This morning I read a fantastic piece by Steven McCafferty writing for the detail. It can be read here http://www.thedetail.tv/articles/peter-who-how-the-dup-s-longstanding-leader-has-been-quickly-forgotten
The article delves into the electoral strategy of the DUP and quite rightly points to none other than Peter Robinson as the architect.
The crestfallen leader, despite all his faults and the aroma of corruption that often surrounded him, was a master tactician and one of the shrewdest political adversaries the one is ever likely to come across.
The fingerprints of Peter Robinson are all over the DUP strategy of ‘Arlene for First Minister’. Learning from the mistakes of the Ulster Unionist Party, Robinson foreseen the inevitable crisis for any Unionist leader sharing power with Sinn Fein, and flipped this dynamic accordingly at St Andrews.
By masterminding the insertion of a change in the clause for the appointment of the First and Deputy First Minister’s, Robinson contrived a powerful weapon for the DUP to use for at least three Assembly election cycles to come. Long enough for him to take power in the DUP, serve as First Minister, build his legacy and organise his succession and post-power influence.
The building of his legacy had to be sacrificed in the midst of a Nama storm, but this did not stop Peter Robinson continuing to pursue his ultimate final objective; his succession and post-power influence.
Those who internally lead the coup against Robinson made the fatal mistake of believing that once the legacy section of his strategy had been de-railed, that the fall from power and influence would naturally follow.
I spoke to a very senior DUP member around the time that just about everyone agreed that Peter Robinson’s legacy had been de-railed by Nama and that his exit would be hastened. I specifically said the following “You need to crush him internally now, he isn’t finished yet.”
The senior DUP member said “that’s not how we do things in the DUP. We seal a coup with a handshake and a hug.”
Such weakness backfired spectacularly as Robinson played the internal dynamics masterfully and not only severely damaged the ultimate objective of those behind the coup, which was a power grab, but actually managed to manage his succession and one only needs to look at the DUP’s election campaign- as pointed out by Steven McCafferty- to see the enduring influence of Peter Robinson.
The conspirators- who I happily worked along with- achieved their tactic of getting rid of Peter Robinson, but failed in the ultimate objective of grabbing the levers of power in the largest Government party.
The issue, however, is that Robinson’s clever electoral strategy is based on the deceit that he himself contrived at St Andrews.
The DUP opened the door to a Sinn Fein First Minister, so as they could themselves ride to the rescue to close it again come election time. Of course this is- again- simply a tactic that is designed to serve the ultimate objective, which is to keep the DUP in power alongside their partners in Government, Sinn Fein.
The challenge for political strategists opposing the DUP is to shine a light on the dark corners of their electoral strategy and expose the deceit for what it is- a clever deception.
In short-term political strategy the DUP may have used their contrived weapon to their advantage, but they have failed to demonstrate a long term sustainable political strategy that will ensure their succession for the next three electoral cycles.
The Robinson strategy brought the DUP to where they are now and had enough trip-switches to allow them to cling to power in the third Assembly electoral cycle after St Andrews- but that’s where the strategy ends.
With the DUP sure to lose some ground, and facing the prospect of having high-profile party members- up to the level of their junior minister- dumped out, it is going to take a political tactician equal in ability to their former leader to enable the DUP to hold power into the next three cycles of Assembly elections.