Belfast Telegraph

Perhaps Peter Robinson is right ... love really can conquer all?

By Gail Walker

He may not be booking that visit to Lunns just yet, but there seems little doubt that DUP leader Peter Robinson is intent on loitering outside Catholic voters' letterboxes clutching a Valentine's card.

Whether you see him as a gauche would-be suitor or an old roue up to no good, you have to admit that Robinson is throwing the cat of modernism into the pigeons of tribal orthodoxy - to stretch language to breaking point.

By attending a Catholic Mass (albeit in his capacity as a public representative), sitting in the stands at a GAA match and by admitting quite frankly that he is out to woo Catholic votes, it seems those early PR soundbites are taking on a bit of substance.

We've all heard the old one about opposites attracting. Except, of course, this wouldn't be a case of "opposites" getting all hot under the collar for each other.

No - constitutional issues apart - it would be more like a comfy slipper relationship. This won't be an affair of great passion on either side, rather one where "we rub along well enough".

While ex-UUP leader David Trimble finds the idea risible and believes crafty Peter really has his eye on that Liberal Unionist lass who's a bit fed up with cack-handed Tom behaving like her dad with his V-neck sweaters and crimpoline slacks, we shouldn't be quite so quick to sneer at love's young dream.

Much as it may pain BTs 1, 7 and 9, pro-abortion and gay rights platforms don't have much traction in "the Heartland" - whether that's Ballymena or Crossmaglen.

In terms of social mores, not that much separates "devout Catholic" and "staunch Protestant". To quote Spandau Ballet's Through the Barricades, "Born on different sides of life/We feel the same".

And who's to say that, given time, there may not be some mild flirtation, even reciprocation?

After all, even in the darkest days of the Troubles, party founder Ian Paisley always represented his Catholic constituents well and, if stories are to be believed, even attracted the odd vote from the other side.

One thing even the most grudging anti-DUPer would have to admit is they do know the grassroots concerns of their voters, concerns which aren't that different from their Catholic neighbours in the other street - efficient government, social and religious conservatism, support for traditional communal life and values at its most fundamental.

Many Catholic voters, I'm sure, feel rather disenfranchised that they only have the option of voting for that nice middle class chap from the SDLP who lives outside of town or the smooth talking revolutionary down the street. Neither fully represents them.

But, of course, you can't describe Tweedledum here without describing Tweedledee.

Thousands of Protestant voters are emotionally disenfranchised as well. As shown by the BBC's The Estate, many towns suffer from the kind of social deprivation we more often associate with British inner cities - and it isn't just happening in Catholic areas.

But the Protestant working class have never had a proper voice politically - give or take the odd Fred Cobain.

The PUP may gain a councillor here or lose one there, but most potential voters are repelled by the history of loyalist paramilitaries.

There is, however, room for a left wing leaning party here. An evolving Sinn Fein anyone? After all, they already have the Marxism for Beginners in their coat pocket.

Of course, some may reckon this is the stuff of pie-in-the sky Utopianism.

But life here has changed - hopefully for good. And if it has, is it not reasonable to expect our politics to change as well?

In effect, for the last half century, the majority of us - Protestant and Catholic - have been forced into positions untrue to ourselves.

Indeed, we've had to adapt ourselves to perhaps the biggest lie of all: Protestants are inherently right-wing while Catholics are inherently left-wing.

At least Peter's wooing shows that there are some smart cookies out there who think it ain't necessarily so.

He may not be natural George Clooney material but who knows if Robinson is not the man to star in the most unlikely romcom (a robcom, anybody?) of all?

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