Family – such a nice word. The mind flashes to the back of cornflakes packets, squeaky clean and smiles all around the breakfast table. That’d probably be the sense of the word the DUP have in mind when they boast of the family atmosphere within the party. But there’s an equally famous type of family: the mafia family. That’s where guys wind up in the boot of somebody’s car or are garrotted as they sit and watch TV. At the moment, it looks as though the second of the two is dominant in the DUP.
But hold. You may say “Any party that downgrades Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland can’t be all bad”. True. But then again, when the leader of the party, shortly after telling the world how happy the being-replaced ministers were, has to face the cameras again and talk about people who have the strategic vision of lemmings – whoa. Something not right. You watch Peter Robinson’s tired features and you think that perhaps all those supportive tweets he got from the likes of Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell were a fine example of a party that doth protest too much.
There was a time Peter Robinson seemed fire-proof. Any man who survived Irisgate and the question of the £50,000 that got directed towards his wife’s 19-year-old lover, any man who had to come on TV and give a moist-eyed account of himself with a buttock-clenching background card: “To the best dad in the world” – such a man looked as though nothing short of a nuclear strike would stop him.
Alas, no. Peter did something far more serious than his association with the Irisgate thing. When Paisley was interviewed by Eamon Mallie, he referred to his long-time lieutenant as ‘the beast’; but even that was bearable. It was when he reminded viewers that the party leader couldn’t hold onto his own seat – now that was the cruellest cut of all.
Seats. That’s what this is about. And ambition. Peter has lost his Westminster seat and a lot of DUP MPs and MLAs are feeling the wings of the Angel of Death flapping above them. If they go into a general election or an Assembly election with a leader who looks like a loser, it’ll be curtains for them too, they suspect. And then there are all those faces that nod and force smiles onto their faces as they stand behind him. If Peter isn’t having recurring nightmares about being bundled into the boot of an electoral car, then he hasn’t been paying attention. Do’t forget – that shower of tweeters told Peter they were right behind him. Scary.
It’s beginning to become less a question of ‘if’ and more a question of ‘how long’.