The Hatfield House Mystery II
Labour sources are accusing the Tories of "at best naivety and at worst cynicism", which they claim risks putting the peace process in Northern Ireland back many years. For those who haven't been following the detail of Tory involvement in Northern Ireland, this is the story so far.
The Tories hosted a secret meeting bringing together Ulster Unionists - who are now formally in alliance with the Tories - and their bitter rivals the Democratic Unionists at an English country house.
The venue was Hatfield House, home of Lord Cranborne, the former Tory MP and peer who opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiated by Margaret Thatcher and has long been regarded as a "friend of unionism".
The talks were - according to the Conservatives - to resolve differences over the issue of how to resolve the breakdown of trust at the top of the Northern Irish Executive which threatens to force new assembly elections. They came at a time when the DUP was weakened by the Mrs Robinson scandal. If new elections were held, Sinn Fein could emerge as the biggest party in Northern Ireland - which would make Martin McGuinness first minister.
Some who attended the talks insist that they also focused on the dream of "unionist unity" - co-operation or, perhaps in the long term, merger, between the UUP and DUP - which could prevent Sinn Fein's electoral triumph and, in Westminster elections, deliver a dozen unionist MPs who might be expected to support the Conservatives. Very helpful indeed if David Cameron faces a hung Parliament after the next election.
This has produced bitter condemnation from the nationalist SDLP, whose Deputy Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said:
"No-one is buying the Tory line that this secret, all-unionist meeting was an attempt to overcome political instabilities.
"If this was the genuine motivation, then why haven't the Tories met with the nationalist parties which represent half of the population living here?"
It should be noted that Dr McDonnell might lose his seat if the Unionists did get their act together.
It's produced criticism from the Alliance Party who claim that it undermines David Cameron's capacity to act in future as an honest broker between parties - as Gordon Brown is now doing.
David Cameron talked of creating a new "non-sectarian" force in Northern Ireland with his alliance with the UUP. Apparently the talks at Hatfield House have already triggered resignations from two Catholics who were attracted by the idea.
All this at a time when dissident violence is growing and could increase if the political process is seen to fail.
The Tory leader insisted that the Conservatives would fight all seats in Northern Ireland - so, by implication, not make way for the DUP. He backed his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Patterson who, friends say, was just trying to help ensure that devolution stayed on track.
Within months, he may have responsibility for hosting all-party talks in Downing Street or in Northern Ireland. The secret talks at Hatfield House may have made that task a whole lot harder and, incidentally, made the prospect of a dozen Unionist MPs backing him much less likely.
A Conservative spokesman has said:
"The meeting was a genuine and sensible attempt to help the peace process stay on track.
"We have consistently supported the government on Northern Ireland. Like the prime minister, we want nothing more than to see policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland and the situation there stabilised."