Thursday, 12 November 2009
The Fall of the House of Paisley - by David Gordon
David Gordon played his own part in ‘The Fall of the House of Paisley’ by providing the print media’s most comprehensive coverage of the political dynasty’s links to property magnate Seymour Sweeney, and reporting other scandals which rocked the DUP during 2007 and 2008. Indeed the journalist brought to popular attention a number of the important scoops which underpin his new book’s narrative.
It should be acknowledged, however, that a local blog, with its relative lack of resources, doggedly matched the Belfast Telegraph for detail as the extent of cronyism in the Paisleys’ North Antrim constituency became apparent.
The book’s blurb describes its contents as ‘the slow demise of a powerful political dynasty’, but the actual succession of events which precipitated the departure of Ian Paisley Junior from government, and subsequently resulted in the resignation of his father from the First Minister’s office, unfolded relatively quickly. Gordon’s book moves the story along with suitable rapidity, whilst delving into sufficient detail to satisfy political anoraks.
The title is instructive. ’The Fall’ makes little attempt to revisit territory already forensically examined by Ed Moloney in his Paisley biography, ‘From Demagogue to Democrat’. The landscape which Gordon describes is populated by disorientated DUP members, struggling to rationalise their leader’s new friendship with Martin McGuinness, disquieted by hints of greed and embarrassed by his increasing propensity for ‘senior moments’.
And always in the background, Junior, with his overweening sense of entitlement, spiv-like eye for the main chance and conspicuous absence of inherited charisma.
If his political followers found it difficult to adjust to the reality of Paisley in government, imagine the trauma experienced by religious acolytes, for whom his incendiary proclamations had not comprised rhetoric, but instead represented literal, divinely inspired truth.
‘The Fall’ adeptly charts the anguish which power sharing caused within the Free Presbyterian Church. Paisley’s resignation as moderator foreshadowed a similar process, during which he chose to jump, before he was pushed, from leadership of the DUP.
As well as describing, in detail, the sequence of events which presaged the Paisleys’ resignations, Gordon also offers a blackly cynical critique of Northern Ireland’s political institutions. A lack of accountability, a self-actuating sectarian divide and the entrenchment of an atomised political class are characteristics which he highlights and explores briefly.
At times the argument is admittedly almost impermeable in its grimness. The lack of meaningful involvement, for Northern Irish voters, in the politics of Westminster is criticised as an abdication of democratic principles, yet the Conservatives’ attempt to foster participation is also dismissed as a manipulative ruse.
I interrupted Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky in order to read ‘The Fall of the House of Paisley’. And it is, in itself, a tribute that I was prevented from returning to revolutionary Russia until I’d read the last page of Gordon’s book.
The author suggests that Paisley entered government with Sinn Féin in order to circumvent Enoch Powell’s prophecy that ‘all political careers end in failure’. Not only did the axiom ultimately reassert itself , but ‘The Fall’ helps to ensure that the denouement of the Paisley story will be remembered accurately as a tragedy, rather than a triumph.
'The Fall of the House of Paisley' by David Gordon is officially launched at Queen's bookshop today. It is available from 3000 Versts bookstore.