On one thing, Jonathan Powell is quite correct. The indignation of Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, notably the First Minister, Peter Robinson, is utterly synthetic. Mr Robinson says he was not informed – and that may, strictly speaking, be the case. But he could have found out about these comfort letters in 10 minutes if he had tried. It was much more convenient for him not to know, because if he had done, voters could have forced him to act, and that might have prised apart his comfortable hold on office. His threat to resign this week was dropped the following day as soon as David Cameron gave him the fig leaf he sought by promising a judge-led inquiry.
What we are seeing in all this is the result of an agreement built on insecure foundations. The consensus view of Tony Blair is that he was, broadly speaking, a wasted prime minister, but one who had an unassailable achievement in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. My own view is almost the opposite. I think his ability to make the Labour Party moderate, electable and capable of dealing with a global, liberal economic system was remarkable, and has not, despite everything, collapsed. But his Northern Irish legacy is insecure.
This is because his deal boiled down to a division of the spoils between two gangs – one Republican, one Unionist. The moderate parties – the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP – were squeezed, and the nastier ones – the Paisleyite DUP and Sinn Fein – were put centre-stage. The British state deferred to them (especially to Sinn Fein, by far the nastiest of the lot), showered them with public money, and was prepared to distort the due process of law, the impartiality of administration and the rights of Parliament to get what it wanted.
In Northern Ireland, the peace is therefore uneasy. The old hatreds have not been buried. The old injustices have been replaced by new ones.