All political careers end in failure, we’re told, but there’s failure and then again there’s failure. Having led his party to the slaughter-house run by the DUP, David Trimble peeled away at the last minute and ended up in the House of Lords. He even was tipped at one point for a post in David Cameron’s Cabinet.
So maybe Trimble is shrewder than he seems – his party may have been fed into the mincemeat machine but he wasn’t. So when he questions Peter Robinson’s actions, it’s probably worth weighing his words. Trimble says that Robinson’s pleas for greater Protestant-Catholic integration in education, his attendance at a GAA game - these gestures aren’t really directed at Catholics.They’re directed at Protestants of the more liberal stripe, who can’t at present bring themselves to vote for the DUP.
Just because you’ve led your party into a room where the walls are red with blood, or rather shooed them in while you skedaddled, doesn’t mean you can’t be right in some things. Or half-right. While Trimble’s almost certainly right that Robinson is aiming at soft-centre unionists and doing so by projecting himself as an all-together man, Robinson also has his eye on those Catholics who have the political conviction of a wheelie-bin and would vote for Beelzebub if they thought it would consolidate their material circumstances. It’s not, as claimed, some 30% of Catholics, but there is a sizeable number. Likewise, of course, there are Protestants who may eventually see merit in voting republican or nationalist.
Will they? Nobody knows. Not me, not you, not Trimble, not Robinson. What we do know is that we’re in a period of flux, with the ice that existed here for decades melting, revealing a landscape that emerges in the most unexpected forms. What we can be certain about is that there’ll be no going back. Not just to violence but to the old, weary, sour Orange state. Insofar as Robinson is taking us away from that, then Well Done Peter.