So - is Peter Robinson the Bill Clinton of the north? Now I’m not suggesting that Peter has any of Bill’s appetite for interns. For a start, he doesn’t quite have Bill’s personality or pulling power. In fact a year ago Robinson looked like a dead man walking: those suspect deals about the sale of land, and his wife Iris’s colourful love-life with a 19-year-old lad whose entreprenurial skills impressed her so much, she got a business acquaintance to stump up £50,000 so the lad could get going with his idea for a café on the Lagan Tow-path. To make matters truly awful, Peter gave an extended TV interview in which he tried for the sympathy vote in a way that made the death-of-little-Nell scene in Dickens read like knock-about comedy. This man, we told each other, will not lead the DUP for very long. When he lost his Westminster seat to Naomi Long, the political funeral bell appeared to have tolled.
But is he now doing a Clinton and emerging from his own ashes just in time to sweep to election victory again? There he is the other day, on TV with Martin McGuinness, explaining what a good deal we all got with the budget. He looks in possession of all his faculties, he looks as cheerful as someone with his features ever can look, and, unlike Brian Cowen in the south, he doesn’t look at all like a man who might be pushed from his leadership position before the next election. Maybe the anti-Robinson snow-storm is over. Maybe he’ll retain his grip on the leadership, lead his DUP troops into the May election and re-establish the DUP as the most dramatically-successful political party the north has ever seen. If Bill did it, why not Peter?
But wait. Let’s extend that Brian Cowen comparison. There was much talk of Cowen being toppled so Fianna Fail could go into the coming election with someone less open to public contempt. Talk, but no action. It now appears that Cowen will still be at the helm for the election in March. Similarly, Peter will definitely lead the DUP troops into the May election.
And the outcome? Well, the road not taken is always a difficult one to interpret, but it’s a safe bet that Fianna Fail will do badly in March. Maybe not as badly as some think but badly nonetheless. The party will look at the damage and after a respectable time-lapse, it’ll decapitate Brian Cowen.
Ditto the DUP. Holding onto the devil they know, the party will do better next May than some might think or hope. Better but not good enough. The DUP will thank Peter profusely, sit quiet for a respectable period of time, then decapitate him. They’ll say he’s stepped down for personal, family reasons but we’ll all know what happened. Then there’ll be a drum-roll, the curtains will part and through them will step the new leader, that most sparkling and charming of DUP men, Nigel Dodds.