Peter Robinson prophets little in throwing the Book at UUP
Published 17/05/2013 | 04:20
In spite of being painted as the Mr Angry of Ulster politics, Peter Robinson does have a sense of humour – and even the ability to be self-deprecating.
You wouldn't have noticed on Monday in the Assembly, though, when he rounded on Mike Nesbitt, calling him part of a "tribe of Jeremiahs that infest the political process and whose first thought is to attack any genuine attempt that is made to bring forward positive proposals".
Mr Robinson should realise that when he 'does one', most of the sniggering that ensues is at his expense. It was like Christmas for the UUP leader, who had shown that he could needle the DUP leader and get lots of positive media exposure.
It made him look good and it made him wonder if he had a point, when he accused the DUP and Sinn Fein leaders of shutting the other Executive parties out of their shared future proposals.
Mr Robinson has form at making UUP leaders look good when he attempts to squash them like flies.
During a debate before the last election, Tom Elliott, normally a staid performer, looked 10 years younger and literally jumped for joy when Mr Robinson blew up in studio to accuse him of telling "a lie from hell".
Mr Elliott had accused him of praising Caitriona Ruane and a simple denial would have gone down better.
When I wrote that Mr Robinson had one of the sharpest minds – and also the one of thinnest skins – in politics, he responded on Twitter: "Liam Clarke @beltel. I read your article in tonight's paper. I haven't got the thinnest skin in politics ... You ******* :-)."
He showed the same style and perspective after the death of Sean Crummy, the impressionist who helped to cast the First Minister's Mr Angry image on the BBC's Folks on the Hill. "He brightened many a dinner I attended. It's like losing a bit of yourself. RIP," the First Minister tweeted.
Flattery tempts powerful people to take themselves too seriously and see opposition, or criticism, as evil. They can then miss the big picture and twist the facts to suit their argument.
Take Jeremiah. The Bible paints him as a gloomy irritant to the powerful, but not as a false prophet. He correctly warned of the conquest of Israel by Babylon, which might have been averted, had he been listened to. So opposition and criticism can be constructive and, if you are powerful, you need to hear it.
The best place for it, though, is outside the Executive.
That is why Mr Robinson is right to say that there should be an official Opposition at Stormont. He should work on that one and, in the meantime, should not worry too much about things being leaked to the press.
That is what he predicted would have happened if he had told the UUP and other smaller parties about his shared future plans before he released them in a hastily arranged press conference last week.
He should heed the words of Jeremiah (50:2) on that one: "Declare ye among the nations, and publish; and set up a standard. Publish and conceal not."