A former press officer for David Trimble has said that Peter Robinson’s Maze bombshell has been an “absolute blinder” in political terms, writes Sam McBride.
Alex Benjamin, who has not worked for the UUP for several years, said that it showed Mr Robinson’s “political nous”.
He said: “Personally, and as much as I am loathe to admit it, he’s playing an absolute blinder here.
“Sure the UUP and TUV will milk the U-turn stuff until the teat is dry but what he has done is politically smart and shows that he learned something major from the guy I used to work for – Trimble.
“Trimble’s mistake was to move forward without taking the party with him. It left him isolated and beyond the pale with a vast swathe of unionists. Gerry and Martin never budged an inch unless they had the ard fheis behind them. Peter can say look I’m listening to grass roots, kick it into touch and settle the troops.”
But another former Trimble aide took another view. He told the News Letter: “Robinson [in backing the Maze] – as with Trimble – fell into the trap of believing that because he understood and accepted the reason why he was going in that direction, therefore everyone else would accept it and he didn’t need to sell it.”
The former UUP man said that both Lord Trimble and Mr Robinson had “got detached” from many of their supporters: “Living in the Stormont bubble really jades your thinking.”
He added: “The way Peter got away with his personal problems at the time he did just fed his sense of invincibility. The difference here is that somebody has got to him; someone he trusts has got to him and they’ve given him the right advice, though the problem is that it’s way too late.”
He added that Mr Robinson was nevertheless “politically stronger and has a party which is much less questioning”. But that, he said, was a “double-edged sword”, adding: “Trimble had Jeffrey Donaldson as an early-warning system, something Robinson doesn’t have. The problem is that Sinn Fein, realising his difficulty, have put the pressure on and they quite enjoy doing that.”