygiene standards of the day.

    Still, anything to spin out your post on that old slugger favourite, Iris Robinson.

    Finally, if anyone is going to tame Iris I’d say her husband has a bit of previous in that regard.

  • I have a feeling that Iris’ objections are founded less in politics than in sheer ignorance. Wasn’t it Iris, a few years back, who complained to Ulsterbus about ‘Irish language’ posters on the buses only to be told the posters were in fact en Francaise rather than as Gaeilge…

    I’m no advocate of homosexuality – but I fail to see what consenting adults of whatever gender get up to in private is any of her business. Maybe she needs to clean up her too vivid imagination….

  • Dave

    “Iris is a God-send for journos. She must add inches to their columns…” – Rabelais

    It’s 30 years since Lady Macbeth added a few inches to the lenght of anyone’s column.

  • Jason

  • Turgon

    It was Sammy McNally what done it and billie-Joe Remarkable,

    Fair enough re the sexism thing. Being non sexist is about my only redeeming liberal feature so I cling to it.

  • HeadTheBall

    Jason – the “Christian gene” – thank you, just brilliant.

  • fair_deal

    The issue and media mismanagement around this highlights two things the tensions between the personal and party brands that have been behind the party’s growth and a sign of complacency among some.

  • Although I share much of Mrs Robinson’s theology, I think she has a tendency to speak crassly about her pet topics where a more subtle approach would have protected her from most of the charges of bigotry. Wee Jeffrey would have handled it much better and not got into such a mess.

    Even leaving aside her remarks, there is still a growing conviction in many quarters that a strong secular tide wants to push Christian influences in law and public life to the margins, under the guise of “equality” and “human rights”. That’s an important battle for Christians to fight and Iris has shown how it should NOT be fought.

  • By the way, Turgon’s threads are a literary education.

  • Animus

    The fear of a strong secular tide is unfounded and hysterical. If anyone was pro-equality and human rights, it was good old Jesus. I think this has far more to do with the power and influence exercised by churches than Christianity itself, and the need to exert control over the flock.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    [i]Wee Jeffrey would have handled it much better and not got into such a mess.[/i]
    So the problem was one of presentation rather than content?

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    I am not (implicitly) suggesting that principle be abandoned for the sake of expediency but rather enquiring if Unionists recognise that mixing politics and religion DUP-style creates a very negative impact on the much more secular mainland and is potentially politically damaging to the Unioinst position?

  • Dave

    Except, Sammy, Iris doesn’t actually speak for Christians: she gives her own intolerant interpretation of a set of doctrines that preaches tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness. Our biased liberal/left media and the plethora of neurotic secularist within it seek to misrepresent her demented blathering as the sum total of Christianity in order to discredit it.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it


    I was asking in Unionists'(Dup and others) thought that ‘Dup-stlye’ mxing of religion and politics was damaging both to Unionism politically and to the image of the Unioinsts people as perceived in Britain?

  • Dave

    And I didn’t answer because I’m not a unionist. I simply pointed out that there is an anti-moralist agenda within the media masquerading as a secularist agenda that will exploit any comment by individuals for propaganda purposes, ignoring the rather obvious distinction between all and some or all and one loudmouth crackpot whose only dubious claim to being Christian is predicated on a misunderstanding of its core doctrines. Iris has no control over that agenda, and she obviously doesn’t have the good sense to see how she is advancing it by her blathering.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Dave, fair enough.

    But just for the sake of arguement – your statement “predicated on a misunderstanding of its core doctrines” only serves to illustrate that the ‘good’ book(s) allows such a variety of meanings to be extracted from them that it a rather dangerous basis for ideological and religious belief.

  • Dave

    Some of it is, yes; but some of it, such as Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is a very sound basis for morality.

    I wonder how many would have survived if NI’s conflict operated in a society that was atheist? Most of those voices who called for calm were Christians – Gordon Wilson, for example, gave a very simple message based on the Christian concept of forgiveness. Simple but profound. If someone murder’s your daughter, there isn’t any humanist alternative system can could dissolve your anger and intrinsic longing for revenge: only Christians can absorb that much pain and stay civilised.

  • Animus

    That’s just patently false Dave. Yes, many Christians can absorb pain, but it is not solely religion that is the be-all and end-all of forgiveness.

    The conflict in Northern Ireland, and indeed many religious conflicts, are not based on points of theology, they are predicated on power relationships. As we all know, many horrible things have been done in the name of religion, so saying that if NI was an atheist (but don’t you really mean secular?) society things would be different is just way off base. You’re implying that humanists or atheists have no moral centre or capacity to forgive. Many atheists/agnostics have given a good deal more thought to problems of morality than some sheep-like Christians in order to arrive at their belief systems. They aren’t just wanton nihilists.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it


    the secular reply as to the role of Christianity in the relation to the troubles and before is so obvious I wont repeat it.

    Unfortunately there have been too many wars with the boy God being claimed as a team member for both sides.

    (Sorry but starting to do football speak already having listened to a few too many football pundits warming up for the new season.)

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton


    Your assumption seems to be that atheists lack any kind of morals. It’s absurd to suggest that only a Christian basis exists for ‘morality’. Ads for the idea that atheists would have led to more deaths in NI because only Christians were calling for calm it’s just ridiculous. The fact that someone does not believe in god does not mean they are incapable of forgiveness or generosity of spirit.

  • Peat Blog

    “I wonder how many would have survived if NI’s conflict operated in a society that was atheist?”


    Some could argue that the conflict might not have happened were religion and identity not so bound up in our consciousness in NI.

    Like many things it can be a force for good, but, too often has been utilised as a force for division – hence my own deep scepticism on Iris’s recent comments on religion and the state.

    Knowledge of the barbarity and the duplicity of much of what happened here always made me smile wryly when I heard people boasting of how large church attendances were during the bad old days, as if it was a measure of how Godly we were.

    I could never square that particular circle.

  • Dave

    Well, we’re not going to settle this very old debate here. My view is that morality is primarily learned rather than being the result of evolutionary dynamics. Now, let’s stick with Gordon Wilson. Why did he never recover from the death of his daughter? Why do we have grief and depression? Clearly, these emotions do help to form the bond between parent and child that serves to perpetuate a species, so there is clearly a role for evolutionary dynamics. The rational person would conclude that the loss of a child results in less financial expenditure for the parents, perhaps generates additional income if the child is insured, and so might reasonably conclude the loss is something that should be celebrated rather than mourned. But the human is not a rational animal. Indeed, if the human was given a choice between saving the life of his child and saving the life of 5,000 other children, we would quickly discover than the human is also a selfish animal and will calculate that the suffering of others matters not a jot compared to its own suffering. This is all very shaky ground for those who attempt to argue that morality is innately the result of evolutionary dynamics. On the other hand, arguing that morality is learned via politics or social culture begs the question: where is this morality preached in the secular society? Nowhere, bar a lot of mixed messages via the media. The advantage of organised religion is that it comes with a set of moral codes, and predicates them on selfish interests, i.e. punishment for non-compliance and reward for compliance. Since morality isn’t law, you have to incentivise the behaviour, and what better way to do it? You also have the advantage that g-d sees all even if others don’t, so this optional behaviour isn’t dependent on gestures for others, failing to exist when it goes unseen. In regard to NI, I think we would have settled the political issues that divide us by violence long ago if religion didn’t intervene to question the morality of that behaviour. So, far from being the cause of the violence, it was a major factor in ameliorating it.

  • Dave

    “Clearly, these emotions do help to form the bond between parent and child that serves to perpetuate a species, so there is clearly a role for evolutionary dynamics.”

    Just to make that less obscure: the parent pain that a parent is programmed to feel upon the death of its child serves to ensure that the parent takes care of the child in order to prevent the pain.

  • Animus

    Yes, morality is learned. Has anyone been arguing against that Dave?

    The Greeks were big on ethics, despite a rather strange relationship with the gods. Yet they had slaves. So morality changes over time. You can’t blame the media for that one.

    Who do you think devised the moral codes of religion? Most religions have them, but not every religion has the 10 commandments. I do not think it is a significant advantage that people behave only because they think they will be punished by God though. That makes it seem like we are all toddlers who will do as much as we can if we think we can get away with it. Not a very grown up view of humanity.