Magazine article The Spectator

One Tory Policy Which Mr Blair Should Abandon

Magazine article The Spectator

One Tory Policy Which Mr Blair Should Abandon

Article excerpt

The Romans, it was said, created a desert and called it Peace, and it is beginning to look as if something almost equally baleful will have to be said about the British in Northern Ireland - that they created a desert and called it a peace process. There can be no peace in Northern Ireland. If Britain granted the Catholic minority what they want - progress towards Irish unification - this would provoke the Protestant majority into taking up arms, thereby replacing one nasty small war with an even nastier large one.

The only realistic choice is between two wars: one bloody enough but the other quite certain to be bloodier still. A peace process, which is bound to turn a bad job into a catastrophe, cannot be a good idea.

We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Britain's in Northern Ireland in the last few years have been of the best. But if continued with, the result could be - and very soon - the worst kind of hell: civil war. For heaven's sake, Mr Blair, take a deep breath of the cold, sobering air of political realism and think again, or rather start thinking for the first time, since the peace process has always been more dream than reality.

I sounded the same Cassandra note in The Spectator at the same period last year in a piece entitled, `The real Irish nationalism' (22 June 1996). The peace process had already shown that it was heading, slowly but relentlessly, towards the very evil it was supposed to avert. Nothing has changed except that this grim conclusion - that the peace process is more problem than solution - is now even more inescapable than it was then. What can be done with a peace process that is going in the wrong direction? Do you press on regardless -- which is what the last government did - or do you put the brakes on and bring the train not so much to a grinding halt (since it was the advance that caused the grinding) as to a discreet and relatively orderly halt, from which the bona fide passengers on board can descend with a sigh of relief at having escaped what has increasingly been seen to have become a misguided journey into a dead end?

The second option was not really open to Mr Major. Having given the peace process the green light and set the train on its disastrous way, it was too much to expect him to admit that it had all been a blunder. In any case he had no experience in jettisoning long-established policies or turning political somersaults. That, however, is what Mr Blair is famous for. Ever since becoming leader of the Labour party he has been transforming it into the political equivalent of a London taxi which can turn 180 degrees on a sixpence. But whereas it made sense for him to take over Tory economic policy, which was working very well, it made no sense for him to take over Tory Irish policy, which was working very badly. What he should do, and what his immense popularity here and in America might allow him to do with impunity, is to replace the peace process with something more like a limited war process, a process aimed not at bringing the troubles to an end, which cannot be done, but at trying to ensure that in future they do not spread or escalate, and just might in time simmer down and cool off.

How can this be done? By doing almost exactly the opposite of what we have been doing in the peace process. In the peace process we have been trying, ever more desperately, to put a smile on the face of the Sinn Fein/IRA tiger. …

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