11 FEBRUARY 1995, Page 6


Certain people would prefer to see a return to bombing in Ulster than to see Major triumph


Most of my readers are doubtless too fastidious to have dipped into the latest revelations concerning John Major's sex- life in 1960s Brixton. And this column would not normally have bothered to retail that kind of stuff. Not a word would have passed my lips, except that the episode shows that Mr Major possesses the greatest political skill of all: gently to let down an ally upon whom he has wholly depended; to forsake, and yet not to goad the forsaken to revenge.

Thirty years ago, we learn, John Major showed tact and sensitivity in extricating himself from the arms of an attractive, brunette, divorced mother of two some 13 years his senior. It was the end of five years of dalliance. The modern analogue of Mrs Jean Kierans is, of course, Mr James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist leader.

It was beautiful to watch, this parliamen- tary alliance between Major and Molyneaux. Major handled the affair like a virtuoso. Without Molyneaux's support, the Prime Minister could never have built up the coalition necessary to begin the Irish `peace process'. Like the Older Woman of Brixton, though, Mr Molyneaux is appar- ently learning the sad fact of John Major's unreliability. And that is why the end of the Brixton romance casts light, perhaps, on what we can expect now in Northern Ire- land. It seems that if ever there was a man who can dump a friend, and yet not pro- voke wrath, that man is John Major.

Some of my most esteemed journalistic comrades would disagree. My friends and colleagues with strong views on Ulster believe the leaked Anglo-Irish framework document is the Inevitable British Betrayal, and that the peace process is doomed. My friends and colleagues at The Spectator past and present — What the hell, let's name names: chaps like Charles Moore, Simon Heller, Noel Malcolm, as well as some Tory MPs — say all negotiation is logically impossible. Their starting assumption is that all discussion of Ulster's future must be a sell-out, since sovereignty is indivisi- ble, and in the words of Carson, what we have we hold. They say that since the leak- ing of the framework document, Protestant heels are skidding at the top of the slippery slope leading to a united Ireland.

Perhaps all that is true, though I doubt it. The more important question is how the people of Ulster will react to their 'aban- donment' by Mr Major. Is this document really such a desertion? John Taylor, the Unionist MP for Strangford, whose jaw was shattered in a hail of IRA bullets in 1972, says the framework document is offensive because it envisages a single all-Ireland body instead of a collection of cross-border bodies. Imagine, he says, if you were an Italian resident in the Alto Adige and you suddenly discovered that you were to be partly governed by a condominium of the Alto Adige and Austria. I am not sure if the example makes quite the point that Mr Taylor wants, since some Italians at least, might be delighted at the idea of being partly governed from Vienna rather than Rome. Is it mad, more generally, to think there might be room for flexibility here, in the distinction between a cross-border body and an all-Ireland body?

Too much has been made of the way that `Brussels' will supposedly act as the engine for the unification of Ireland. In reality, that phrase in the preamble of the frame- work document, about the North-South body having responsibility for the 'chal- lenges and opportunities of the European Union', is much more froth than bite. The United Kingdom Permanent Representa- tion to the European Union in Brussels will continue to represent Northern Ireland in the EU council of ministers, while Dublin continues to speak for itself. The two gov- ernments will continue to disagree about almost everything, from fishing to the size of the 'cohesion' budget: there is no recipe for a united Ireland in that.

The Unionists have an indefeasible moral case, a right to remain British as long as the majority so wish. There can be no solution save a Unionist solution. And yet — perhaps it is some flaw in my character, on animals?' Telegraph. a yawing of my moral compass, a failure to sit long enough at the feet of T.E. Utley I cannot see why this fact should preclude Mr Major from continuing his efforts. He has had the intelligence to see that peace is not just the end, but the means to the end. With every day the ceasefire lasts, the pres- sure grows on both sides, nationalist as well as Unionist, not to be responsible for a resurgence of violence.

It is perfectly respectable to predict that violence must inevitably come again, since the two sides have incompatible objectives. One sometimes feels, though, that this expectation of a return to bloodshed shades into a sneaking, unarticulated desire to be vindicated by that event. In some Tory MPs this emotion is infected, too, by a contempt for John Major. To put it at its strongest, I sometimes feel that certain people, at off- moments, would almost prefer to see a return to bombing than to see John Major carry off a triumph. And in so far as I am on to something, that emotion is base. If John Major can prove them wrong, and pull off some kind of optical illusion (are not orange and green complementary colours?); if he can persuade one side that the glass is half full and the other side that it is half empty; if he can entrench this ceasefire into a peace and into a settlement that lasts, then he will have served his coun- try well. Maybe he embarked on the peace process for largely selfish ends, in that he thought it might be a way of covering him- self with glory in the eyes of the electorate. But a man may do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

As each slow card is played in this inter- minable rubber, what especially irritates and perplexes the Powellite middle-class hard men in England is the behaviour of the working-class hard men in Ulster. We all knew that the middle-class Protestants were soft in their desire for peace. It was surprising, though, to hear the spokesmen of the UFF and the UDA denounce some of the Unionist politicians' reaction as 'hys- terical'. Provided there is no change to the Union and to their status as British subjects — and there will not, cannot be — they, like the Older Woman of Brixton, can see the merit of being grown up, for the sake of