Posted By: August 23, 2013

Robinson’s departure won’t damage the DUP

Alex Kane. Irish News (Belfast). Friday, august 23, 2013

DO YOU remember Mike Yarwood? For most of the 1970s/80s, he was one of the biggest names on television, up there with Morecambe and Wise, the Two Ronnies and Bruce Forsyth. He summed up most showbiz careers pretty succinctly: “At the peak of your career, everyone everywhere shouts out your name. A few years later you’re reduced to that man off the telly. And then it’s, didn’t you used to be Mike Yarwood?” Since politics has been described as showbusiness for ugly people, it’s appropriate to remind ourselves of Enoch Powell’s dictum: “All political lives, unless they are cutoff in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” Peter Robinson has reached the Yarwood/Powell intersection, that moment when you assess your career and conclude (if you have both sense and a knowledge of history) that your greatest achievements are behind you and that you should be concentrating on securing and polishing up your legacy. I mean, let’s be honest, the fact that pundits and political colleagues are openly discussing the timing of your departure should serve as a fog-horned warning signal that it’s maybe time to remember where you put your hat and coat. And the moment you hear senior members express personal loyalty, while leaving doors open, is the moment to tell the chauffeur (while you still have him) to start the car and point it towards new horizons. Most party leaders (and first ministers too) allow themselves to be persuaded that they should hang on for just a little bit longer: hang on until the next election; hang on until the next set of economic or polling figures is published; hang on until the next party conference; hang on until their most hated party rival falls under a passing bus. Coincidentally, most of the persuaders tend to be on the staff payroll or dependent on the leader for their positions on committees or around the executive table. Robinson’s departure isn’t going to damage the DUP. There are a number of people who can step up to the mark, although my money would be on Arlene Foster, who ticks a number of key boxes and who would spook the UUP. Crucially, there’s no unionist rival breathing down the DUP’s neck. The TUV, UUP, UKIP and PUP may have landed a collective blow as far as Robinson’s U-turn on the Maze peace and reconciliation centre is concerned, but it isn’t a fatal blow. Indeed, it’s not even a particularly damaging blow this far away from the next election. The TUV is still very much a minority, fringe element of unionism. Jim Allister is impressive but he doesn’t have a strong team around him and I’m not convinced that he will be able to make electoral headway at the next Assembly election in 2016. He clearly rattles Robinson and some other senior DUP figures, but that’s not going to be enough to inflict long-term damage on the party. Some UUP figures have tried to convince me that the Maze U-turn is a big hit for Nesbitt and will lead to electoral recovery. Sorry, I just don’t buy that. The UUP needs to win back seats held by David McNarry, Basil McCrea, John McCallister and David McClarty just to remain where it was in 2011 – its worst ever election result. So no, while Robinson’s present discomfort may cheer up the UUP, it would be a big mistake for them to start ordering the champagne or put more seats around their group table in the Assembly. UKIP, PUP and the ragbag of often contradictory elements contained within the Willie Frazer/Jamie Bryson vehicle are far too small and far too unfocussed to do any damage to the DUP. Anyway, now that the one issue that held Robinson’s opponents together has been removed, the likelihood is that the differences between them will surface and be exploited by the DUP. Robinson has nothing to prove by hanging on. His party -the party he built from scratch, more so than Paisley – is still very strong. It remains a ferociously effective political/electoral/propaganda machine, packed with the bulk of unionism’s political talent. It’s not going to disappear any time soon and there’s no one within unionism in a position to land a killer electoral blow. So why hang on? He has nothing to prove, either to himself or anyone else. The greatest skill in politics is knowing when to go. That time has arrived for Mr Robinson.