In the last few months Arlene Foster has developed a habit of surprising us when we least expect it.
And now that ‘blonde-gate’, or whatever you want to call ‘that’ interview on the greens of Hillsborough, is fading from the corporate media memory its worth a little further analysis.
In response the DUP deployed the usual suspects to shout down the reaction to the former First Minster’s interview with Niamh Horan. Sammy Wilson said that
“Michelle O’Neill is blonde, unless she’s dyed her hair since the last time I’d the misfortune to see her on TV.”
Charming as always. Sure wasn’t it was all a storm in a teacup?
However the real story is not what Arlene Foster insinuated by her comments but the fact that a political leader would allow another flank to be opened on her and her party by an answer to a basic question. The lack of political nous, judgement and sharp political antennae that until recently we all assumed she had was not there.
Newton Emerson isn’t far off the mark in today’s Irish News:
“Foster was almost certainly all over the place by accident rather than design, so the key question her performance raises is one of competence. How could she let this accident happen?”
Lets recap the present political situation. The Assembly collapsed after the revelations surrounding the RHI scheme . Agreement seems to be unreachable any time soon unless relationships improve considerably. The most important political relationship is and will be the one between Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, the joint Premiers in waiting. The electorate are acutely aware of this hence the collective appreciation for that picture, captured at Martin McGuinness’ funeral, of both leaders reaching out to clasp each others hand.
To make such a personal comment towards your potential co-equal in ministerial office was ill-advised at the very least. If the comments were not intentional or an effort to subtlety undermine O’Neill’s authority as a political figure then they were politically naive or politically clumsy. Not good either way.
There is no doubt that Foster received significant sustained abuse via social media in the past year. That needs to be recognised as does the enormous impact that this would have had on her family.
Politically speaking though there is a view that Peter Robinson would not have found himself in the same position in regard to the crocodile remark or the blonde comment. Emerson raises the question that many DUP supporters must privately have :
“Where is her cunning?”