Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Black and White


Following yesterday's little reminisce about political events in Northern Ireland a mere 20 years ago, I must share a related matter with you.

I was down in that London last month to attend a memorial service for my departed friend Sean O'Callaghan.  And whilst there I met up with my thankfully still-very-much-with-us pal Steve Donoughue.  I went to university with Steve and we've stayed in touch.

When I worked in Westminster back in the day, I also got to know Steve's dad Bernard, aka Lord Donoughue.

Bernard is a remarkable man whose life story is much too long to tell.  Career highlights include being Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, a source for the writers of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, and a stint as Minister for Agriculture in Tony Blair's first Government.  He was in the latter role when I first met him.

Bernard's deep experience of Whitehall, something the Labour Party lacked after 18 years in Opposition, was of great value to the new Prime Minister.  So too was his knowledge of Northern Ireland, a place that was very high on Blair's agenda upon taking office.  After encountering me through Steve, Bernard quickly decided he and I should have a proper chat.  Over a period of months, this turned into a series of exchanges.

What I hadn't realised until I saw Steve three weeks ago was that some of these conversations have been chronicled in Bernard's recently published book, "Westminster Diary Volume 2 - Farewell to Office."  My copy arrived in the post on Monday.

I'll not burden you with too many details, but I will share a small selection of Bernard's more colourful observations.

Let's begin on Monday 12 January 1998.

"Son Stephen came in with his clever young friend Barry White, who is research officer to the Ulster Unionists.  Said he had heard of me as the Unionists' middle man to No.10, but was not aware how much drafting I had done.  Discussed the whole Ulster situation, where he is very knowledgeable."

I've got to be happy with that.

We'll move on to Wednesday 29 April 1998, less than three weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Fascinating meeting with young Barry White, the bright political adviser to the Ulster Unionists."

Excellent, another good start.

"Told me that the Ulster Unionists are totally divided and Trimble is in real trouble."

Bugger.  All true, but mildly uncomfortable to read all these years on.
Let's try Thursday 14 May 1998.

"Barry White, Unionist adviser, came in to brief me.  He is tall, craggy, remarkably mature and with a wonderfully incomprehensible Ulster accent."

Once from Coleraine, always from Coleraine is what I say - although you might have to ask me to say it again.

Bernard's book is now available from all good book retailers - and some rubbish ones as well.

I plan to read what he's said about everyone else over a series of early nights.              

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