By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
You’ve noticed the strenuous efforts to portray the new DUP leader designate as someone with a bit more colour in his life than playing chess with a computer or silently feeding fish in his back garden pond.
You may even have heard that he had a guitar 40 years ago, that he liked Bob Dylan songs.
We’re told he has lots of ties, like a million or 10 million and keeps them all carefully racked in drawers. Can it be true?
Why would anyone bother?
You can see how desperate the efforts are. All the examples offered are slightly weird. The inescapable conclusion is that Peter Robinson is the Steve Davis of Norn Irn politics.
You remember the satirical show Spitting Image dubbed him Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis precisely because he wasn’t.
Even when Davis was doing wondrous things with snooker balls no emotion ever showed on his face. When he was interviewed about his amazing performances his responses were uniformly boring and his voice monotonous if not toneless. Likewise all attempts to show that Robinson is ‘interesting’ are doomed to failure.
Is there not something eerie about the image of someone standing watching koi carp slither soundlessly through dark water?
What do you do with a thousand ties or a million or whatever the number is?
Wait for some of them to come back into fashion?
Count them? Rearrange them? Colour code them?
Or was it all part of the waiting game, waiting for Paisley to resign, go, get out of the way?
It certainly puts Gordon Brown’s 10-year wait in perspective.
Poor old Robinson has been waiting nearly 30 years. Only another six weeks to go. Nearly there.
Is it too late though?
Was there any point in the wait?
Brown waited and agitated for a decade, willing to wound but afraid to strike. Then when he got the job he craved he couldn’t do it.
That prospect always looms for someone who has lurked in the shadows of a large personality.
There’s no doubt Robinson is a competent finance minister and can probably be a competent minister in any other department.
Can he be a party leader?
In his career there’s no evidence of any political flair or imagination never mind any charm.
He’s not a great orator. If he had been, Paisley would have sidelined him years ago.
He’s credited with technocratic and electoral ability, though before 2007 that seemed confined to the slogan ‘Vote 1,2,3 DUP’.
Only in the last assembly election did he manage to emulate Sinn Féin’s vote management expertise.
Maybe Paisley didn’t understand what Robinson was up to?
You look in vain at any of his speeches or writings for any vision. Take his recent article in The Irish Times about the Good Friday Agreement’s 10th anniversary - sour, crabbed, dog-in-the-manger stuff, some of it frankly nonsense.
He often extols the St Andrews Agreement as ‘burying’ the Good Friday Agreement when everyone knows it’s a fig leaf to cover the DUP’s entry into partnership with Sinn Féin, operating the Good Friday Agreement.
On the other hand, when it suits he denies parts of the same St Andrews Agreement, like devolution of policing and justice, saying St Andrews was actually only an agreement between Dublin and London, nothing to do with the DUP.
No clue anywhere about how he sees the future of unionism or if he sees a future for unionism.
Perhaps when he finally and at last takes over from Paisley he’ll have the confidence to present some of his own ideas, if he has any.
Maybe we can look forward to him laying out his stall in June explaining where he’s taking the DUP. Does he know?
Has he been carefully hoarding all his ideas for those 30 years he spent as Paisley’s shadow or has he spent 30 years as a shadow because that’s what he is, a two-dimensional object who will fade when the light shines on him?
Is his fate to be John Major to Lady Hacksaw, Gordon Brown to Tony Blair?
If so, for Robinson the consolation is he has his very own shadow in the shape of ‘Depooty Dawds’.