I went to bed last night feeling worried. Not for myself but for the leader of the DUP. She was interviewed, as you probably know, on The View last night, and the smell of burning rubber and the crunch of collapsing metal was everywhere. Truly, this was car-crash TV.
“The gift that keeps on giving” someone said to me of Arlene yesterday, some hours before last night’s interview. After it, that might have been upped to the treasure house that keeps spilling out its gems. Sinn Féin must be setting aside considerable funds to pay for the lighting of candles, that the DUP will keep its present leader and give her every chance to appear on TV.
The focus of Mark Carruthers’s interview was the ‘dark money’ – the £435,000 donated to the DUP for spending on Brexit promotion, much of that going to a full-page ad in a London newspaper. The people who gave the money were the Constitutional Research Council, a group of English business people, according to Arlene. The chair of this group is one Richard Cook, a former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, but the names of others in the group haven’t been revealed. Arlene was determined to keep it that way: “This is a reheated story. There is nothing to see here.”
But Carruthers kept coming back with questions as to who was involved and why Arlene wouldn’t reveal their names. Arlene said people would just have to take her word for it, there was nothing to see here.
Well actually, Arlene, there was and is. A party leader looking more and more uncomfortable was to be seen. A party leader who tried to dismiss the matter with a sound bite or two (“This is a reheated story”, “Nothing to see here”) but failed completely. The more she tried to steer Carruthers towards other matters, the more interested Carruthers seemed to become as to why she was hiding these people’s names.
Credit where credit is due: Arlene did her best to smile and chuckle her way through the interrogation. But it looked more like someone gritting their teeth as they discover the footbrake isn’t working and, a nano-second later, the hand-brake isn’t either.
DUP leaders have a way of surviving near-death crises – Peter Robinson and Irisgate comes to mind. But it is hard to see how Arlene can keep on driving at speed into PR pits and crawling out with anguished cries of “Nothing to be seen here!”