Saturday, March 08, 2008
Thank Goodness for Paisley's Ego
Now retired even his former enemies have nothing but nice things to say about the man they once tried so hard to kill. 'A fascinating, gracious man' contributed Gerry Adams and not dissimilar tributes have come from both the main parties in Britain, offering similar encomia. It takes a hard bitten journalist, Simon Jenkins to remind us that this is no benign paterfamilias of the Ulster protestants. Jenkins described how the first time he heard him preaching- an 'electrifying performance' he allowed- he was reminded of a 'mad Celtic Druid':
The man was a monster, a fanatic, a hangover from the middle ages. I remember wondering how on earth Britain had allowed Ulster's constitution so to fester as to have this man roaming the woods and hills of Ulster. One thing Britain does not do well is postcolonial partition. It creates a fertile breeding ground for the likes of Paisley, and his antagonist, Adams.
Whilst most Ulster protestant leaders in the 70s and 80s began to recognise that the Catholics had been badly mistreated, Paisley furiously insisted they represented the ranks of the ungodly owing allegiance to the 'antichrist', the Pope. Between them, Adams and Paisley appealed to the baser natures of their followers, paying lip service to peace, yet, by their rhetoric, rousing their impulses to violence and intransigence. We were all amazed and yes, delighted, that 'The Big Man' found it in him to make his peace with McGuinness, and even, in appearance at least, to make him his friend. Taking his followers with him has not been easy and it could be dissatisfaction with his volte face has been a major factor in his departure.
Simon Hoggart today suggests that the secret to Paisley is that behind that fierce and noisy facade is an over-size ego just yearning to be massaged; something which the intuitive Tony Blair sensed early on:
What he spotted in Paisley was not the intransigent priest but the vast ego. Did you know that Blair made him a privy counsellor, so he is the "right honourable Doctor Ian Paisley"? A stroke of genius. Blair also knew that he was desperate to become first minister of Ulster and saw that he would reach almost any accommodation just to hold that position, even for a few months.
Whatever the correct analysis we all have to be grateful that divisive politicians are very often, just rather small men shouting to be recognised and receive the deference, the trappings, the official imprimatur of leadership.
I reckon the IRA hitmen would not have hesitated long if they had the Big Man in their cross hairs up to a few years ago.
...and you accuse me of being 'spiteful'!
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