last week was a very revealing week so far as Northern Ireland was concerned, and not just because it showed once again the distinct limitations of the travelling prime ministerial road show.
There is an ugly debate going on within British politics now about the so-called Tory 'threat' to the so-called bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland since 1994.
A few columnists in the Guardian got an attack of the vapours last week as they bemoaned David Cameron's meeting with the DUP at Hatfield House.
A meeting of formally pro-union parties in Britain to co-ordinate strategy was made into one more crisis in the peace process at the same time as we were all invited to head for the hills should the Tories win the next election.
This is a very revealing formulation.
It shows firstly that the Guardian thinks it is somehow illegitimate for any major British party to openly support the union between the UK and Northern Ireland or to express any affinity with parties who share the same goal.
They talk of the UK Government's obligation to be neutral as between the warring factions in Northern Ireland, yet express no reservation whatsoever about the policies of an Irish Government which have been explicitly predicated on the notion of a pan-nationalist front since 1994.
This kind of neutrality is not just suspect because of the double standard it applies to the Irish Government, but also because it is an attempt to pretend that the explicit consent provisions of the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) somehow don't have any practical reach.
Every Irish Taoiseach since Jack Lynch, with the sole exception of Charles Haughey, has accepted the fact of UK sovereignty in Northern Ireland and has proceeded to work from that point outwards.
Those who roll their eyes at Cameron's extension of the comradely paw to other formally unionist parties must explain why this is illegitimate given the fact that the constitutional treaty signed between the Irish and the British governments in 1998 conceded the legitimacy of the continued union between Northern Ireland and the UK.
Cameron's Hatfield House gathering reminds us that many people seem to have forgotten this, and continue to analyse the political situation as if the consent provisions in the GFA were merely staging posts on a longer journey towards a united Ireland.
John Bruton put this point with characteristic insight in his landmark lecture in Princeton in 2001.
He noted that the British government undertook, in the Downing Street Declaration, to introduce legislation to facilitate a United Ireland if that became the wish of both North and South. There was, however, no complementary provision for a possible reversal of that decision, once it was taken. In that sense, the Declaration provided what might be described as an "entirely optional one-way street" in regard to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, rather than for a "two-way street".
In skewering the lazy parallels that are often made with Palestine, South Africa or the Basque region, Bruton also made the crucial point that the lack of any "final status negotiation" is a problem with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 as well.
It is provisional rather than permanent, a step on a road rather than as a destination, and that deprives it of the full commitment that some should give it. This sense of insecurity, of being on a slippery slope, of sliding in one direction only, is part of the continuing insecurity of Unionists to this day.
The suggestion that Cameron's openly unionist analysis is somehow at war with the need for British neutrality only makes sense in the context of Bruton's observation that British leftists and Irish nationalists see the GFA as undermining unionism itself. This barely concealed contempt for the moral and democratic legitimacy of unionism gradually tore Trimble to pieces, and this is why the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister find themselves coddling an unlovely coalition of former PIRA commandos and the political wing of the Free Presbyterian Church.
One other point should be made about the next Tory government.
There is an important tradition within British Conservatism which has played an honourable role in Irish affairs.
Labour have been dominated since the Sixties by the style of analysis which sees every gunman as a presumptive democratic humanitarian and which sees unionists as the rags of Cromwellian settlers. (Connoisseurs of leftist vulgarity are advised to watch Loach's first Irish film, Hidden Agenda, where he made Slab Murphy's minions into pious Mandela-types.)
This mentality reached its meridian moment during Harold Wilson's premierships, he who lied to the Irish Government about his contacts with PIRA and whose Doomsday withdrawal plan in 1974 would have ignited a full-scale civil war had it been implemented.
This is Labour's Irish tradition, a tattered one indeed in comparison to the Conservative record which can point to the enormous contribution the Balfour brothers made in settling the land question in the 1890s, to Neville Chamberlain's constructive working relationship with de Valera and Lemass in 1938 (Dev saw him as Gladstone with a moustache) and to Edward Heath's white paper in 1973 which reads today like an embryonic GFA.
There is no reason why a future Prime Minister Cameron cannot draw on these nourishing roots, and do his bit to bring a new coherence to Ulster unionism by encouraging the current debate about a future UUP-DUP merger.
He might achieve the greatest prize of all; giving us a united Northern Ireland for the first time.
John-Paul McCarthy is a history tutor at Exeter College, Oxford