Owen Paterson MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Following Shaun Woodward’s recent visit to the USA, I spent last week in Washington and New York promoting the Conservative Party’s important and continued role in the Northern Ireland peace process and to learn about American attitudes to the province.
Sunday 16th September
Most of the day at airports reading British and American Sunday papers – struck by the number of uniformed servicemen. Clearly respected by travelling Americans. It is inconceivable here: aeroplane with a sign saying, “We support our troops in the Middle East.” Even saw this on a garbage truck! Maybe Dannatt is onto something.
Visits to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Lunch with Nile Gardiner who is actively involved with the Giuliani campaign. Afternoon: up to the Senate to see Jon Kyl, Senator for Arizona. Interested in comparisons with the N.I. peace process and the Middle East. Later, a brief meeting with Mel Martinez, Senator for Florida, before he rushes off to talk with fruit farmers.
Meet Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary at the State Department, whose responsibilities include Northern Ireland. Very constructive discussion on her plans for promoting economic development. Three senior missions are to go over in the coming months with a business conference in May. Most impressed she and the administration are still committed to help.
A complete contrast at lunch: Conservative bloggers who are astounded by my comments on the British electoral system. E.g., Isle of Wight returning one Conservative MP for 110,000 electors; a Scottish seat has fewer than 22,000.
In 2005 Labour needed 26,834 votes to win a seat, Conservatives 44,531. I ram home that Labour polled only 21.6% of the total electorate. We got a majority of votes in England.
Up the Hill to Congressman Peter King, who represents part of New York, including Long Island. With an Irish Republican background, he even wrote novels supporting the movement, yet was closely involved in the peace process. He saw 9/11 as a turning point and is emphatic that American support will continue if the British and Irish Governments want it.
Back to the White House to see old friend Barry Jackson (pictured above) who has recently been promoted, effectively replacing Karl Rove – with the job title “Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs”. In contrast to Westminster, where the grander you are, the bigger your office, he has a window-free box, but only feet away from the Oval Office.
Fascinating dinner with John O’Sullivan, drained having just returned from promoting his latest book in Poland.
Meeting with Samantha Ravich of the Office of the Vice President and
Bill Luti, Special Assistant to the President. Discussions stray beyond
Northern Ireland; interesting to learn that the administration’s global
strategy is seen to be a direct descendant of the military expansion
which the US always undergoes following a strategic shock.
An example is after 1814 when we burnt down the White House and held a
mock Congress – the President had to flee into the woods with his wife;
after Havana in 1898 or Pearl Harbour in 1941. Lastly Truman’s
expansion in the teeth of public opinion, just when America wanted to
settle down after WWII. An interesting idea. Why has this not been
explained more publicly?
A quick visit with Michael Barone who is well informed on British
politics and lunch with Iain Murray at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute – a hotbed of free market thinking. Particularly down on the
Administration’s massive subsidies on bio-ethanol. New slogan “Don’t Drive It, Drink it!”
Later, background meetings with British Embassy officials involved in
the peace process. I cannot resist the invitation of a tour of
Lutyens’s glorious Embassy building. It is incomprehensible that the
Labour Government is considering selling such a masterpiece which
projects our country so effectively. Lastly, a quick visit to the
Northern Ireland Bureau offices which Tim Losty is expanding to promote
Interesting breakfast, organised by the British Consulate, with
representatives of the Irish community leading on to a session with
Adrian Flannelly on the Irish Radio Network USA. Lunch with John
Connorton, a senior figure in the Irish community who has played a
major role in Democrat politics helping the Hart, Gore and Kerry
campaigns. He played such a key role in the peace process he was
awarded the CBE.
He is a mine of information on the past. I visit the British Memorial Garden in Hanover Square for
the 67 British people killed on 9/11. Why is it not finished? Lastly
meet Richard Haass who was the President’s Special Envoy for Northern
Ireland. He thinks that huge expensive public enquiries like Saville
will not help the peace process.
More meetings in New York but ConservativeHome’s Tim will be after me for banging on.
Land at Manchester 5.30am following a sleep-free night next to the WC,
but get the chance to demolish Peter Taylor’s highly readable book on
the IRA. Drive to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in
Staffordshire for the Northern Ireland Veteran’s Association’s Service
of Remembrance. The NMA will become a tremendous national asset and
every MP should visit it.
Every political party had been invited to the service and apart from
myself, who took the salute with relations of some of those who died, I
am amazed to hear that only Dr Ian Paisley replied to the invitation
with a full explanation of prior commitments. I stay on to talk to many
of those who served and relations of those who died.
After 38 years, Operation Banner ended this year. Thanks to the
terrible sacrifices of so many, Northern Ireland’s prospects have never
looked better. How can it be that the Labour Government could not find
one Minister or one MP to represent them by giving up half a Saturday?
I arrive home absolutely determined that we must change this Government.