There is one hot topic bubbling beneath the surface of unionism this week, and that is, who’s going to replace Peter Robinson as DUP leader when, as inevitably he will, he steps/ is pushed down. It’s an important question because though the Robinson defeat in East Belfast was a catastrophe for the party and their share of the vote in several other constituencies went down, the party still returned eight MPs, three more than their Sinn Féin opponents.
I was talking to two unionists - neither DUP people - on the morning after the Westminster election and I suggested that Ian Óg Paisley might be the man. He seemed to be having a hard time restraining himself from breaking into an Irish jig up in North Antrim on election night. Not only had he slain the TUV dragon Jim Allister, not only had he proved he could step into his da’s shoes, but word from East Belfast suggested a coming vacancy for leader of the DUP. Wasn’t this a case, I asked my two unionists, of cometh the hour, cometh the Paisley? Both were emphatic that Ian Óg would not fit as DUP leader. Too abrasive, too many enemies. Instead, they both said, Arlene Foster would be the DUP choice.
Are they right? Perhaps. But then have a look at some of the predictions by supposed experts prior to the election. Did many of them get it right? I know one eminent nationalist commentator who on the Sunday before the election confidently predicted that Michelle Gildernew would lose in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and that the only threat to Peter Robinson in East Belfast would come from Trevor Ringland of UCUNF but that Robinson would see him off.
The thing about experts, besides their ability to get it wrong, is that they have no shame. Remember Steven King? He was a key adviser to David Trimble in the years leading up to the UUP leader’s defeat. Put bluntly, he advised his boss into oblivion. So who did we get on election night TV, dispensing his political wisdom to the nation? Yep – the triple-brass-necked Dr King. The People Who Know are firm in dismissing the fruit of Dr Paisley’s loins. Don’t bet on it, guys.