Attacking Blair only steers political reform into a cul-de-sac

 Robin Wilson’s dismissal      ( link repaired)  of Tony Blair’s handling of the peace process is misconceived. It’s not clear what his precise objections are. For Robin the form of power sharing which was adopted only institutionalised sectarianism. Can we really heap all that on Blair’s head? In one vital respect the prophets of doom were wrong. The system did not collapse when the  “extremes ” became the majority in each bloc. With all its faults, Model 2 looks more stable than Model 1. Robin has yet to spell out an alternative. Perhaps Platform for Change will deliver it.

What else would you have had Blair do? The question applies to Robin as to other critics of various hues. His is the cry of the idealist that blames the ruler for failing to rule us beyond our present capacity to be ruled.

To state the obvious, “what has been achieved ” is a death toll reducing from 57 in 1997 to 3 in 2009. This is hardly to be taken for granted. Does anyone suppose this would have happened without a political deal? For some the peace walls are instruments of continuing, even deepening polarisation. For others they define places of safety.

Robin attacks Blair for viewing the situation “through Anglo-centric eyes…, as fundamentally a conflict between the British State and the IRA. “ Up to a point Lord Copper. Blair indeed paid particular attention to SF because as he admits, they were the guys with the guns. Realpoltik if you will. But the aims were dual, remember: not just to set up a government but to end the war.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that unionists and even the SDLP had a problem he didn’t share, of granting moral equivalence to SF.  But that, I assume,  isn’t what  Robin is driving at. 

Blair the non historian was always bound to think differently from our typical mindset steeped in the sophisticated dialectics of the past. ” I thought the whole thing to be ridiculously old fashioned and out of touch.” Superficial? Maybe – but fair enough as far as it goes.

Seamus Mallon and Reg Empey are united in sourly accusing Blair of bad faith. But then they come from the parties that lost out. What a pity they failed to pull together better when they had the leading roles.

Nothing gets up our noses more that outsiders’ disrespect for the fearful integrity of our quarrel. Blair’s account is self centered and lacks the analytical depth we think we deserve . Worse, his version often reads like a  black comedy, patronising to the massed ranks of  chippy egos.   Republicans will add an extra twist to the indictment.  Blair simply isn’t aware of Britain as part of the problem they insist it is, rather than the solution.  He finally irritates because he dares to believe he has that solution, or at least the technique  for reaching it.

Blair himself has moved on. He has boiled down our experience into ingredients for a 10 point model of conflict resolution. Why should he not? The way ahead is up to us now. Further disiilusion may be the result if too much is expected too soon and we divert into the aridity of  a blame game about the past, focused on the prime minister whose achievement in Ireland  stands alone. 

In Whack fol the diddle, Peadar Carney, author of “Amhrán na bhFiann took a great rise out the Blair approach of his time. But maybe he had grudging respect for it too ?

Now Irishmen, forget the past!
And think of the time that’s coming fast.
When we shall all be civilized,
Neat and clean and well-advised.
And won’t Mother England be surprised?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London