Blair's manifesto states that Northern Ireland - which is discussed in the context of local, national and regional government for the UK - should be one of the 'highest priorities' of a Labour administration. He then endorses the 1981 conference policy of 'the aim of Irish unity by consent' (probably Labour's last Bennite battlecry) and also backs the Downing Street Declaration.
But there's something of a contradiction here. The joint declaration rules out pre-determined solutions in favour of seeking consent for an agreed Ireland. An agreed Ireland could mean a unitary state, possibly even joint sovereignty (though that is highly unlikely and would inflame Unionist opinion, not win their consent), or the territorial status quo, albeit much reformed.
The declaration also eschews the notion that the British government should join the ranks of the 'persuaders' and seek to convince Unionist opinion of the inevitability of Irish unity. Yet, Labour's policy - as set out back in 1981 - endorses rather than eschews this option.
Blair is absolutely right to support the declaration, but is it not clear that this should involve a reassessment of Labour's 1981 nationalist mantras?
Blair rightly states that 'the conflict in Northern Ireland is the gravest and most protracted problem facing the British and Irish peoples'. But his statements seem to reflect Labour's muddled approach rather than a fresh engagement with the real, not the romantic, Ireland of the past.
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