This was agreed at the 1981 party conference, when the Bennite left, supporting Sinn Fein and even the IRA, was blocked by a pro-SDLP leadership qualifying the idea with consent. Unity by consent - politically dangerous and logically nonsensical - became the compromise formula, which Tony Blair paid filial obeisance to during his leadership campaign.
Tony Blair has an opportunity to purge the party of the last residue of early 1980s' Bennism. He can do this by commencing an all-inclusive policy review, involving interested Irish and British parties, which will allow Labour to play a constructive role at this crucial time. The Downing Street declaration, in the absence of a new policy, must hold in the meantime. If he does not begin this process in the autumn, any possible Labour government will find its position on Northern Ireland seriously compromised.
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