Maurisa Coleman: We should not allow the Left to claim ownership of Black History Month

20 Oct

Maurisa S. Coleman is a British–Trinidadian entrepreneur, currently working as a Parliamentary researcher. She is also an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival.

Today, a debate will take place on Black History Month in the Commons.  Black History Month is dedicated to recognising the contributions by people of African and Caribbean origins to this country. This Parliamentary debate is essential for the recognition of these contributions, and as a reminder that Black History is not limited to slavery.

Despite Labour’s attempts to own the debate, it’s great to see a Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers, co-sponsoring it with MPs from other parties. Theresa called for the inclusion of Black History in the British History curriculum last month.

As an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival, this is a topic for which I am a passionate advocate.  I have no doubt the issue of slavery will be raised today. I hope that it can be discussed openly and honestly, without hate and malice.

It is a most difficult thing to do – discuss the sins of our fathers without blaming their descendants. I fear that time and time again, slavery is used, not to cast light and wisdom on the darker experiences of humanity, but to portray black people as perennial victims, and to foster a culture of resentment.

This is incredibly unproductive. With reference to recent events, there is no need to pull down the great British men and women who made this country. None of us are without sin. The focus should be on the achievements that paved the way for our nation as it is today.

I look forward to the day that emancipation from slavery isn’t masqueraded as the highest achievement of Blacks and especially those who originate from the Caribbean. The contribution of both black people and other immigrants into this country is so much broader than that, encompassing soldiering, arts, music and politics.

I hope this debate achieves the following.

First, please can Conservative MPs stop allowing the Left to hijack a debate that is important to all of us? Black history is not an appeasement to ethnic communities, but a critical component of modern British history and experience.

Second, let’s make the argument that lots of histories can live harmoniously on the pages of our books, whether through scholarship about ‘traditional’ history as described through political events, or other histories: military history, Holocaust history, social histories or the history of new Britons who have come here from different parts of the world.

There is no reason why black history cannot be as intrinsically patriotic, rigorous and questioning as other historical disciplines.

Third, let’s embrace ownership of the Windrush saga. Windrush is the starting point for a free group of black people invited to this country. I have seen the Conservative Party take ownership of the serious mistakes against this generation and make movements to rectify past errors. Let’s keep highlighting what we are doing to make it right.

Maurisa Coleman: We should not allow the Left to claim ownership of Black History Month

20 Oct

Maurisa S. Coleman is a British–Trinidadian entrepreneur, currently working as a Parliamentary researcher. She is also an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival.

Today, a debate will take place on Black History Month in the Commons.  Black History Month is dedicated to recognising the contributions by people of African and Caribbean origins to this country. This Parliamentary debate is essential for the recognition of these contributions, and as a reminder that Black History is not limited to slavery.

Despite Labour’s attempts to own the debate, it’s great to see a Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers, co-sponsoring it with MPs from other parties. Theresa called for the inclusion of Black History in the British History curriculum last month.

As an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival, this is a topic for which I am a passionate advocate.  I have no doubt the issue of slavery will be raised today. I hope that it can be discussed openly and honestly, without hate and malice.

It is a most difficult thing to do – discuss the sins of our fathers without blaming their descendants. I fear that time and time again, slavery is used, not to cast light and wisdom on the darker experiences of humanity, but to portray black people as perennial victims, and to foster a culture of resentment.

This is incredibly unproductive. With reference to recent events, there is no need to pull down the great British men and women who made this country. None of us are without sin. The focus should be on the achievements that paved the way for our nation as it is today.

I look forward to the day that emancipation from slavery isn’t masqueraded as the highest achievement of Blacks and especially those who originate from the Caribbean. The contribution of both black people and other immigrants into this country is so much broader than that, encompassing soldiering, arts, music and politics.

I hope this debate achieves the following.

First, please can Conservative MPs stop allowing the Left to hijack a debate that is important to all of us? Black history is not an appeasement to ethnic communities, but a critical component of modern British history and experience.

Second, let’s make the argument that lots of histories can live harmoniously on the pages of our books, whether through scholarship about ‘traditional’ history as described through political events, or other histories: military history, Holocaust history, social histories or the history of new Britons who have come here from different parts of the world.

There is no reason why black history cannot be as intrinsically patriotic, rigorous and questioning as other historical disciplines.

Third, let’s embrace ownership of the Windrush saga. Windrush is the starting point for a free group of black people invited to this country. I have seen the Conservative Party take ownership of the serious mistakes against this generation and make movements to rectify past errors. Let’s keep highlighting what we are doing to make it right.

Chris McGovern: Black History Month must be rescued from patronising tokenism

13 Oct

Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. He is a retired head teacher and a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street.

Do we need to call time on Black History Month? Should this October’s be the last? This is not a popular question to pose. We are, after all, in the midst of its celebration. Schools are submerged by it, the media is awash with it, and our political leaders are publicly embracing it.

Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, is particularly enthusiastic:

“Iconic figures like Mary Seacole, whose heroic service as a nurse during the Crimean war inspires us today in the fight against COVID-19.”

Seacole has been voted the Greatest Black Briton. Sanctifying her must seem like a sure-fire political winner for politicians. Undoubtedly she displayed some heroic qualities. In 2016, indeed, these were commemorated by an impressive statue of her that was erected in the grounds of St. Thomas’ Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Her un-woke views, though, hardly chime with the spirit of our age. Seacole (1805-1881) was, after all, prepared to put her life on the line in defence of a British Empire that is now much maligned. In her autobiography she classified Turks as ‘degenerate Arabs’ and opined that, ‘the fleas are the only industrious creatures in all Turkey.’ She, also, dismissed ‘the cunning-eyed Greeks and ‘the lazy Maltese‘.

Her guide in Constantinople she addressed as ‘Jew Johnny’. Add to this, her deployment of the n-word and her reference to the ‘dirty skin’ of foreigners and we can see that her views on race were not much different from Churchill’s and of most other people at that time.

Too much Black History is tokenism, and this will not suffice. Black History should be taught, where relevant, across twelve months, not one. Norwegian-born anti-racist and Guardian columnist, Afua Hirsch argues my case with persuasive logic:

“Why should the focus on black figures of historical significance be confined to one month of the year? If they are important, they should be entered into the mainstream of the rest of the curriculum and, outside school, into cultural events. If they aren’t significant, then there is no greater justification for focusing on them in October than there is at any other time of the year.”

She is right. The danger is that we end up distorting history by filtering it through a lens of political correctness.  Abundant filters have been applied to the past, of course – Tudor, Whig, Tory, Marxist, Liberal and so on. PC history provides a new distorting mirror. Black History should be integrated into history teaching across the year, where it is relevant. It does not merit special or privileged status. Nor should its subject matter be filtered.

An important lesson from the past that children need to learn is that people have similar characteristics and behaviour patterns, regardless of their racial background.

Slavery, for example, was widespread in Africa and in central America, including the Caribbean area, before the Europeans turned up.  Nor was human sacrifice unusual in those parts of the world. The Aztecs, for example, practised it on a large scale.

In the historical kingdom of Benin, too, part of modern-day Nigeria, human sacrifice was a component of the state religion until stamped out by the British in the late 19th century, just as the Sati or suttee – widow burnings – was suppressed by the British in India.

The presence of Africans in the Roman army that was stationed in Britain is becoming a must-teach topic of Black History, and so it should be. Children are unlikely to be taught, however, that the African legionaries were here in Britain as part of an army of occupation and enslavement. In addition, the African Emperor Septimius Severus, decreed genocide against those living north of Hadrian’s Wall but died in York (Eboracum) before his command could be implemented. This is a nasty but necessary truth of Black History that needs to be taught.

Anther necessary truth is that the African-Caribbean dimension has little part to play on these islands during the thousand or so years of what historians describe as the Middle Ages. It becomes increasingly significant for British history in modern times with the growth of empire and so, of course, needs to be taught. The history of other racial groups and other parts of the world, though, has an equal claim on curriculum time.

If children are allowed to scratch the surface of Black History, they will find that what racial groups have in common, outweighs their differences.

In October 2018, the Royal Historical Society published a report entitled: ‘Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History’. It was supportive of calls for greater diversity in the curriculum. It noted, however, that what amounts to a non-stop force-feeding of slavery and deprivation was putting black children off history. The “seemingly relentless focus” on the exploitation and abolition of slavery can be “intellectually limiting and, at times, alienating” for black pupils, it concluded.

Black History month needs to concern itself with more than the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition. Here are a few other Black History topics that children need to learn about; some already do:

  1. The defeat of Hitler’s German/Aryan master-race theory by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
  2. The reasons why, in addition to the fact that,  so many Blacks volunteered to fight in two World Wars for the British Empire.
  3. Nelson Mandela’s donning of the South African Springbok rugby shirt – the symbol of white supremacy and apartheid – at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg.
  4. Why almost every former territory of the British Empire has chosen to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations.
  5. The Rwanda genocide.
  6. The image of Patrick Hutchinson, a black man, carrying a white man to safety during the first Black Lives Matter protest in London in June 2020.

My choice of topics is there to be argued over. That is, after all, what history should be about.

Black History Month, sadly, can too easily descends into patronising tokenism built solely on the concept of an exclusive victimhood. This is dishonest. The ghosts of a million or so UK citizens who died of starvation across a few years in 1840s, for example, might feel they are missing out.

The lesson of history is that there is no colour-bar on human wickedness and suffering, just as there is no colour-bar on human achievement. Black History and non-Black history should be taught across every month of the year – warts and all, good and bad, wicked and wonderful!  Most certainly it should not be regarded as yet another opportunity for virtue signalling by manipulative politicians of whatever political persuasion.

Chris McGovern: Black History Month must be rescued from patronising tokenism

13 Oct

Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. He is a retired head teacher and a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street.

Do we need to call time on Black History Month? Should this October’s be the last? This is not a popular question to pose. We are, after all, in the midst of its celebration. Schools are submerged by it, the media is awash with it, and our political leaders are publicly embracing it.

Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, is particularly enthusiastic:

“Iconic figures like Mary Seacole, whose heroic service as a nurse during the Crimean war inspires us today in the fight against COVID-19.”

Seacole has been voted the Greatest Black Briton. Sanctifying her must seem like a sure-fire political winner for politicians. Undoubtedly she displayed some heroic qualities. In 2016, indeed, these were commemorated by an impressive statue of her that was erected in the grounds of St. Thomas’ Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Her un-woke views, though, hardly chime with the spirit of our age. Seacole (1805-1881) was, after all, prepared to put her life on the line in defence of a British Empire that is now much maligned. In her autobiography she classified Turks as ‘degenerate Arabs’ and opined that, ‘the fleas are the only industrious creatures in all Turkey.’ She, also, dismissed ‘the cunning-eyed Greeks and ‘the lazy Maltese‘.

Her guide in Constantinople she addressed as ‘Jew Johnny’. Add to this, her deployment of the n-word and her reference to the ‘dirty skin’ of foreigners and we can see that her views on race were not much different from Churchill’s and of most other people at that time.

Too much Black History is tokenism, and this will not suffice. Black History should be taught, where relevant, across twelve months, not one. Norwegian-born anti-racist and Guardian columnist, Afua Hirsch argues my case with persuasive logic:

“Why should the focus on black figures of historical significance be confined to one month of the year? If they are important, they should be entered into the mainstream of the rest of the curriculum and, outside school, into cultural events. If they aren’t significant, then there is no greater justification for focusing on them in October than there is at any other time of the year.”

She is right. The danger is that we end up distorting history by filtering it through a lens of political correctness.  Abundant filters have been applied to the past, of course – Tudor, Whig, Tory, Marxist, Liberal and so on. PC history provides a new distorting mirror. Black History should be integrated into history teaching across the year, where it is relevant. It does not merit special or privileged status. Nor should its subject matter be filtered.

An important lesson from the past that children need to learn is that people have similar characteristics and behaviour patterns, regardless of their racial background.

Slavery, for example, was widespread in Africa and in central America, including the Caribbean area, before the Europeans turned up.  Nor was human sacrifice unusual in those parts of the world. The Aztecs, for example, practised it on a large scale.

In the historical kingdom of Benin, too, part of modern-day Nigeria, human sacrifice was a component of the state religion until stamped out by the British in the late 19th century, just as the Sati or suttee – widow burnings – was suppressed by the British in India.

The presence of Africans in the Roman army that was stationed in Britain is becoming a must-teach topic of Black History, and so it should be. Children are unlikely to be taught, however, that the African legionaries were here in Britain as part of an army of occupation and enslavement. In addition, the African Emperor Septimius Severus, decreed genocide against those living north of Hadrian’s Wall but died in York (Eboracum) before his command could be implemented. This is a nasty but necessary truth of Black History that needs to be taught.

Anther necessary truth is that the African-Caribbean dimension has little part to play on these islands during the thousand or so years of what historians describe as the Middle Ages. It becomes increasingly significant for British history in modern times with the growth of empire and so, of course, needs to be taught. The history of other racial groups and other parts of the world, though, has an equal claim on curriculum time.

If children are allowed to scratch the surface of Black History, they will find that what racial groups have in common, outweighs their differences.

In October 2018, the Royal Historical Society published a report entitled: ‘Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History’. It was supportive of calls for greater diversity in the curriculum. It noted, however, that what amounts to a non-stop force-feeding of slavery and deprivation was putting black children off history. The “seemingly relentless focus” on the exploitation and abolition of slavery can be “intellectually limiting and, at times, alienating” for black pupils, it concluded.

Black History month needs to concern itself with more than the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition. Here are a few other Black History topics that children need to learn about; some already do:

  1. The defeat of Hitler’s German/Aryan master-race theory by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
  2. The reasons why, in addition to the fact that,  so many Blacks volunteered to fight in two World Wars for the British Empire.
  3. Nelson Mandela’s donning of the South African Springbok rugby shirt – the symbol of white supremacy and apartheid – at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg.
  4. Why almost every former territory of the British Empire has chosen to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations.
  5. The Rwanda genocide.
  6. The image of Patrick Hutchinson, a black man, carrying a white man to safety during the first Black Lives Matter protest in London in June 2020.

My choice of topics is there to be argued over. That is, after all, what history should be about.

Black History Month, sadly, can too easily descends into patronising tokenism built solely on the concept of an exclusive victimhood. This is dishonest. The ghosts of a million or so UK citizens who died of starvation across a few years in 1840s, for example, might feel they are missing out.

The lesson of history is that there is no colour-bar on human wickedness and suffering, just as there is no colour-bar on human achievement. Black History and non-Black history should be taught across every month of the year – warts and all, good and bad, wicked and wonderful!  Most certainly it should not be regarded as yet another opportunity for virtue signalling by manipulative politicians of whatever political persuasion.

We need a Plan B for universities as well as schools – and much the same one

28 Sep

Government sources insist that students will be allowed to go home for Christmas – and not be locked up en masse, as they have been at some universities, unable to leave halls of residence.

Ruth Davidson has swooped on the shutdown in Scotland, writing that students have been confined to their rooms, barred from visiting shops to buy food – let alone pubs or restaurants – banned from travelling home, policed by extra security staff and threatened with letters instructing compliance under threat of suspension.

These, remember, aren’t people who necessarily have Covid-19, or who have been directly in contact with others who do.  It isn’t obvious that the situation is much different in parts of England, where some three thousand students are apparently also locked down.

Nor is it clear how many students will be able to be at home with their family when Christmas comes.  For either the Government’s latest restrictions will be in place, if Boris Johnson maintains his grip on policy, or else even stricter ones will have superceded them.  We hope that mass testing will be up and running by then, but aren’t counting our chickens, or Yuletide turkeys either, come to that.

In which case, the number of students allowed home will depend on the number who have symptoms of the virus, since those who have it must self-isolate for 14 days by law, as must those contacted by test-and-trace services.  Government guidance also says that “all other household members need to stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days” if another has the virus.  What happens when the location is not a home but student accommodation?

This provokes the further question of whether students should have returned to university.  If you want to attack Ministers, you will claim that the present tangle was forseeable.  If you want to defend it, you will counter that normality must resume – as nearly as possible, anyway.

There are a number of short-term means of plastering over the cracks, none of which will provide a smooth and seamless finish.  Some universities are offering vouchers for food, or rebates, or providing food directly.  Robert Halfon wants the students affected to recieve discounts.

The colleges will argue that they shouldn’t pay these, since they aren’t responsible for the lockdown rules.  The Chancellor might well say in response that this may be so, but the Commons can’t simply load more debt on the taxpayer indefinitely – or there won’t be any public money for universities in the first place.

There are issues for the long-term as well as for the short.  The central aim of the Government’s latest Covid-19 measures is to build a firewall between work and home, with the former operating as near normally as possible but the latter less, as part of the balance to protect livelihoods as well as lives.

Schools are placed in the former category, partly because parents will be unable to work normally if they aren’t, and partly because of the value we place on education.  University education also has value, both to the economy and in its own right.

But it has never been universally available to all regardless of qualification, as is obviously the case for primary and secondary schooling.  And as our columnist Neil O’Brien notes, the number of students in higher education is out of balance: for around ten per cent of women, and a quarter of men, their degree isn’t worth it.

He wrote recently that “highly subsidised universities would propose to government how they will reduce their cost to the taxpayer. That could mean reducing numbers on some courses, or making them cheaper with shorter degrees, or and doing more online. Or a mix”.  This is where student accomodation comes in.  Why do a higher proportion of British students leave home for higher education, compared to some other comparable countries?

The answer is bound up with the monopoly that Oxford and Cambridge held on university education in England from the medieval period until 1827, when University College, London, opened.  In consequence, an assumption was written into our educational culture that if students were to go university, they should go to it rather than it come to them.

This was less so on the continent, where local universities are more common – though our national picture has changed as new universities have suddenly sprung up fully-formed, or as other institutions have gradually become universities.

So for example, David Willetts, in his A University Education, traces the story of how, in Bradford, the Mechanics Institute morphed its way through Bradford Technical School to Bradford Technical College to the Bradford College of Art & Technology to Bradford College…to Bradford University.

However, there is no uniform story of locally-rooted colleges becoming Oxbridge-type universities, complete with ivy-laden walls or red brick or both.  The former colleges of advanced techology, such as Braford itself, have spells in industry as part of their courses.  Others have links to regional or local industries.

All of which reinforces the question of whether the country needs so many other universities and students following the Oxbridge model in the first place.

The short-term pressure on living space, accomodation and lecture rooms will intensify next year, as the knock-on effects of this year’s A-level fiasco work their way through the system, because of the students who have now qualified to enter a university, but have been forced to postpone entry until next year.

Meanwhile, the long-term trend to doing more online is being speeded up by the Coronavirus, as the move from learning together from lectures in big rooms to doing to separately from screens in smaller ones gathers pace.  Furthermore, universities aren’t always in full control of the living quarters that they offer students.

Halfon is certainly right in believing that the Government needs a Plan B for universities – mirroring the one that both he, this site and others have called for in schools, as the Covid-19 case numbers rise.

Obviously, universities have an independence from government that schools don’t.  But it wouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to design a fee and finance system that rewards universities for more online teaching.

Such a solution would be fiercely debated.  Moving schooling online temporarily is one thing; shifting “the university experience” online too would be another (though to some extent this is happening already).

We already complain that young people are stuck at home for too long.  Do we want them there during their university years, too?

What about the horizan-widening that moving to a new place brings, together with mixing with others from outside one’s home town, city or village?

Our bleak answer is that one can no more turn back the online tide than one could turn back a real one, and that the universities, like so much and many elsewhere, have no alternative but to sink or swim in it.

Interview: Nigel Biggar says human rights are not enough and the British Empire was good as well as bad

16 Sep

If the BBC wishes to balance its coverage of the culture war, it should invite Nigel Biggar to deliver at least three series of talks on Radio 4.

The first would be about his new book, What’s Wrong With Rights?, in which the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford takes issue with the excessive claims for the doctrine of human rights made by some human rights lawyers and other “rights fundamentalists”, and contends, as he puts it in this interview, that “We as a society cannot live on rights alone”.

This opening salvo would be succeeded by a tremendously popular series of talks in which Biggar would demonstrate that the British Empire was good as well as bad, so too was Cecil Rhodes, and would expose the shoddy history being peddled by those “on the Corbynite Left or among Scottish Nationalists” who assert that “Britain equals Empire equals Evil equals America equals the West”.

He observes here that they get away with this because “most people know bugger all about the British Empire”.

In Biggar’s view,

“Not allowing our imperial history to be rubbished is important, because if indeed our imperial history was all that they say it was, namely a litany of atrocity, then the moral authority of the West is eroded.”

Biggar, born in Scotland, is now at Christ Church, Oxford, has also worked in the United States and the Republic of Ireland, and regards himself as British rather than either English or Scottish.

His third series of talks could be devoted to his defence of the Union, and of the United Kingdom as a “highly successful” multinational state.

Any BBC producer who wishes to check what Biggar sounds like will find, by listening to a podcast he recorded on this theme, that he speaks in a calm, lucid, moderate, humorous tone.

Although he challenges received ideas, there is no hint of extremism in what he says. As he puts it here,

“I’m an Anglican. And a Burkean. I like incremental change rather than ruptures. Just for the record, I did vote Remain, but my heart is Brexity.”

Unlike some Conservatives, Biggar does not believe withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights would necessarily discourage judges from taking decisions which properly belong to parliamentarians:

“If lots of [European] judges see themselves as champions of this gospel of human rights, then it’s possible that judges in our own courts may see themselves in the same way.”

ConHome: “One of the things which prompted you to write your book was a series of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in cases about the conduct of British troops in Iraq.

“You observe in your introduction that

“the jurisprudence was alarmingly imprudent, partly because the court comprised a majority of judges whose countries had no living tradition of sending troops abroad, whose historical imaginations were accordingly limited.”

“Would it be fair to say that this limited historical imagination is at the root of a lot of the things you’re writing about?

“Many well-intentioned people go astray because they don’t even realise that history has much to teach us – not in the sense of straightforward lessons, but by informing one’s understanding of the world.

“They’re trapped in the present, and they’re therefore extremely susceptible to what you end up calling the moral arrogance of the rights fundamentalists.”

Biggar: “Yes. My first love, and my first degree, was in history, before I became a theologian cum philosopher cum ethicist. The philosophical side of me likes precision. I like clarity. I appreciate the force of logic.

“But the other side of me wants, as it were, ethical concepts to be able to hold their heads up before the messy realities. So that’s why I found myself thinking between philosophy and history a lot, to see if these concepts really can walk on the battlefield, as it were.

“On the point you raise, this had to do with the judgment in Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom in 2011. It had to do with six killings of Iraqis by British troops in Basra in 2003.

“The issue was whether or not the British should have conducted investigations of their deaths in accordance with Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The crucial question was whether British occupying forces had authority and control, so that according to the court, what applies in Europe should apply in Basra.

“Now I noticed on reading through the judgment that the British judges were sensitive to the fact that formal control – jurisdiction – is one thing, but effective control is crucial.

“Because if, as one British judge put it, Basra was on the verge of anarchy, then you don’t have effective control, and therefore you need to allow the security forces greater leeway, because if the state collapses, no rights get any protection at all.

“The British judgments were that there was no effective control, therefore the European Convention should not be transferred from, let’s say, peaceful Hamburg to anarchical Basra.

“The European Court’s judgment quoted a lot of the British judges, and made clear that the criterion as far as they were concerned was effective control, but then having done that, proceeded to drop the qualification ‘effective’, and just decided that the British had authority and control.

“Why? It’s no coincidence that the judges of a British court belong to a country that has a long tradition of an active military. British judges, some of them at least, were aware of the military realities and the political fragility.

“None of this was apparent in any of the rest of the European Court’s judgment.

“At this point, there was a national difference. The British judges had a sensitivity to a factor that European judges with a different tradition just didn’t have.

“And that was crucial in the judgment. There is a general problem with international courts when they come to judge this kind of thing.

“The same applied to the French, of course. Should the British and the French be willing to submit to the judgment of a court that doesn’t really have the experience or the imagination to make prudent judgments?

“In this court judgment, reached unanimously, there were 17 judges. The European Court recognised that it was a serious issue.

“Giovanni Bonello, the Maltese judge, went way over the top in his political rhetoric. In his case it was clear that in addition to his political objections to the occupation of Iraq, his view was that the duty of the court is to uphold the sanctity of human rights.

“He exorted the court to

“stop fashioning doctrines which somehow seem to accommodate the facts, but ratherto appraise the facts against the immutable principles which underlie the fundamental functions of the Convention.”

“Not ‘to accommodate the facts’ because these principles are ‘immutable’, these principles are sacred.

“It is a hostage to fortune for a military power such as Britain to allow its military operations to be subject to the judgment of a court that does not share its assumptions.”

ConHome: “The Americans don’t do this.”

Biggar: “No they don’t. The Americans submit to no international court, and I suppose for the first time I began to appreciate why the Americans don’t.”

ConHome: “What’s your view on the proposed opt-outs from the European Court of Human Rights which the Government is reported to be considering? Or even that we might withdraw altogether?”

Biggar: “If you read Noel Malcolm’s Policy Exchange study [reviewed here on ConHome], that seemed to me to be a devastating critique of the quality of reasoning in the judgments of the European Court.

“So there are reasons to think about withdrawing.”

ConHome: “Noel Malcolm is pretty definitive about that. He thinks we should withdraw.”

Biggar: “Yes he is. I’m not as definitive…”

ConHome: “You’re an Anglican.”

Biggar: “I’m an Anglican. And a Burkean. I like incremental change rather than ruptures.

“Just for the record, I did vote Remain, but my heart is Brexity.

“I voted on a 55/45 per cent basis. When I woke up on the morning the result was announced I thought, ‘Oh.'”

ConHome: “You weren’t in mourning.”

Biggar: “I wasn’t in mourning. I thought this is a different set of challenges.

“But back to the European Court. The problem with the way in which human rights are deployed and developed has to do with the attitude of judges, how they see themselves.

“If lots of judges see themselves as champions of this gospel of human rights, then it’s possible that judges in our own courts may see themselves in the same way.

“In which case, getting rid of Europe’s not going to help.

“It seems to me the problem is not confined to the European Court.”

ConHome: “We’re quite capable of making our own problems. The threat to the Union with Scotland, although Europe plays into it, is essentially a British problem.

“And I was very struck by the podcast you did a couple of years ago for These Islands, in which you said you had ‘sleepless nights’ before the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

And that you very much think of yourself as British, not as English or Scottish. An Anglo-Scot, but really a Briton.”

Biggar: “Yes, very much so. The prospect of not being able to call myself British did cost me sleep. And it made me wonder, ‘Why? Would the world really cave in if Biggar had to call himself English? It’s not that bad. Many people do.’

“But I’ve always had a very fierce and deliberate sense of being British. I’m married to an American, I could have made my life and career in America. I was absolutely clear I wasn’t going to do that, I was coming back here.

“What is it I’m attached to? And I noticed how people speaking up for the Union in 2013, and during the campaign in 2014, the argument was almost entirely in terms of economics.

“And it still is to a large extent. And I thought to myself, that’s important, but it’s not what makes me emotionally attached to the idea of Britain.

“And so after the referendum, which went the right way as far as I’m concerned, I sat down and wrote an article for Standpoint to try to articulate what I think it is that Britain means.

“I said the difficulty is it’s like trying to describe the ground you stand on. You take it so for granted that you find it very hard to articulate.

“I came up with Britain is a multinational state, highly successful, to the point where, on the whole, we identify with each other enough that when wealthy London taxpayers find their tax pounds going north to Newcastle or Glasgow or Belfast or Swansea, they don’t complain, in the way that Germans would complain if their tax euros were to go to Greece.

“So we have achieved – and it was an achievement, it was built up over centuries of co-operation and experience – a level of unselfconscious identification with each other – and of course we josh, we joke, we tease.”

ConHome: “More than that. Dr Johnson was incredibly rude about the Scots, although Boswell gives us the best of Johnson.”

Biggar: “One of the main arguments against Scottish nationalism, with its default resentment of the English, and especially if separation comes onto the cards, and the Scots find the English are not going to give them everything they want, we will find a degree of international hostility between Scotland and England we have never experienced since the 1700s.

“And then there’s the larger issue of the role of Britain in the world. I’m a supporter of the West. Britain is a middle-ranking but an important pillar of the West.

“That’s partly a legacy of our imperial past. There’s a continuity between the British Empire and the American-led international order.

“There are some, on the Corbynite Left or among Scottish Nationalists, who say that Britain equals Empire equals Evil equals America equals the West.

“I know enough history to know that Britain equals Empire equals Evil, that’s not true.”

ConHome: “Did anyone reply to your defence of Cecil Rhodes in Standpoint in 2016? You demonstrated that there were good and bad things about Rhodes, but he wasn’t the Hitler of South Africa.”

Biggar: “Good question. Not a single reply.”

ConHome: “This is possibly quite astute of your opponents, not to reply, but still it’s disastrous if you’re not going to get a proper argument about it – if they just avoid the argument.”

Biggar: “My experience of that row, and then the subsequent row about my views on colonialism, is that a lot of the other side don’t know their history, and don’t particularly care to.

“The Rhodes Must Fall lobby, the decolonisers, they’re not interested in the truth about history. And when you say, ‘What you say is not true’, they kind of just move on.

“The agitation is about using history for political purposes. My view is the use of history is pretty unscrupulous. So long as it suits their purposes, they will call Rhodes a Hitler, or in the latest bout of Rhodes Must Fall agitation there was one African PhD student who was reported by The Guardian to have described Rhodes as ‘génocidaire’. 

“There’s no sensible historical ground for that at all.

“But the truth about the past is not going to be the main factor, I think [in whether Rhodes’s statue will be removed from the facade of Oriel College, Oxford].

“What will predominate are emotions about the present, and the felt need to make black minority ethnic agitators feel at home. I say agitators because not all black minority ethnic students or people support the agitators.

“To remove the statue [from Oriel] I think would be to yield to irrational forces, who don’t care very much about the truth about history, and do care about symbolic coups.

“And if Rhodes goes down, all manner of statuary all over the country is going to be in question.

“Rhodes’ record was certainly a mixed one. But there are very few people who are honoured by statues whose careers weren’t mixed.”

ConHome: “Many academics have remained silent on these questions. You express yourself in a temperate manner, but you do speak up.

“For many politicians, scholars and journalists, this is a difficult judgment: when should one jump in to this culture war, often waged in such a rancorous way?”

Biggar: “I didn’t jump in.”

ConHome: “What happened?”

Biggar: “Well I did jump in on Rhodes, it so happened, in 2015, when the Rhodes Must Fall campaign came onto the stage. I’ve spent much of the past ten years reading about imperial history.

“Not allowing our imperial history to be rubbished is important, because if indeed our imperial history was all that they say it was, namely a litany of atrocity, then the moral authority of the West is eroded.

“In late 2017 I published an article in The Times saying we should feel pride as well as shame in the past. A project I had launched in July of that year called Ethics and Empire came under attack by a group of students online.

“Then within a week there was a second and third online denunciation, from 50 Oxford academics and then 200 or so academics worldwide.

“And that took me completely by surprise. I wasn’t looking for a fight. But now, because I care about what’s at stake, I’m stuck into it, and right now I’m half-way through writing a book with the working title Colonialism: A Guide For The Perplexed.

“Though I’m wondering about changing it to something more irenic like Why The British Empire Was Pretty Good.

“How do we handle the cultural war? Well I think we have to inform it. Part of the problem is that most people know bugger all about the British Empire.

“But most people have picked up that right-thinking, progressive people don’t defend it.

“The majority will take the path of least resistance. One thing one has to do is tell the truth about the past. So that’ll be part of my contribution.”

At the end of the conversation, we reverted to What’s Wrong With Rights? and Biggar declared:

“We as a society cannot live on rights alone. Rights talk so dominates public discussion that necessary talk about duties or about virtues or about the common good tends to get pushed to the side.

“Here’s a concrete example of why it matters. You remember in 2015 the Charlie Hebdo murders took place, because Charlie Hebdo had published cartoons of Mohammed that Muslims found offensive.

“And of course in reaction to those murders everybody was affirming the right to free speech. Charlie Hebdo should have been free to do as they damn well pleased and if Muslims are annoyed, that’s just too bad.

“Now of course that was right, and the murderers had no justification.

“But I did think, ‘Yes, OK, we want to affirm the legal right to free speech. But the question of how we handle free speech within the legal parameters is a moral question.

“And in the case of Charlie Hebdo, I thought well, publishing these satirical cartoons of Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo – what exactly were you trying to achieve in doing this?

“Because the people who read Charlie Hebdo, they’ll be people on the Left who are probably secularists, who get a kick out of seeing Mohammed mocked.

“Well, you know, it’s a free world, I guess if people want to do that, and enjoy that, that’s fine.

“But what did it achieve constructively? Did it achieve anything positive in terms of relations between French Muslims and other citizens?

“I do think we’ve got a duty to tell the truth, and if it so happens some people are annoyed by that, well that’s just too bad. But we shouldn’t say things just to annoy other people – we shouldn’t spit on other people’s sacred cows just because it gives us kicks.

“Freedom of speech is one thing – having the right is one thing – having the qualities of character to restrain yourself when you should restrain yourself, and to be charitable, or to be just, these are questions of virtue, and if we don’t have ways of training citizens in the virtues of self-restraint, we won’t have a citizenry who are capable of respecting other people’s rights.

“So the legal right’s good, but it just isn’t enough. We need to be talking about the formation of virtue more. Who does it, and how is it done? Which virtues are we going to promulgate?

“Rights are not enough. That’s something I really would like to emphasise.”

Conservatives can’t be neutral about culture

7 Sep

MPs are to be made to take unconscious bias training.  A former Prime Minister of Australia is targeted because he is a social conservative.  The British Library links changes to the way it will work to George Floyd’s murder in America.   Extinction Rebellion clip the wings of a free press.  Senior civil servants declare publicly for Black Lives Matter.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have a majority of 80.  But the Left’s long march through the institutions seems, if anything, to speed up.

And the Government either won’t do anything about it or doesn’t want to – or both.  What’s the point of a Tory Government, a stonking majority and Brexit itself if nothing changes?

That’s the case for the prosection from some on the Right.  Should Johnson and his Government be found guilty?

The first thing a fair-minded jury would do is mull the charge sheet above.  It would see at once that the incidents and developments above vary in important ways.  For example, the Executive does not control the Legislature.  So whether to conduct bias training or otherwise is a matter for MPs, not Ministers.

The second course it would take is to try to work out what government should and shouldn’t do.  To take another example, Ministerial control of police operations would be alien to the British model of policing by consent, and to a free society.

Third, it would ask those at the top of the Government what they have to say for themselves.  The answers ConservativeHome gets when it puts that question, off the record, is a mix of the following.

Downing Street has “limited bandwidth” – i.e: fewer people than it needs.  Changing the culture of government is like turning round a supertanker, but it can be done.  Look at the change of tone from the BBC’s new Director-General.  And there are victories as well as defeats: the corporation backed down over Last Night of the Proms and the Government didn’t over Abbott’s appointment.

But that’s not all that some of our sources will say when they’re being candid.  They say that the Prime Minister moves slowly not just for reasons of political calculation, but because he’s internally conflicted.  His upbringing, attitudes and reflexes are liberal as well as conservative.  So he moves cautiously – being slower out of traps to champion the singing of Rule Britannia, as it happens, than did Keir Starmer.

You, ladies and gentlemen of the conservative jury, will reach your own verdict – or, if you’re sensible, conclude that putting the Government on a trial after it has had less than a year in office is premature.  Nonetheless, here’s our provisional take.

Johnson is denounced by much of the Remain-flavoured Left as a British Trumpian Bannonite – a misreading which helps to explain why he keeps on winning.  He is right not to declare a culture war from Downing Street.  The British people aren’t in our view enthusiasts for wars of any kind.

But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll see that one of the reasons he doesn’t need to declare such a war is that is already being fought.  The noisiest and nastiest parts of it tend to be where race, sex and religion are contested.

Those in the front line aren’t necessarily conservatives, let alone Conservatives.  They include J.K.Rowling as well as Katherine Birbalsingh (who’s being interviewed live by Mark Wallace this week ; Germaine Greer as well as Nigel Biggar.

That they and others are in the hottest parts of the action may explain why, to large parts of the conservative movement, the real heroes of our time are private citizens rather than public ones.  Consider the case of Jordan Peterson.

Some will say that the Conservative Party, and the centre-right more broadly, is divided about this cultural struggle, citing such telltale signs as Matt Hancock deliberately declaring “Black Lives Matter” at a Government Coronavirus press conference, or Grant Shapps declaring that he’d check Abbott’s record before going for a drink with him.

We think this is an over-complication.  Sure, conservatives won’t always agree about culture any more than they will about economics.  That’s why, inter alia, the flavour of David Cameron’s Downing Street was different from that of Johnson’s.  Near the top, there were fewer northern accents, more women, and fewer “weirdos and misfits”.

But we suspect that if Tory MPs were surveyed, the following attitudes would be found.  Support for equality of opportunity, or as close as one can get to it, rather than equality of outcome.  Much less backing for abortion on demand than on the Labour benches.  Much more for the free market being a friend of the environment, not an enemy.  Caution on reforming the Gender Recognition Act.   Agreement that real diversity must include a diversity of viewpoints.  Disagreement that poor working-class white people have a race privilege.  Poll them and prove us wrong.

In other words, Conservative MPs are more likely to share the patriotic instincts of most voters than Labour ones.  If you doubt it, ask yourself why Starmer is so anxious to present as Labour a patriotic party; why he was quicker than Johnson in coming out for Rule Britannia, and whywe read – his team want to present him as a very British hero who led in prosecuting an Islamist bomb plot. That’s solid ground for the Prime Minister to have beneath him

So while these are early days, we say that just because a Tory Government can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t do something.  For example, there is a Minister for the Civil Service.  He is no less senior a figure than the Prime Minister himself.

So it’s up to Johnson to ensure that senior civil servants don’t promote, in practice if not in theory, causes that are outside any reasonable reading of its code – such as Black Lives Matter which, on any impartial reading, is tainted by anti-white dogma.  (Which doesn’t for a moment preclude following-up on Theresa May’s observation that “if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white”.)

Cultural change isn’t driven by governments, and thank goodness for that.  Over time, those that have transformed human lives most are the products of human invention (railways; the pill; vaccines) or conviction (the Abrahamic religions; the Enlightenment; secular humanism – or, talking of black lives mattering, America’s civil war.

But though the role of government should be limited, it is real, and modern Britain will always be more than just a market with a flag on top.  Governments propose laws, present manifestos, fund public services, make arguments – just as Johnson’s pre-election one did for delivering Brexit. And, talking of Extinction Rebellion, set the framework for policing policy.

We’d like to see the Prime Minister speak more swiftly when what Neil O’Brien calls the New Puritans – i.e: the legions of the woke – try to silence their opponents.  And ensure that the Government keeps them out of what government does.  Were Cummings and co to reduce its size and scope, that task would become just a bit easier.

These BBC Bourbons who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing risk precipitating their own downfall

26 Aug

The upper reaches of BBC management suffer from an unfortunate inability to comprehend any opinion which happens not to coincide with what they themselves think.

Almost anyone else would have known that vandalising the Last Night of the Proms would provoke a furious reaction.

It is not necessary to be, oneself, an enthusiastic singer of Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory in order to realise that to many people, these performances give enormous and innocent pleasure.

The idea of an innocent pleasure is alien to the modern puritans who run the BBC. They detect guilt where others hear simply a song.

A dreadful literal-mindedness is brought to bear on the interpretation of lyrics, even of single words, whose spirit can never be caught by such pedantry.

“Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” is not a line which implies that other people ought to be enslaved. It is a joyful affirmation of the liberty which Britons are fortunate enough to possess, and are determined to defend. How absurd to need to spell this out.

But perhaps by behaving in such a ridiculous way the BBC has done the country a service. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, seized the chance to observe that “enjoying patriotic songs” is no barrier to examining our past and learning lessons from it.

Boris Johnson went one better and declared, “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history.”

The pharisaical notion that one can show how high-minded one is by expressing one’s shame at the country’s history has taken a knock.

There are doubtless things we do now, and songs we sing, which in years to come will seem in poor taste, or worse.

The wider public knows how unfair it is to condemn one epoch for failing to meet the standards of another. Yet more and more, the modern puritans invite us to take this attitude to the past, and to savour the delights of a cost-free self-righteousness.

Anyone who refuses to share in their censoriousness can be condemned as a sinner. Here is a monstrous intolerance, disguised as a higher morality.

Employ some forbidden expression, sing some forbidden lyric, and you can be cast into outer darkness, never again to be invited to move in the polite society where BBC managers spend the few hours they can spare from leading the rest of us in the paths of virtue and of truth.

The public is fed up with such condescension. These BBC Bourbons who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing are in danger of precipitating their own downfall.

Alastair Lexden: On this day, 75 years ago – Churchill’s unexpected election disaster.

26 Jul

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here

On the previous day, 25 July, Winston Churchill and his superb Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, had flown back to London from Potsdam, where they had been taking part in the last great conference of the Allied leaders of the Second World War. For security reasons, they used separate aeroplanes.

So too did the Labour leader, Clem Attlee, whom Churchill had invited to Potsdam to show (in his words) “ we were a united nation”, despite the end of war-time coalition in May. Many Conservatives had wanted to extend it until after the defeat of Japan, or even longer, and defer the election. Churchill argued for this strenuously, suggesting a referendum to get the nation’s approval for delay , but the Labour Party refused to agree. He formed a new government without it, and prepared for an election.

Everywhere a resounding Tory victory was expected on 26 July 1945. No one was more confident of it than “Uncle Joe” Stalin (the war-time affection would soon wear off). Wholly unable to understand that an election might be free and fair, Stalin told Churchill’s Private Secretary, Jock Colville, at Potsdam that the British poll would of course be “fixed” to ensure a Tory majority.

All leading British politicians ( with the single exception of Rab Butler) anticipated such a result without any sinister helping hand for the Tories. On the flight from Potsdam, Eden speculated: “would the government get a majority of 50 or more; or perhaps less?” as his Private Secretary, Nico Henderson, recorded. Labour did not dissent. Attlee told Jock Colville that “ in his most optimistic dreams he reckoned that there might be a Conservative majority of only some 40 seats.”

When Ernest Bevin arrived in Potsdam as the new Labour Foreign Secretary on 28 July, he told his stunned colleagues that the “result of the general election was quite unexpected. He thought that Churchill’s popularity would have assured him of a majority of 50”, as an official Foreign Office minute noted.

Churchill himself never had the slightest doubt that “ the British people would wish me to continue my work.” The campaign strengthened that conviction. He was acclaimed wherever he went. He spent four days touring constituencies in the Midlands, the North of England and two great Scottish cities by train and open-top car. “ He addressed vast and enthusiastic crowds at Leeds, Bradford and Preston”, Colville recorded in the final stages.

“The train moved to Glasgow where he made ten speeches to deafening applause. He drove to Edinburgh along roads thronged with cheering men, women and children, and when he finally returned to the train, after a reception in Edinburgh as warm and moving as in Glasgow, he said to me that nobody who had seen what he had that day could have any doubt as to the result of the coming election.” Conservative Central Office promised him a majority of 211.

– – – – – – – – – –

The votes that confounded the confident predictions of Tory victory, and gave Labour an overall majority of 146, had been cast three weeks earlier on 5 July. The count was delayed to enable the postal ballots of servicemen and women spread across the globe to be collected and delivered to their constituencies. The Times reported that “the task of carrying the ballot papers and election addresses to and from[ their destinations] was performed by R.A.F. Transport Command. The loss in transit of completed papers was negligible.”

Over half of those in the armed services also voted through proxies. The Times explained that “ the dual system of service voting involved a check before the count to eliminate proxy votes where the elector had also voted by post.” This seems to have been completed successfully, thanks to the use of coloured paper for proxy votes.

In the aftermath of their shock election defeat, many Conservatives came to believe that men and women in the services, indoctrinated by left-wing lecturers in the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, had contributed decisively to their humiliation.

The diarist and MP, Harold Nicolson, noted on 13 June that “ the Tories feel that the Forces will all vote Labour.” “ This cannot be true”, Professor John Ramsden concluded in his detailed history of the Conservative Party in this period. “The total number of service votes cast was far less that Labour’s lead in the national popular vote, and since some of these anyway went to Conservative and Liberal candidates, the votes of servicemen may contribute to an explanation of the result, but they cannot explain it on their own.”

They were part of an immense tide of votes that swept the Tories away. Henderson watched it from the Foreign Office. “ The results of the election started coming through by 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, 26 July. All of us in [Eden’s] Private Office were eagerly hanging on to the news. Never modish, the room still had no radio, but people kept dashing in saying, ‘[Brendan] Bracken’s out, Labour gains 30’, then 40 and so on. ‘Macmillan’s out’. By 11.30 it was clear what the overall result would be.”

Ten years earlier, the Tories, with over 50 per cent of the vote (never to be seen again in a British election), had won 432 seats. On this day 75 years ago, they fell to 213. For the first time in British history, the total Labour vote at just under 12 million was higher than that of the Tories who got just under 10 million. (The Liberals’ 2.2 million votes brought them just 12 seats.) Turnout at 72.7 per cent was only slightly above the 71.2 per cent of 1935 (it was to rise sharply in the 1950s).

At Number 10, Mrs Churchill, a lifelong Liberal supporter, had a much-quoted exchange with her husband. “ It may well be a blessing in disguise”, she said. “ At the moment”, replied Churchill, “ it seems quite effectively disguised.” At 7 pm he was driven to Buckingham Palace, where he tendered his resignation to the King, who offered him the Garter. Churchill declined it. “ I felt that the times were too sad for honours or rewards.” His refusal was made public; Eden insisted that his decision to decline the Garter should not be made known.

After Churchill had departed in his chauffeur-driven Rolls, Mrs Attlee drove her husband into the Palace forecourt in their small family car at 7.30pm. A very different style of government was about to begin.

– – – – – – – – – –

To what extent was Churchill himself responsible for his election disaster? During the campaign he pursed a baffling, erratic course, so common during his long career. At some points he was the epitome of moderation; at others he was the embodiment of right-wing recklessness.

On policy issues, bipartisanship ruled. Churchill’s election manifesto (a personal, not a Party, document) made clear that he would implement the plans for peace formulated by the war-time coalition, rather than striking out in a new distinctively Tory direction. The scene was set for co-operation between the parties in the work of post-war reconstruction, ideally, in Churchill’s view, through another broad-based coalition government after the election.

He wrote that “ my hope was that it would be possible to reconstitute the National Coalition Government in the proportions of the new House of Commons.” Having argued strongly for the retention of the coalition after the defeat of Germany, Churchill looked forward to remaining prime minister after the election at the head of another such government. Conservatives would share power again, just as they had done since May1940 when he first gained the premiership.

In all that has been written about the 1945 election, this crucial point has been missed, permitting the false assumption that his victory would have been followed by a purely Tory administration. “ People liked the late Coalition Government”, he said on 30 June, “and would have been well pleased to give it a vote of confidence .”Churchill wanted to give them another opportunity to enjoy the benefits of coalition.

Agreement on a post-election coalition programme would have caused little difficulty. The Times noted that the parties “fought the election on programmes which contained very much in common. [They were] at one in promising to give early legislative effect to the social reforms agreed by the Coalition Government, particularly those for a comprehensive and extended system of national insurance and for a national health service.

All of them adopted the Coalition policy of accepting as a prime responsibility of the Government the maintenance of a high and stable level of employment; and all pledged themselves to apply emergency methods to the provision of houses.” These were the things that mattered most to the electorate.

It seemed that the election would be conducted in a mood of sweet reasonableness . Churchill, the arch-coalitionist, suddenly shattered it in a manner that was never to be forgotten. In four election broadcasts he attacked the Labour Party in fierce, lurid language. During the war, families had become accustomed to gathering round the radio for the latest news. On 4 June, they were warned by their prime minister that in order to carry out plans to impose full-blooded socialism on Britain, Labour “would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo“(he pronounced the word as menacingly as he could) as they gathered “ all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders.”

To ensure that no one missed the parallel with evil regimes in Europe, he added that “there can be no doubt that Socialism is inseparably interwoven with totalitarianism and the abject worship of the State.” Some blamed two reckless political buccaneers, Brendan Bracken and Lord Beaverbrook, who were alongside him during the campaign, but the notorious “ Gestapo” speech was written by Churchill himself.

His wife and senior colleagues were horrified. Nevertheless, there was more in a similar vein in his subsequent broadcasts. Amongst the wider radio audience, the reaction of the poet and novelist, Vita Sackville-West, was not untypical. “ You know I have an admiration for Winston amounting to idolatry”, she wrote to her husband, Harold Nicolson, “so I am dreadfully distressed by the badness of his broadcast election speeches. What has gone wrong with him? They are confused, woolly, unconstructive and so wordy that it is impossible to pick out any concrete impression from them. If I were a wobbler, they would tip me over to the other side.”

Churchill’s defence was that politicians should be free to insult one another during an election without harming their prospects of working together in government thereafter. His critics were not disarmed. Despite his war-time glories, the view persisted at Westminster, particularly among Tories( some of whom always distrusted and disliked him), that Winston had no judgement when it came to domestic politics. The 1945 election reinforced that view.

– – – – – – – – – –

Churchill did not of course plunge from what seemed inevitable triumph to disaster simply because of a bad campaign. Colin Coote, Deputy Editor of The Daily Telegraph, said that he had “ seen ten elections, but never one conducted with more phenomenal imbecility than this”, and yet judged that defeat represented “ a vote against the Tory party and their records from 1920 to 1939”, by which he meant appeasement and unemployment.

An addiction to condemning the inter-war Tory governments retrospectively was in 1945 to be found everywhere . No one seriously contested it, least of all Churchill himself with vivid memories of his “ wilderness years”. But it was a gross travesty all the same. It could only be sustained by ignoring Neville Chamberlain’s great inter-war social reforms (which gave the country the most advanced social services in the world), Britain’s economic recovery in the early 1930s on a scale that dwarfed Roosevelt’s New Deal, house-building at the rate of 350,000 homes a year and the rearmament programme of the 1930s carried through in the teeth of Labour opposition. All were indeed ignored, and swelling anti-Tory sentiment went unchecked.

Within days of defeat on 26 July, the conviction that Churchill could not lose was replaced by an equally strong conviction that he could never have won. People woke up to the fact, hitherto largely unremarked, that the Party organisation was in many places virtually non-existent; Labour, for the only time before 1997, was in much better shape. Rab Butler, ever perceptive, added a further key factor: “six years of left-wing propaganda accompanied by a virtual cessation of right-wing propaganda”, so very different from the years before 1939 when Chamberlain, Butler’s mentor, had carried all before him.

Eden, then at the height of his powers and ready to take over the Tory leadership (which Churchill had said he would give up), reflected judiciously in his diary on this day 75 years ago: “ We fought the campaign badly…It was foolish to try to win on W’s personality alone instead of on a programme. Modern electorate is too intelligent for that, and they don’t like being talked down to. Finally, while there is much gratitude to W as war leader, there is not the same enthusiasm for him as PM of the peace. And who shall say that the British people were wrong in this?”

– – – – – – – – – –

BIBLIOGRAPHY – Paul Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (Jonathan Cape,1992). Lord Butler, The Art of the Possible (Hamish Hamilton,1971). John Colville, The Fringes of Power :Downing Street Diaries, Volume Two October 1941-1955 (Septre edition,1987). Martin Gilbert, ‘ Never Despair’: Winston S. Churchill 1945-1965 ( Heinemann, 1988). Nicholas Henderson, The Private Office: A personal view of five Foreign Secretaries and of government from the inside (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984). Scott Kelly, ‘ “The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain”: Guilty Men and the 1945 Election’ in Conservative History Journal ( Autumn 2005), pp 18-24. Alistair Lexden, Neville Chamberlain: Redressing the Balance ( A Conservative History Publication, 2018). Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, edited by Nigel Nicolson (Collins,1967). John Ramsden, A History of the Conservative Party: The Age of Churchill & Eden 1940-1957 ( Longman,1995). The Times House of Commons 1945 ( The Times Office, 1945). D. R. Thorpe, Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977 ( Chatto & Windus, 2003). Victory: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill O.M.,C.H.,M.P. 1945,compiled by Charles Eade( Cassell,1945).

James Frayne: Churchill – and why the conservative movement would win a culture war. But it would be unpleasant and divisive.

21 Jul

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The battle over the legacy of Winston Churchill shows in miniature what a big chunk of a future British culture war will look like. It will be one which the conservative movement wins decisively because of mass public support.  But the fighting and winning of the battle will be unpleasant and divisive. So we should hope a serious culture war never comes to pass.

Left-wing activists could spend hundreds of millions on campaigns to attack Churchill over many years, but would make no dent in public support for him. Without doubt, his resolute opposition to Nazism and his brilliant war leadership saved Britain from a successful invasion and shaped the global effort to defeat Hitler. The respect that the British public have had for Churchill since at least mid-way through the war is completely ingrained.

Footage of his funeral, at which working class dock workers lined the Thames to pay their respects is extraordinary to watch. What’s true then is true now. All these years on from his death, serious and sympathetic Churchill books are published; he’s depicted heroically in film; queues still form to see where he lived and worked.

There are many things to dislike about Churchill; his record as a politician pre-war was patchy at best, with some catastrophic errors of governance. More relevant to this debate, as Andrew Roberts has pointed out, his views on other countries and races were unpleasant for the time and therefore breathtakingly unpleasant now. And he wasn’t universally loved by the British public, either during the war or after it. On the contrary, many post-war Northern families (some of mine, included) were brought up with terrible stories about Churchill’s failures.

But the mass of the public sees Churchill overwhelmingly through the prism of the Second World War and the moral, political and military leadership he provided in the country’s darkest hour. It’s not that they share the same cultural views as Churchill – indeed, most would be horrified by them – but that they have chosen to honour him for his massive achievement in war time. Trying to make the public revile Churchill is like trying to make them feel bad for Britain fighting the Second World War at all; it has no point.

And this is the issue: it’s a pointless battle which the conservative movement (I can’t think of a better term) will win decisively, but in doing so risk opening up old and new wounds between different groups. Because, in doing so, Churchill’s record and views must inevitably be put into context – how could they not be? – and ultimately deemed to matter less on balance than his role as war leader and national saviour.

In turn, those that revile Churchill will be able to claim that most people don’t care about his views, and therefore that Britain is an unenlightened, intolerant country. On this narrow point, this will not be true – people will simply not be able to view him as anything other than a war leader – but there’s a logic to this position.

What’s true of the battle over Churchill will be true too of many other cultural battles too. The public will likely come to support the removal of those historical figures linked with atrocities abroad, but it’s hard to see how they could come to see Sur Francis Drake as anything other than the man who saved England from the Armada. The public will strongly support further efforts to make sure the police better reflects and better serves minority groups, but they will not support anything that looks like “defunding” the police, or which sees them pull back from making streets safer.

Voters will support a balanced narrative about Britain’s past in our schools, but they will want children to mostly feel pride in our past. (Such is public reverence for Churchill that a problem for those campaigning for social and cultural change, is that more palatable changes that the public understand and are happy to get behind, end up being obscured by a debate around Churchill, which they most certainly will not get behind.)

The mass of the public will demand that politicians stand firm on these issues – and will give these politicians strong support as they do so. And as these debates are played out, left-wing campaigns will accuse politicians of fostering intolerance and many in the public of “falling for it” – because, as with Churchill, people will expect politicians to put things in a wider context.

In the public mind: yes, Drake was one of those responsible for the aggressive expansion of England, but he saved England from a successful invasion; yes, the police should be more diverse, but they do a good job in difficult circumstances and limited cash; yes, Britain has done things for which it should be ashamed, but it has also been a force for good.

As all this is played out, as with Churchill, the conservative movement will win these battles, but division will emerge.

Emphatically, this is not to say that campaigns shouldn’t demand social or cultural change. Nor is to say that the public are hostile to such change. As we’ve seen consistently in the last few decades, campaigns have fostered and secured public support behind a range of morally just causes. Rather, it is to say that some harder-left campaigns are seeking battle with the mass of the public on areas where they won’t ever shift, and where the only outcome is victory for the conservative movement, but with division following in its wake. What would ultimately deliver electoral advantage to the Conservative Party would be damaging to the country.

Jeremy Corbyn went full throttle for culture war and it blew up in his face. Those that care about building a more united country, regardless of their party allegiance, should hope that Jeir Starmer steers the Labour Party back to mainstream values – with a focus on practically solving cultural and social problems (as well as economic ones). It’ll make for a more competitive electoral environment, but surely a happier place.