Stalin or Mr. Bean?

Fair_deal’s recent comment on a blog about message discipline having been poor recently set me thinking about the DUP, the recent outbursts of some of its leaders and whether or not this represents a slippage of Robinson’s apparent previous iron control of that party. Now before Dundella Avenue’s blog team launch into me: I do not think Robinson is either Stalin or Mr. Bean. Actually I think he is handling the current situation rather well and is more of a Nikita Khrushchev (I mean that as a compliment, though the analogy is not great).Historically DUP members frequently came out with comments which many outside their support base found bizarre. In recent years (and apparently largely due to Robinson) the DUP has, however, become vastly more professional in terms of its media profile. As such the recent rash of somewhat odd public comments: Iris’s forays into the relationships between church and state and between consenting adults, Mervyn Storey’s views on the teaching of biology and Paisley junior’s latest remarks on policing all seem surprising considering Robinson’s previous ultra tight control. Indeed in the period immediately surrounding Dr. Paisley’s departure as First Minister people were seriously talking about the inevitability of practicing Roman Catholics joining the DUP. At the moment that looks some way off.

Does the above represent a Gordon Brown like transformation from the utterly powerful deputy to a bumbling, ineffectual and indecisive leader?

I would suggest that it does not. Robinson coming as he does from a more secular strand of unionism (despite his personal religiousness) and being a member of neither the Free Presbyterian Church nor the Orange Order might have been vulnerable to accusations of trying to move the party too far away from its original support base. In addition the fact that he (Robinson) was intimately involved in the St. Andrew’s Agreement and subsequently has been accused of involvement in the deposition of Dr. Paisley might all be storing up trouble for him. Although many of the neo-DUP members (the previously non aligned and the ex-UUP brigade) may be very supportive of him, it is possible that all the above would create suspicion from the traditional grassroots of the party.

As such allowing the hardliners and backwoodsmen a little time to say what they want and maybe even being a little more liberal with them than he was when deputy leader and enforcer in chief might well be a very good idea. Clearly the Iris issue is a bit embarrassing but it looks as if she has sated her desire to say mad things and will go back to being a relatively competent chair of the health committee; better that than her incompetent attempts to become a theologian or political theorist.

Knifing Paisley junior at this time would also be a bad idea. The man himself is making a pretty good job of destroying his own political career without any outside help. In addition if Robinson did move against him it might provoke Paisley senior to cause trouble. Whilst clearly Dr. Paisley is no longer leader and his star has waned considerably, a direct attack from that quarter must be one of the few internal threats Robinson still fears.

By letting the current set of more hardline comments come out without complaint Robinson gains a number of things. He looks like a reasonable and consensual leader, a contrast from how he at times appeared as deputy leader. It is always a good thing for a leader to at least start appearing consensual and inclusive. Secondly the assorted madder comments may well make many in the party (even the saner fundamentalists) ask for a tightening up of “message discipline.” Just because people are fundamentalists does not mean that they cannot see how they are perceived by the outside world and the potential problems with, for example, a politician proposing ending the teaching of evolution in schools. Fundamentalists are no fonder of being laughed at unnecessarily than anyone else. Thirdly allowing a bit of good old fashioned ranting might well harm the TUV. Allister, the leading barrister, can hardly trump Paisley junior’s ideas on shooting people on sight and whilst it will damage Paisley junior in most quarters amongst some hardline DUP elements who might veer TUV-wards it might help.

The next advantage Robinson gains is that if he is forced to or indeed decides to agree to a compromise on the devolution of policing and justice he has ensured that the party has not felt that it has been dragooned in the more liberal direction for a number of months. Accepting P&J might be a significant problem for Robinson if it involves significant compromises in the current DUP position. To have allowed a lot of hardline comment beforehand might well make P&J easier to sell if that becomes necessary or desirable.

One could of course argue the contrary to all this: that Robinson should have stamped his authority even more tightly on the party and that that would have strengthened his position. I would, however, suggest that the tighter he would have grasped control the more sand would have slipped through his fingers. I have frequently questioned Robinson’s strategic vision but at least in regards to his party after the mistakes over Dromore I do think he has played his hand well. Whether or not he can continue to hold the line and defeat SF over P&J devolution, an Irish language act and the Maze, I am unsure.

As before I truly wish Robinson well in his endeavours: I know the DUPers here do not believe this but I hope he beats SF just as I hope Foster (or the UUP) win in Enniskillen.

So to come back to the start: Peter Robinson is to my mind not following Gordon Brown and turning from Stalin to Mr. Bean. Instead I think like Nikita Khrushchev he is managing to present an apparently more consensual face to the DUP whist continuing to remain very firmly in control.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Whether you realise it or not, Punt is finished!
    Why can they not come up with a Euro candidate?

  • 6countyprod

    Turgon, you flatter yourself in thinking that there is a blog team out there just waiting to put you back in your place. Maybe it is a sort of paranoia.

    Going by your previous post on presbyterianism, et al, you seem to have lost your bearings both religiously and politically. Maybe you should take a little break and sort out what you actually believe in and stand for.

  • Turgon

    I do not support or agree with Robinson. I do think, however, that he has played it fairly well since he became leader. I just think he and Paisley got it very wrong a long time before that.

    I guess I mean he is managing the errors his party signed up to quite well. I think he will end up, however, having to accept some sort of compromise on P&J;and possibly the Irish language act. I suspect he may be able to kill the Maze stadium.

    I would not have started from here and being here I would try to change direction radically. However, following the logic of his own position I think he is playing it about right in his terms.

    There is a difference between analysing a political (or other) position and subscribing to it. If you look at my previous blogs I have analysed SF and Alliance’s position in the past. I enjoy the exercise of looking at something from someone else’s point of view. That does not mean I agree with them. I suppose I am also responding to some criticism from the likes of RG Cuan that I was only posting about the TUV recently. Clearly I cannot please even some of the people some of the time.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Right, I’m really pissed off about being ripped off by a bastard black taxi driver from outside the Europa who drove me to Whiteabbey up the Shore Road, insisting there were roadworks on the M5. The lying fucker. I should have took his details and refused to pay him, the bastard. Note to slugger readers : if you’re getting a black taxi, make sure you specify the precise route, otherwise the bastards will gouge you.

    To the point, I think the comparisons with Stalin are completely off.

    Khrushchev was a man who was completely committed to the system, was determined to act as a defender of the system, but privately recognized what was wrong with the system – note his admonishments of the collective farmers who abused the fertilizer provided by the USSR State.

    I don’t think Robinson is quite there. Robinson’s commitment to unionism is unquestionable. I think he believes the deal with Sinn Fein is an essential prerequisite to underpinning the union with democratic devolved government. I don’t quite see the parallel with Soviet leaders.

  • Greenflag

    Turgon ,

    I think you got it right . In plain english and summarised DUP policy is based on the maxim that ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time and these are the ones to concentrate on ‘

    The success of Mrs Robinsons and Mr Storey’s recent ventures into confronting ‘reality’ is a clear indication that there are indeed enough of the ‘some people’ out there in DUP land to ensure continued electoral success .

    While not enamoured of Minister Ruane’s performance to date I would hope that SF insist on holding on to the Education portfolio .

    If the DUP ever get their hands on that one it’s probably goodbye Mathematics and hello ‘Intelligent Counting ‘ 🙁

  • Dewi

    Tangential – but you showed the video – why Cable’s reference to Mr Bean is so funny is that it has that essential element of truth about Gordon Brown.

  • Greenflag

    Comrade Stalin ,

    ‘I should have took his details and refused to pay him, the bastard. ‘

    Happened to me not too long ago in Budapest . I suspected I would be ‘ripped off’ given that 4 taxi drivers almost came to blows as they fought for my custom. When we got to the hotel I told the taxi driver to wait as I had to go to my room to get cash as I had underestimated the amount of cash I’d need . I quickly went to reception and ascertained from the reception manager what a normal fare would be from the airport . What he told me was one fifth of what I was being gouged . About 20 minutes after several calls from the reception manager trying to persuade me to come down and ‘settle ‘ with the driver who was whining on about the ‘foreign ‘ bastard who had’nt paid his bill I went down . The manager took a minor apopoletic fit when I told him to call the police as this driver was attempting to gouge me . Howls of anguish emanated from the driver . Through a translator I was informed his mother was dying , his wife had run away and left him with a sick child etc etc etc -if I called the police he would be fired and his family would starve .

    So through the translator I offered him the normal fare minus a 30% discount for attempting to defraud me and a further 20% discount for wasting my time i.e half fare .

    I had to pull a similar stunt years ago with a Dublin taxi driver who had driven some Spanish english language students from the Airport to the Bray area including” a scenic view tour of most of the North Wicklow mountains with a detour via Glendalough .. As he tried to gouge 120 punts from the girls I told them not to pay but go into the house . I then told the taxi driver he had two choices one was to f”k off the other was to wait for the police . He chose the former.

    Sometimes you have to be ‘hard ‘.

  • Dewi

    “Whether or not he can continue to hold the line and defeat SF over P&J;devolution, an Irish language act and the Maze, I am unsure.”

    AS DUP policy is P&J;devolution what would you say would victory over SF mean?