Memo to Kirk McCambley: Max wants to talk to you. And, if you look at how well Levi Johnson has done for himself, the Max option is well worth considering.
Our local scandal shows few signs of abating, in the meantime. Yesterday’s Telegraph carried a massive feature interview with Peter Robinson, whereby the embattled first minister got to do the human interest bit. He performed reasonably well under the circumstances, and did get to show us a side of the hard man’s personality that we aren’t used to, but then he wasn’t facing an aggressive interrogator like Jeremy Paxman, or Karen from Outnumbered. The interviewer was Gail Walker, which means that not only were some of Robbo’s intriguing hints not followed up, but Gail larded in lots of editorialising on behalf of the interviewee. The interview seems slightly truncated in the online version, and moreover the print version of the Tele contained a sidebar where Gail batted once again for Peter, and another sidebar where Rebekah Robinson put in her two cents in defence of Dad.
You can’t fault him for trying, and although Mark notes a little discrepancy, it wasn’t an ineffective show from Peter. However, the British press pack, much less deferential than the Norn Iron media, have been sniffing around – the Mail has been lapping it up – and there are all sorts of rumours flying about what might be in the Sundays. We’ll know in a couple of hours. But in the meantime, I note some chancerism from the Sunday World. Tsk tsk, Hugh.
As I keep saying, the important thing is to follow the money. Sexual peccadilloes may yet claim a couple more high-profile DUP scalps, but the local government corruption angle has very wide repercussions and could have a really big long-term effect. Castlereagh council, grudgingly giving up more info on the Lock Keeper’s Inn, has had to institute an external investigation by Deloittes. Meanwhile, the Newtownards Chronicle has an interesting angle. You remember the Beverley development in Ards apropos of which Iris was lobbying for Ken Campbell at the same time Ken wrote her that cheque? According to the Chronicle, this has been rather unpopular with local residents, who’ve had an action group going for quite a while, and local Traditional Unionist councillors are trying to interest the Local Government Auditor.
I was also struck, in today’s Tele, to find a rare public appearance from Paul Berry, the former DUP wunderkind whose political career was abruptly cut short three years ago after a close encounter in a hotel room with a masseur of the homosexual persuasion, who then went straight to the Sunday World. Paul has always vehemently denied there was any hanky-panky involved, only a massage for an old sports injury – and to be fair, the Worst is not known for being terribly concerned about accuracy – but that didn’t prevent the DUP terminating him with extreme prejudice. In his interview, Paul is forgiving and understanding towards the Robinsons while still being quite pointed about his treatment, which seems to me the right tone for him to strike.
Party politics at Stormont comes into this too, of course. One reason for the Spotlight programme getting bumped up two weeks in the schedules was that, what with Gerry coming under pressure about his dealings with the brother, some discreet words were dropped to the media from circles not unadjacent to the Shinners that there was something juicy in the works about the DUP. And now we see Ian Paisley Jr trying to get the Assembly ombudsman to take an interest in the Liam Adams case. Not that Gerry doesn’t have questions to answer, though he may be doing so in court soon enough, but it might have been a bit better had this not come from someone with Baby Doc’s track record on matters ethical.
Now, what lessons can be drawn from the Lurgan by-election? Given the 24% turnout and the fact that the DUP didn’t stand (which is a story in itself – when did the DUP ever run away from an election?), it’s hard to draw any obvious lessons. What’s more, infighting in the local TUV and the fact that David Calvert wasn’t an especially popular candidate, even in TUV circles, must be taken into account. I think Sir Reggie is engaging in a little forgivable hyperbole when he talks about the great strides being made by UCUNF. But I’ll concede his point in a narrow sense, that even in a council by-election in January, the Official Unionists managed to turn out their vote, and that by itself will give David Simpson pause for thought. When I hear the paperboy quoting Lord Acton, I know things are bad for the DUP.
Finally, over at Slugger, the ever readable Turgon has a reflection on the DUP’s deployment of Arlene Foster. I vaguely remember her when she was still Arlene Kelly, and she didn’t terribly impress me then, but she’s grown into her position somewhat. And she’s surprisingly popular with the DUP rank and file, especially given that she’s a defector from the OUP and moreover not a fundamentalist but a member of the Church of Ireland, which is nearly as bad as being an atheist. Still, she’s the safe pair of hands now – if Sammy had become acting first minister, we’d really be in trouble.