Peter Robinson’s remarkable agility in returning to his strategic progressive vision for unionism

In case you missed it, I’ve clipped a particularly good analytical duo from Newton Emerson and Dearbhail McDonald from yesterday’s Sunday Politics… Mc Donald makes the point that devolving corporation tax without building opportunity at home is a bit of a wasted effort…

Emerson follows through by making the point that we don’t have a strategic overarching view of a cabinet government (as seen perhaps in the piecemeal way individual ministers are hawking their hawkish spending plans to the general public in hopes that someone will understand their bind.

The whole discussion brings up an interesting point (here). For me it’s the sheer agility of Peter Robinson returning (via a circuitous route) back to the strategic progressive vision for unionism he was articulating just before the flag dispute waylaid him. Not least in making the still troubled Casement Park proposal pivotal to the all island bid for the Rugby World Cup.

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  • Tacapall

    “the strategic progressive vision for unionism he was articulating just before the flag dispute waylaid him”

    A unionist commentator back slapping a “well past his sell by date” unionist politician on his ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Exactly what is progressive about unionism and when have unionist politicians ever been progressive. Did Newton miss the bit about unionist electoral pacts to keep out themuns.

  • Morpheus

    Progressive is definitely not a word I would use to describe him on the same day he stands in support of a workaround of equality legislation.

    I hope the Muslims refuse to go to the shops for him as a matter of conscience

    Digging the 3-piece suit though, looks well smart

  • Neil

    the strategic progressive vision for unionism he was articulating just before the flag dispute waylaid him

    And we all know he was a passive participant in that, it waylaid him, he didn’t waylay himself. *Cough* Leaflet *Cough*.

    Not least in making the still troubled Casement Park proposal pivotal to the all island bid for the Rugby World Cup.

    Yes fair play to him for not shooting himself in the foot through sheer bigotry on that front. And I know you’ll be equally impressed by SF’s support for the redevelopment of Windsor. You probably just forgot to mention.

  • chrisjones2

    “a unionist commentator”

    What makes you think Newt is a Unionist? I have never heard him say that. Do you know his history and do you really think he is a DUP Stooge?

  • chrisjones2

    Fashionable too

  • Biftergreenthumb

    Given the DUP’s backward stance on social issues and the bitterness and sectarianism that defines orange unionism in general, I can see your point about the incongruity of the words ‘progressive’ and ‘unionism’. But there is no reason at all why someone can’t be socially progressive/liberal/left wing etc and want to remain part of the UK. NI21 are maybe not the best example given their meltdown but the initial enthusiasm for the party shows that there are people out there who want to remain in the UK and who have socially liberal/progressive values. I’m sure lots of alliance and green voters could be similarly described.

    There is nothing inherently regressive or reactionary about thinking that NI is better off in the UK. Just as there is nothing inherently progressive about wanting a UI.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Its all a matter of visual cues, Morpheus. Viscount Brookborough would have felt naked without a waistcoat and Peter seems to have a limited vocabulary of what constitutes a Unionist Statesman. I’m reminded of the Spike Milligan line in Pucoon “Brown, that’s the colour of money!” said by a Belfast landlady suspicious of unfamiliar pound notes!

    This is the original, although I remember being told by a very Edwardian great Uncle that a double breasted waistcoat was always the mark of a cad. Anthony Eden was offered to me as definitive proof:

  • Tacapall

    I wont disagree with some of what you say above Biftergreenthumb, of course there is no reason why people cant be progressive and unionist but unfortunately those type of people are thin on the ground just like those catholic unicorns who some unionists allege would vote for unionist parties. Are the Alliance party and the Green party unionist ? If all things were equal between both traditions on this island I might agree with your last paragraph but once again unfortunately some unionists especially those now in government believe being Irish in this part of Ireland is a crime so I understand why some people also believe there would be nothing progressive in working towards a united Ireland.

  • Practically_Family
  • Nicholas Whyte

    “He was good company and a good raconteur, and those who met him imagined that he was relaxing away from his desk. However they did not realise that there was no desk!”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Some members of my family knew Brookborough slightly and I remember having my head patted by him on a visit to Fermanagh when I was too young to cheekily ask if he’d ever encountered Alice Milligan’s poem “When I was a Little Girl”. So I simply “hoped for better weather” silently.

  • JustOneMoreTimePlease

    I hear there are also allegations of Catholic Unicorns who might NOT vote for a “nationalist” agenda. The sensible thing of course is to put them firmly out of mind!

  • Tacapall

    “I hear there are also allegations of Catholic Unicorns who might NOT vote for a “nationalist” agenda”

    Yes those are the same unicorns that unionists allege would vote for unionist parties, like I said thin on the ground.

  • Sliothar

    He has to be – his columns are too close! 🙂

  • Newton Emerson

    Mick – not for the first time you have completely misrepresented something I’ve said/written, even though you’d posted a video of it.
    I said Peter Robinson had abandoned his progressive vision three years ago at the flag protests for “desperate firefighting”, which has taken us up to this point.
    I added that it’s thought-provoking this seems to have worked but I did not say he’d now returned to his progressive vision.
    Please don’t put your words in my mouth again, and correct this blog.

  • Cue Bono

    I would have been more wary of the man with the single breasted cardigan under his suit jacket.

  • Ernekid

    Does Robbo have a strategy? he seems like he’s just bumbling from one self inflicted crisis to the next. Unless his strategy is going out of his way to wind up Sinn Fein whenever possible. He’s great at that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Maybe I’m reading something already corrected? But otherwise I’m struggling to see why Newton is berating Mick here. It seems to say it’s his [Mick’s] view that Robinson is returning to a progressive vision, not that that’s Newton Emerson’s view. But It could be I’ve only read a version Mick has corrected …?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    hardly DUP …

  • Newton Emerson

    You’re reading something already corrected.

  • ted hagan

    Unionist bad, nationalist good, seems to be about the level of debate here. Very depressing

  • Practically_Family

    No, not at all, but he’s never been behind the door about being Unionist. Wasn’t clear on that, for which apologies.

  • I agree, B. Esp the bit about the best example of liberal unionism imploding before creation…

  • Practically_Family

    His problem is that when he’s not being seen to wind up SF his “coal face” support start threatening to walk and vote for people who will.

    During the flag protests, his lack of support for the boys on the streets and his, at least tacit, support for the Maze “peace” centre saw him actually taking threats from within “his” community.

  • chrisjones2

    I thought it was eyes. And he went to Englkand to work

  • Comrade Stalin

    I am utterly lost as to how anything anyone said could be interpreted as a view that Peter Robinson has returned to a progressive vision, Mick. Newton seems to be saying that Robinson abandoned this over flags, which is pretty much my reading of it too.

  • Practically_Family


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think a double breasted waist coat looks schmick but a cad you say? Hmmmm…

  • ted hagan


  • Biftergreenthumb

    “…of course there is no reason why people can’t be progressive and unionist but unfortunately those type of people are thin on the ground just like those catholic unicorns who some unionists allege would vote for unionist parties. Are the Alliance party and the Green party unionist ?”

    I personally don’t consider the Alliance or Greens unionists as such but I have been told in the past that if your politics isn’t aimed at bringing about a united Irish republic you are by default a unionist as your politics maintains the constitutional status quo. Make of that what you will.

    I mentioned the Alliance and Greens because a lot of people from unionist community backgrounds, with a pro-union stance and with liberal/progressive values vote for those parties rather than the unionist parties. The main unionist parties are controlled by backward knuckle draggers because progressives from unionist backgrounds stop identifying themselves as unionists and vote for parties that designate as ‘other’.

    I know you were using a bit of rhetorical hyperbole when you said that some unionists “believe being Irish in this part of Ireland is a crime” and that you “understand why some people also believe there would be nothing progressive in working towards a united Ireland” but there really is nothing progressive about working towards a united Ireland in and of itself. If a united Ireland will deliver a fairer, more just society than the one we currently live in and that is what motives republicanism then I’ll concede that republicanism is progressive. But the ROI is a neo-liberal, secular democracy with a political system and accompanying values very similar to that of the UK. There would be no substantive change in how we will live our lives after a UI. As well as this the vast majorly of republicans are motivated by nationalistic concerns rather than idealistic ones. Wanting a UI because your national identity is Irish is just as backward as wanting to maintain the union just because your national identity is British. There is nothing progressive about identity politics including nationalism e.g. BNP, EDL, UKIP, Golden Dawn etc

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Cad’s what I was told, AG! The dapper little Anthony Eden was addicted to the give away double breasted waistcoat, and anecdotally, I’m told that Eden had problems keeping any scandalous story to himself, even if his good friends were involved, the very badge of a cad. At least the Fermanagh fisherman could usually keep his mouth shut about anyone he cared about, his possible caddry took another form.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While I entirely agree with you,Cue Bono about this vile, abusive person, as anyone reading postings offering my support on this site for Maírie and Áine will know, I do not see what he has to do with an argument about the sartorial cues offered by the made to order decisions by our once and future masters.

  • streetlegal

    Robinson and the pragmatiist wing of the DUP are trying to outflank the reactionaries led by Nigel Dodds. But the whole thing is a farcical piece of theatre as Robinson knows that he can’t carry the DUP or the Orange Order to conclude a new deal for Stormont. Jim Alister has already blown the whistle – and Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell are even now preparing to carry the ball off the field…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Watching the clip I can see Mick’s point about the further conclusions that can be drawn from Newton’s observation about where Robinson is now. (I know Newton doesn’t make those conclusions himself, or agree with them, but it’s legitimate and indeed desirable for others to take Newton’s apercu and debate what it might mean for Robinson going forward).

    If as Newton says “the desperate fire-fighting appears to have worked” – and having just referenced Robinson’s earlier attempts to move towards a “strategic progressive vision” for unionism – the implication I drew as a listener was that Robinson is now once again in a place where he might be able to start thinking about that strategic progressive vision again. Which I think was Mick’s point.

    That’s not to say that Robinson really has such a vision in deliverable form; or that he is currently pursuing it. But if the news is that Robinson has kept much of unionism in the tent and calmed things down (in the aftermath of City Hall’s ill-considered rushing through of a major symbolic change without building viable cross-community consensus), it does mean Robinson is in a place where he can start to move things in his direction again. Whatever direction that is!

    I agree with Mick also (and it seems Newton agreed to this extent), Robinson had indeed shown some interest before the 2012 flags misstep in looking at the future of unionist politics. He was starting to describe, whether convincingly or not, a unionism to move towards that might be at least in theory a warmer environment for those turned off by traditional unionism. It’s clearly what unionism needs to do to survive, so it would be hugely significant, even if he were only half committed to it. Hence Mick’s point being a reasonable one to make – if we are now in that space where it becomes possible again, this puts the spotlight on what exactly Robinson has to offer, or can deliver, in terms of a “strategic progressive vision” for unionism. It’s at least possible that he might be serious about it. He certainly ought to be.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we all have a duty to wind up SF 🙂
    Don’t just leave it to Robbo, lend a hand.

  • PaulT

    Robinsons vision!! should have gone to SpecSavers judging by Nolan this morning, the TUV and UKIP have walked/marched from the unionist alliance and the DUP have/haven’t discussed marching and flegs depending on which mla was on

    turns out progressive unionism is all about progressing back along Ardoyne and/or down Drumcree.

    The SF plan is to sneakily swap the dead horse – that Robinson is forced to flog to pretend he’s in control of the party – for a wooden one, then when he pulls on his red cape and flies over to London and the House of Lords whoever takes over Sammy/Nige/Jeff they can deal with what comes out of the wooden geegee.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Catholics who want the status quo don’t seem to be unicorns though – they keep proving themselves to be rather real and numerous in every poll ever done on the topic of our constitutional future. Though I’m sure you’re right that few would vote for a unionist party.

    Biftergreenthumb puts it very well. There are many people on the British side of NI life – most people I know, I’d even venture – who want something other than the old politics of identity. That includes a lot of Alliance voters, Greens; I’m a Labour party member myself, OK they don’t get many votes in NI for various reasons; but also quite a few who vote for unionist parties, even the DUP in some cases, but who have non-sectarian socially progressive views on education, a strongly redistributive tax system, housing, benefits and a range of other issues. The idea that every unionist is at heart some kind of Alf Garnett Tory is pretty wide of the mark.

    Northern Ireland people generally are much more like the Scots than the English when it comes to our assumptions about fairness, wealth, social justice issues etc. I suspect conservative/rightist/libertarian political views are over-represented among unionist politicians compared to the unionist electorate. The prevalence of the constitutional issue and need to keep SF in check means politicians’ left-right leanings are unusually little scrutinised by voters in Northern Ireland compared to other places. We have something of an underdeveloped discourse on the big social issues of the day, for the same reason.

    Keeping the border as an issue has held us back – it needs to be let go really so we can move on with progressive politics.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Newsnight interesting last night on the role the DUP might play in Westminster come May. Dodds lunching with both senior Tory and Labour figures on a monthly basis,
    I hope they have sorted out their “vision” in time for Dodds to decide whom to support.

    It seems we’re looking almost certainly at a minority govt by the way, rather than a coalition arrangement. And latest prediction stats apparently suggest 90 per cent chance of a hung Parliament, 40 per cent chance that no 2-party-combination can get a majority. Interesting times for the DUP.

  • PaulT

    ” Interesting times for the DUP.”

    Yeap, I’m sure they will be as fascinated as the rest of us to see how things shape up for the SNP, LibDems and UKIP in helping to form the next government.

    Although, the expected fallout of what Peter will have signed the DUP up to, in order to get his peerage will probably be a great sideshow too

  • Morpheus

    Apparently PR singled out the guy on the right to go to ‘the shaps’ – heaven knows why.

    “So that’s 20,000 second class stamps, a curry yogurt and a packet of Andrex?”

  • Cue Bono

    I thought he provided an interesting contrast between both the dress sense and the character of a unionist and a republican leader.

  • alexbr

    “Not least in making the still troubled Casement Park proposal pivotal to the all island bid for the Rugby World Cup.”

    Im at a loss how Peter deserves any credit for this since a redeveloped Casement due to its size was always going to feature in any WC bid.

  • Cue Bono

    Of course the Sinners will also be able to use their MPs in Westminster, for influence here, when the government is chasing votes. Oh wait.

  • PaulT

    Think you find Gideon got his chequebook out when he was sitting opposite SF not when he was in the Commons.

    GB is governed from Downing St not the Commons and the Lords exists to reward people like Robinson and Trimble when they do as they’re told.

  • Undo Progressive Destruction

    Only when you manipulate language to define “progressivism” in the neo-Marxist sense to mean the promotion of nihilism (“equality”) to destroy society and the nation. No loyal citizen with any brains would want to implement a so-called “progressive” agenda that only “progresses” towards our own societal destruction. Civilizational suicide is double-plus good — chucky ar la!

  • Practically_Family

    I’ve a feeling it won’t be something we have to worry about.

  • Tacapall

    Of course your right UDP equality is a threat to the status quo believe it or not in our present state you are not a citizen you are a subject, a slave to an entity called the crown, human capital who’s life would be used as cannon fodder to enrich the bankers and investors keep afloat Corporate UK. I suppose from your point of view its suicide for anyone to oppose such a way of life.

  • Cue Bono

    I think you will find that a minority government cannot govern unless it has the support of other MPs. The majority of MPs who attend the Commons from NI are Unionists. Therefore a future minority government is likely to be highly reliant on their support. Said support will not come without a price.

  • eiregain

    Truth and first hand information can be depressing, best divert thine easily saddened eyes.