There is little honesty with adultery, not least towards the spouse who is unaware of the affair. It is a web of lies. The web of Iris Robinson grew complex: casual sex mixed with personal greed. Having persuaded others to provide £50,000 for the business of her young friend, she then seems to have decided that she should be rewarded with £5,000 cash. At this point, a quiet affair developed all the potential for financial scandal.
Does anyone seriously suggest that Iris Robinson would have told Peter Robinson all the details about her £5,000 kick-back, or her intention at some point to keep substantially more. The meetings, the go-between, the texts? Dishonesty underlies this story at every level.
Peter Robinson would not be the first husband who wanted to believe and protect his wife, or chose what to believe at face value because it offered a pathway to quiet resolution of the issues at hand: especially when the wife has a history of depression.
Any investigation may well find Peter Robinson clear of wrong-doing; unless there are more revelations to come. The only person who might be able to tell the whole story is Iris Robinson, and we have learned enough to imagine that not even she may not be he most reliable source of information on the facts.
The big question is now political: can Peter Robinson survive as First Minister?
If the answer was based on known facts alone, then more than likely yes.
However, leadership demands that any showing of emotional vulnerability must be balanced with strength and resolution in the face of adversity. Leaders must be first in control of themselves to be in control of events, and to be able to respond appropriately and proportionally.
While emotional vulnerability may elicit some public sympathy, alone it promotes context not answers. A managed interview that is not accompanied with a detailed Q&A for the press which addresses wider issues that a short statement and the immediacy of a ‘surprise’ statement does not permit, questions will always remain. Each subsequent interview with Peter Robinson offers a snippet more that leaves a sense that there is more to the story even though not a great deal more is revealed.
Talk of the ‘Robinson brand’ in the media seems to be centred on the relative power of the Robinson family; relating that family’s political position in the context of the Paisley family, and discussion of dynasties. There may be a common idea of how the Robinsons regarded themselves, and there is no doubt that many in the DUP have huge respect for Robinson’s political antenna and drive. But out there, among the public, is there anything that has happened over the past year, from expenses to more recent revelations, that doesn’t confirm a reserved and quietly negative view of the Robinsons? Was there really broad public acceptance of the presentation of the happy family, the dedication to public service alone, the righteousness of evangelical faith?
There has never been a great deal of goodwill or natural empathy towards Peter Robinson the person, outside his core supporters. Politically he stood in the shadow of Ian Paisley for so long that he had no particular personality: the succession to leadership was easily interpreted as a powerplay within the DUP. That was true without the recent scandal.
Politics is never black or white. Even if Peter Robinson were a weakened leader, he is the only option for the DUP at this point in time. The DUP needs Peter Robinson because he has the political experience and tactical expertise to make them do better at the polls in Westminster and the next Assembly and elections than they would without him. He keeps the lid on the tensions between the fundamentalist core DUP and those who would fundamentally seek to appeal to a wider voting base. For a Party that promotes itself on success, changing a leader so soon after Ian Paisley’s retirement could only question the direction and political sense of the DUP. What vision? What values? What next?
Yes, recent events may mean bleeding a few more votes, but poor results could still be even worse without rigourous political management from now to election day. Yes, expenses and the more recent scandal has hurt the DUP. Yet, if a week is long time in politics Peter Robinson has plenty of time to reorganise, re-energise and rebound.
If there were more scandal, from elsewhere within the DUP, then the challenge for the DUP would be greater, and Peter Robinson’s return even more certain. For now though, it’s his decision; one man’s call, and the man doesn’t look as if he is going anywhere far from the First Minister’s office.