Two dramatically different readings of the DUP’s succession dilemma intersect on one important point. John Coulter’s silly caper through the next 8 years of Northern Ireland’s politics is preoccupied with his usual unionist unity mantra, whilst Alex Kane in contrast outlines the reasons why Peter Robinson will be little more convivial to the Ulster Unionist wing of unionism than Ian Paisley. The point on which the two men concur (in Coulter’s case a rare moment of lucidity) is in identifying Robinson as intrinsically linked with Paisleyism and the DUP’s current problems. If Paisley is tainted goods in the eyes of voters and in the eyes of the party’s hard-core, then so to is Robinson.
On this basis Kane contests the wisdom of appointing the East Belfast MP as leader. He presents a strong case, calling into question the democratic credentials of the DUP itself and rebutting the suggestion that Robinson is likely to affect a rapprochement with the UUP. Kane argues that Robinson’s pragmatism gave him an instant grasp of realities for unionists after the Anglo Irish Agreement and effectively his failure to move beyond assent for Paisley’s position denotes both a lack of leadership and a reluctance to put principle ahead of his own political advancement. All the reasons for Paisley and the DUP attracting increased opprobrium from the unionist electorate will remain prescient under Robinson; indeed he embodies the characteristics of the party’s leadership which are beginning to rankle with both its grassroots members and the public at large.
Apart from the culpability of Robinson and involvement in everything that was disingenuous and destructive in the DUP’s policy. Kane is right to question the process whereby a new leader is likely to be selected. Indications are that the decision will be reached from within the party’s Assembly Group rather than through consultation with its membership. Given the allegations of cronyism and nepotism which have hastened Paisley’s departure it seems scarcely believable that this elitist form of selection will prevail. The DUP are about to select their first leader since 1971 and their own members are not to be consulted. The centralist instincts of the party have on occasion been their strength, but as their grass-roots become disaffected with the leadership cabal, then those same instincts can be disabling.