Eye of the storm

Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland

Jonathan Powell

Bodley Head, 338pp

Between 1994 and 2007, Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair's chief of staff and chief negotiator in Northern Ireland. His position at the very eye of the storm provides a unique vantage point from which to eavesdrop on the most private machinations of the peace process, all the way from new Labour's awkward "first contact" with Sinn Fein to Ian Paisley’s election as First Minister in May 2007.

Great Hatred, Little Room is suffixed by the joint blessings of Blair, Bill Clinton and Bertie Ahern. They credit Powell with being "midwife" to the end of violent political conflict in Northern Ireland.

Powell makes clear from the outset that this is no impartial account, nor "a comprehensive history of the conflict and its origins", and the resolutely individual perspective is emphasised throughout. What such an approach yields is a considerable wealth of detail, both personal and political, that sheds light on events otherwise clouded in the gunsmoke of history.

Though at times over-loyal to the Blairite agenda, Powell's account is anchored by a universal message: that peace is "not an event but a process", and that communication is crucial.

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Belief is back

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Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.