During the negotiations which preceded the peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa, the ANC leadership were continuously reminded that their struggle had not achieved victory, merely a place at the negotiating table, and therefore they needed to make compromises rather than speeches. The person doing this was Joe Slovo, the only white member of the ANC ruling counsel. As I read this book 800 page book about the Northern Ireland peace process, I felt they need a Joe Slovo or two.
The book centres around David Trimble, the leader of the largest Unionist party, who took great risks in reaching the compromise which became the Good Friday Agreement. He was constantly buffeted by his own community who felt he was being duped by Sinn Fein and bullied or flattered by the UK and Irish governments. His ability to (marginally) survive his parties chaotic decision making process was Houdini-like. This book seems to indicate, however, that the parties to the agreement rarely negotiated face-to-face, rather they stated positions to the governments, who try to broker and barter the deals - actually it has been a sequence of deals. The sheer physical and mental exhaustion of the process is very well conveyed. Whether your view is that Sinn Fein were duplicitous about decommissioning until it was too late to save the agreement or that the Unionists could never really stomach sharing power, it is clear that this process was allowed to continue on the glimmer of hope and beyond the point of any consistency or even logic. Sinn Fein do not emerge well from this account, The SDLP are completely ignored, the DUP are seen as partisan, hypocritical schemers, but perhaps the worst venom is directed at Tony Blair who is seen as claiming consistency and yet facilitates backsliding by Sinn Fein whenever he encounters it. This at a time when he was consciously joining George Bush's coalition of the willing against Terrorism.
I believe Godson's scepticism about Trimble's negotiations and his hostility to the process and players takes up too much of the book. I agree with his analysis of the defects of the prisoner releases, the Patton commission and of the Executive Council, however he sees no real distinction between the Irish Government, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. He cannot see any reason for the Irish hostility to the suspension of the Assembly and ultimately he sees both governments cringing and compromising lest there be a return to violence. He is no more forgiving about Trimble - he disparages his negotiating tactics as ineffective and/or overblown, he says that his lack of personal warmth verges on `political autism' and then claims that his lack of need for human interaction is what allowed him to survive as leader of a divided party for so long!
I started to wonder why Trimble allowed this author such access, when it was plain his views were so critical. I came to the conclusion that there was sometime quite amateurish about the Trimble approach - he is unafraid to be shown `warts and all', sure that he will be vindicated by History. While this may be commendable, I don't think it is effective leadership, you need to make your case consistently and authoritatively, you need to surround yourself with a strong team of committed operators - criticism will come in spades, without having to seek it out. Trimbles approach to party organisation and to influencing/propaganda were haphazard and ineffective, and I think this was to the detriment of his own cause and people.
I found Goodson's 800 pages very tough going. His style is journalistic and it is quite effective at reflecting contemporary moods. There are lapses, as you might expect in so long a work- eg. Brian Keenan, is mentioned first on p 601 without any reference to who he is; the participants who are known to be gay (Peter Mandelson and Stephen King) are both described as being `flamboyant'; eventually anyone who agrees with Trimble becomes called a `Trimbelista'. However I do think its length and seriousness did justice to the subject, but its point of view is sceptical/hostile (`Trimblecontra'?) and a better analysis would probably be obtained from Dr. Paul Bew ( a `Timbelista).
I believe History will judge Trimble kindly, I believe that any Unionist leader who negotiated a change of this magnitude risked the wrath of his followers ( his predecessor, James Molyneaux , risked no negotiations and achieved nothing); I believe he made the case for `defanging' Sinn Fein and was the only person in the process who could make them decommission - which they did grudgingly and too late to save the Good Friday agreement. He showed that Unionists are capable to contemplating the grand compromise and taking the painful steps this necessitates.