The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Arise Ye Bored And Read Again

Book Review

Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism.
By Dean Godson. Publisher Harper. Collins. Price HB £35.

Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Autumn 2004

If the devil is in the detail then Dean Godson’s magisterial tome on David Trimble is a devil of a work to get through. Not because it is tedious – far from it – but even the best of anything, if served up in outsized quantities, can bloat the recipient. More knowledge is invariably better than less – where to retain it all is the challenge. The brain’s storage vault is like the receptacle used by a hobbyist to store a collection of model cars. Then this juggernaut of a thing lands in search of parking space. The immediate dilemma is, ‘there is no room for it, but it absolutely has to go in.’ We know the rest.

Arguably, it is the second truly great book of the millennium that saw its fecundity nourished in the Northern conflict. It delves into the political life of David Trimble in a fashion similar to the work of Ed Moloney on Gerry Adams; the one crucial difference being Trimble’s raw courage in cooperating with a cross examiner whose thrusts would be anything but tepid. In their respective genres, republican and unionist historiographies, both books have set the standard. Any qualitative epistemological advance must first pass both, or forever sport the tag of ‘also ran’.

When Trimble first assumed the leadership of the UUP I recall someone bemoaning his lack of experience – he had been an MP only five years. To which the response was ‘but he has been an orange bigot for fifty.’ While a view genuinely held, shaped to a great extent by the visceral resentment stirred by the ‘Dancing Davy of Drumcree’ imagery, Godson leaves little room for doubt that it was patently untrue. In both his social life and academic career, sectarianism was not the prism though which others were viewed. The ‘not a Catholic about the place’ jibe seemed one of the few traditional refrains republicans held on to, having discursively administered hari-kari to almost everything else, before it too saw its currency devalued.

There are many reasons that David Trimble would have for being uncomfortable with this biography. It positions him, in the early 1970s, as being too close to the UDA. A similar relationship on the nationalist side between a ‘constitutional’ political activist and the IRA may have led to the arrest of the former and possible internment. Michael Farrell was gripped for much less.

Godson, while not sympathetic to the arrangements that Trimble eventually settled for, provides his readers with enough material to conclude that Trimble was the first strategic unionist leader to emerge. Paralleling the 1970s Adams position of ‘active abstentionism’, Trimble aggressively pursued active consent. It meant a readiness to ‘go anywhere and speak to anyone.’ It was here that his formidable intellectual prowess was able to come through. Difficult to measure in the UUP where finding like to compare with like was almost as difficult as finding a nationalist in the party, when Trimble came to the negotiating plate he took considerably more from it than his republican adversaries managed.

A crucial sub-narrative weaved throughout Himself Alone, is the enormous impact of Tony Blair on Trimble. The relationship forged between the two men offers a fascinating window into the crucible where structural and ideological unionisms converge more often than they clash.

Setting aside the concentration on Trimble, Dean Godson has handed us an unrivalled account of the minutiae of the peace process. In mastering its brain-death inducing tedium, he has performed an intellectual miracle and, in literary terms, brought the dead back to life.










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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

21 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Think Tanks, Reunions and Medals
George Young

Tribute to George
Bernadette McAliskey

Aspects of British Propaganda during the War of Independence
Mags Glennon

Born Iron, Living Free
Marc Kerr

Arise Ye Bored and Read Again
Anthony McIntyre

Blame Orange Order But Buck Stops with British Crown
Father Sean Mc Manus

Capt. Kelly Campaign Update
Fionbarra O'Dochartaigh

None of the Above
Fred A. Wilcox

Reflections On Swift Boats and Slow Wits
Peter Urban

Street Seen, Making the Invisible Visible
Press Release

Paying Our Condolences in Salem
Daphne Banai

The Israeli Invasion of North Gaza
Jennifer Loewenstein

15 October 2004

Intimidation Continues in Rathenraw
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Choosing the Green
Liam O Ruairc

Anti-Racism Network Rally
ARN Steering Committee

A Coversation with Gerry Adams
Paul de Rooij



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