Nathen Allen: Starmer’s efforts to make Labour seem patriotic aren’t fooling anyone

15 Apr

Nathen Allen is a Young Voices UK contributor and the chairman of the London Universities Conservatives.

It’s odd, somehow, to hear a Labour leader talking up Britain and its institutions so far from a general election. Paying tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh, Keir Starmer described the monarchy as “the one institution for which the faith of the British people has never faltered.” He may have stopped short of an explicit endorsement of the monarchy, but Starmer is engaged in a concerted effort to make his party seem inviting to British patriots once again.

Before Starmer, every five years or so, Labour would rediscover that actually liking the country you want to lead is electorally useful. It’s as if Newton had only ever remembered the concept of gravity every time he accidentally dropped a Golden Delicious. But, apparently, the obvious and repetitive nature of it all isn’t going to stop Starmer from trying his damndest to establish Labour as a patriotic alternative to the Conservative party. Of course, it’s far too late for him—and Labour itself— to realise this.

Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn was constantly accused of hating Britain. He refused to sing the national anthem. He allegedly sympathised with terrorists. There were even fears he would hand over the Falklands to Argentina. So it‘s not surprising that Starmer is looking to rebrand Labour—but his efforts to make his party seem more patriotic are doomed to fail.

Take his recent campaign to make Labour comfortable displaying the Union Jack, for example—a small first step. It was a disaster. The Welsh Labour Health Minister decried the idea of “Tory flag-waving” and a Labour staffer even suggested it would lead to a similar event to the storming of the US Capitol Building in Britain. This belief that waving the flag is to be a Tory is one the Conservative party will surely be happy to monopolise in the mind of the electorate.

The problem Labour continues to misunderstand is that voters aren’t stupid. We know that if you have to force yourself to feel comfortable displaying the flag of your country, then you can’t reasonably be expected to uphold the other more complex cultural institutions in Britain. And those are institutions Brits make clear—time and again—that they care about.

Furthermore, Starmer shows no action on the Union – he’s consistently passive on the issue. Contrast that with the positive and public effort the Conservatives are making with recent announcements in the defence review to procure technology and equipment from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (as well as new plans by the Government to boost transport connections across the UK). Even during the period when Starmer has had ample opportunity to fight against what many have viewed as Conservative threats to the union, he has failed.

During the controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol, he simply fell flat. He has completely failed to position himself as a viable unionist alternative to the Tories in Scotland, an area once famous as a Labour heartland and one where current polling has suggested a growing unionist majority in an independence referendum. Of course, that’s where the Tories, not Labour, will take the lead.

Even in London, Sadiq Khan is attempting to create a commission to target “controversial” historical statues. Despite the wide opposition to this move throughout the country, with 79 per cent of people believing we shouldn’t attempt to rewrite history and 69 per cent saying they are proud of UK history overall, Labour cannot pretend that actions of those like Khan are separate from Starmer’s leadership.

As mayor of the nation’s capital, Khan’s actions threaten monuments and symbolism in a national consciousness in ways other regional politicians simply can’t. They will and they have affected the image of the Labour party throughout the country, tainting it with a further image of hating the nation and its history. Starmer could, as party leader, attempt to reel in Khan, but as a man famous for indecision, it seems obvious he won’t. And even then, the damage Khan has wrought is already burnt into the public mind.

Here’s the problem undergirding it all: Many Labour politicians, rather than accept what the people of Britain believe, would rather engage in a student-style debate over social theory.

As Baroness Chakrabarti recently put it, Labour should be trying to “change the narrative” on patriotism. It’s a condescending statement, implying the average voter loves their country for the wrong reasons. But it’s indicative of a deeper truth about the Labour party: It simply cannot accept it has to be representative of what voters want, because the majority of its beliefs are fundamentally in opposition to how the average Briton outside London sees the world.

To paraphrase Orwell’s famous line, the Labour Party might be the only place where politicians hate their own nationality. They’re constantly trying to create new, unwanted ideas of patriotism, just to make it easier on themselves to pretend to be “patriotic.” But it’s clearly a farce.

The numbers make it clear. The Labour Party has been behind in the polls by around 13 points— and that deficit expands to 25 points when it comes to working-class voters. Here’s why. According to YouGov, 88 per cent of Conservative voters describe themselves as patriotic. This number was 61 per cent of the general population, a large voting base Starmer aims to regain from the Tories. It’s exactly why he’ll fail.

The Labour strategist Philip Gould once said after Labour’s defeat during the 1992 election that “Labour lost because it was still the party of the winter of discontent”. For the lost Labour seats of the Red Wall, Labour is simply still the party of Britain-bashing and university Marxists—Starmer can’t change that, no matter how hard he tries.

Daniel Hannan: A tribute to Jens-Peter Bonde. A devastatingly able campaigner and giant of the Eurosceptic movement.

14 Apr

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

A giant of the Eurosceptic movement died last week, unreported and largely unremarked. Jens-Peter Bonde, who spent 29 years in the European Parliament and was, for much of that time, the closest thing it had to a Leader of the Opposition, passed away at his home near Copenhagen, aged 73.

There has, of course, been a more newsworthy death grabbing our attention. But, even without the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, we would not have heard much about the cheerful, detail-obsessed Danish campaigner.

This is partly because Brexit has short-circuited the arguments about the decentralisation of power. I have written more than my share of papers on how a looser, more flexible EU might have worked. But all that is over now. Eurocrats responded to Britain’s withdrawal by pushing ahead with the integrationist schemes that had previously been held up by our veto – tax harmonisation, an EU army, the lot. A country can either get with that programme or leave. A Europe of nations is no longer on the agenda, if ever it was.

There is another reason, though, that Bonde faded from public consciousness. He might have been the moving spirit behind the Euro-critical movement, but he does not fit the popular image of the anti-Brussels campaigner. Thoughtful, polite and Left-of-Centre, he was the Eurosceptic whom federalists found it hardest to dislike. He worked on various projects with Romano Prodi, Guy Verhofstadt and Jean-Claude Juncker, who remarked on hearing of Bonde’s death that their clashes over the burgeoning EU budget “didn’t take away from the friendship I had with him”.

Bonde began as a revolutionary and ended as a reformer. He had campaigned against EEC membership in Denmark’s referendum in 1972 – a campaign at that time dominated, like its British equivalent, by the Bennite Left – and was elected as an MEP for the People’s Movement Against the EEC in 1979. After Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty in June 1992, he established the June Movement, reaching out to those Danes who had been happy enough with the EEC, but who disliked the new push for political and economic amalgamation.

That made him the de facto head of something that had not existed until that moment: a Europe-wide anti-federalist movement. As the leader of the tiny Eurosceptic bloc in Brussels, Bonde had the time and the resources to co-ordinate the efforts of new allies: Philippe de Villiers’ souverainiste movement in France, the successors to the various Scandinavian “No” campaigns from 1994 and, in Britain, Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party and Alan Sked’s UKIP.

I remember asking him, when I was first elected in 1999, whether he thought it was acceptable to use EU money that way. Then, as now, the European Parliament made resources available to individual MEPs and their parties for political projects. The idea, of course, was that the moolah would translate into greater support for the EU. But there was no way to draw up the rules so as explicitly to exclude Eurosceptics. Did he think it was okay to finance his projects with Brussels cash?

“I used to wonder the same thing when I arrived here 20 years ago, Daniel. In the end, I asked a man who had been one of my mentors. He was a partisan leader in the war, and he told me, ‘Jens-Peter, when we siphoned gas off German vehicles during the occupation, it wasn’t an act of theft – it was an act of legitimate resistance.’”

I laughed out loud at the mental picture the mild-mannered, bespectacled Bonde stealing petrol by moonlight. In truth, by then, he was already more interested in making the EU less intrusive than in taking his country out of it. But he remained a devastatingly able campaigner.

The following year, he and I worked together on the “No” campaign in Denmark’s single currency referendum. We started more than 20 points behind in the polls, but Bonde knew how to appeal to waverers. He block-booked advertising space with bus companies all over the country. A week before polling day, a question appeared on the side of almost every Danish bus: “Do you know enough to abolish the Crown forever yet?” It was the “yet” that did it, rallying undecideds to the status quo and carrying us to a surprise victory.

For all that they found him personally agreeable, the EU’s leaders could not forgive such behaviour. Had they been a bit cleverer, they would have treated Bonde and his allies as a kind of loyal opposition, engaging with his ideas on democracy and transparency, and using his presence to show that the EU was not an intolerant monolith. But, subject to their federalist purity-spiral, they could never bring themselves to do it.

As the EU pushed ahead with deeper and deeper union – Maastricht was followed by Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon – the idea of devolving power fell away, leaving withdrawal as the only alternative. Bonde was replaced by Nigel Farage as leader of his group and, more broadly, as the voice of Euroscepticism. While he was shifting from secessionism to constructive criticism, the Eurosceptic movement was going the other way.

Bonde’s idea of a Europe of nations now survives only as a counterfactual, a might-have-been, like Gladstone’s Home Rule proposals or Pitt the Elder’s plan to conciliate America. The EU’s leaders may soon wish they had taken the well-mannered Dane more seriously.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: MPs find more to say about the Duke because he did not always play it safe

12 Apr

At the age of 14, the future Leader of the Labour Party “was wandering around Dartmoor in a small team, with just a compass and a map in the pouring rain, frantically trying to find our way”.

A delightfully self-deprecatory touch as Sir Keir Starmer, as he has since become, paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh. He did not, however, go on to say that this had prepared him all too well for his present role as Labour Leader.

Sir Keir instead generalised his experience into the safer, but less amusing, “If that doesn’t prepare you for coming into politics, nothing will.”

Since the press would have quoted against him any suggestion that he and his small team are the ones “frantically trying to find our way”, he was perhaps right to play it safe.

But here is the dilemma of politics: does one sound dull and responsible, and get next no coverage, or go for one’s shots, and risk wilful misrepresentation on the front page?

Prince Philip used to take the latter course. Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, recalled that the Duke had “a keen appreciation of the value of anti-seriousness”, a phrase coined by the Duke himself.

Ian Blackford, for the Scottish Nationalists, recalled another of the Duke’s dictums, applied to the length of speeches: “What the backside cannot endure, the brain cannot absorb.”

Blackford himself is sometimes accused of being long-winded. Today he was not.

But there were another 132 MPs yet to speak. Was this altogether wise?

For the eulogy is a difficult form, and as the Prime Minister had earlier remarked, the Duke “might be embarrassed or even faintly exasperated to receive these tributes”.

Boris Johnson had already touched on much of what needed to be said. He remarked that the Duke’s shipmates on HMS Wallace remembered how, during the invasion of Sicily, Prince Philip had improvised a decoy, “complete with fires to make it look like a stricken British vessel”, which was sunk by the enemy while the Wallace slipped away.

The Prime Minister also described, with relish, the Duke’s ability to drive “a coach and horses through the finer points of diplomatic protocol”, and offered a short catalogue of examples, including telling a British student in Papua New Guinea “that he was lucky not to be eaten”.

Fifteen years ago, in the pages of The Daily Telegraph, Johnson himself made a similarly tactless reference to Papua New Guinea.

Johnson today took pleasure in observing that people did not object to the Dukes’ gaffes:

“On the contrary, they overwhelmingly understood that he was trying to break the ice, to get things moving, to get people laughing and forget their nerves.”

It is difficult, when composing an eulogy, not to bring oneself into it, and many of those who spoke today quite rightly did so, by describing how the Duke had touched their lives.

He had a wider reach, and there is now more to say about him, because he had the courage not always to play it safe.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Duke of Edinburgh – the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man

12 Apr

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.

“To become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.” This oath of medieval lineage was used by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Queen’s coronation on 2 June 1953, and has become one of the two defining quotations of the modern monarchy – and the reason that the institution has been so successful during the second Elizabethan Age.

The evolution of monarchy over many centuries has ensured its survival in this country. The struggle for supremacy which saw monarchs vie for power with and against other powers, noble, religious and popular, became, by the time of our current Queen, to be a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign has never sought to interfere politically and the monarchical safeguards, which still exist, are operated in such a way that she never needs to be.

This evolution naturally begs the question of how the monarchy flourishes once all political power is ceded. Prince Philip’s oath provides the answer. It is about service to an institution embodied in an individual who represents the nation. The many obituaries have enumerated the volume of work that the Duke carried out over his lifetime. The tens of thousands of engagements, the thousands of speeches and, although no one has yet estimated the number of hands he shook, it must be over one million. And all to serve the purpose of being the liege man of his sovereign.

As that liege man, he sublimated himself wholly to the interests of the nation. He, along with other members of the royal family, by representing the Queen are the glue that binds the nation and indeed the Commonwealth together. The Duke’s tireless example showed how monarchy can still be important and useful. To do this, not only did he have to be endlessly dutiful, but also memorable. Royalty are blessed and cursed by the fact that everyone they meet will remember every word that is spoken. The Duke’s ability to be pithy may have amused the media from time to time, but it ensured that all whom he met had a story to tell afterwards.

The Duke’s steadfast dedication, demonstrated not only devotedly but with good humour, was a linchpin to our monarchy and so to our constitution and the health of our nation. The United Kingdom has been blessed, in its final transition to a constitutional monarchy, to have a sovereign and consort willing to accept Bagehot’s purely dignified role, which only works if tireless duty and service are at its heart.

Previous generations of royals might have balked at the selfless toil required. The sons of George III would hardly have butteressed a constitutional monarchy, while the behaviour of Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, would have caused comment. Equally, any suggestion regarding the divine right of kings would be as well received in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventeenth.

Nonetheless, it is the sacramental, the anointing and the oath before God that creates that aura of monarchy which makes people value its presence. The oaths made by Her Majesty and Prince Philip before God link the sovereign to our collective history, allowing and encouraging her personification of the nation. People are honoured to meet or be thanked by the Queen or her immediate family because of this symbolism. A plaque being unveiled by her consort is special because of the religious element of the coronation, the divine blessing if not right that the sovereign enjoys.

Alongside the Duke’s oath another defining quotation of the modern monarchy is from the Queen on her twenty first birthday when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.

This statement of absolute duty alongside the Duke’s oath speaks to the truth that those who appear to rule in fact serve. Through this service the constitutional settlement of this nation has thrived, providing a stability of fundamental importance to our prosperity. Countries which suffer from revolutions and tumults are rarely prosperous.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Duke is that he made it look easy. That is the proof of how well it has been done and a reminder of the debt we owe for a long life as the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man.

Rupert Myers: Let Prince Philip become Plinth Philip

12 Apr

Rupert Myers is a barrister and writer.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has been felt around the world. An inspiration for us all to do more, his death invites reflection and the celebration of a great man. A dutiful public servant who filled his unforgiving minutes with distance run for Queen and country, the Duke of Edinburgh was a fixture in all of our lives.

With his wit, style, and work ethic he epitomised the greatest generation, of which he was a leading man. For this reason, we must honour him suitably, and to do that we need to shake things up. It’s time for the experiments in public art on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to end, and replaced instead with a statue of the Duke.

A keen sailor who went from being one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy at just 21, to his appointment as Lord High Admiral a decade ago, Prince Philip would be at home in a square named after Britain’s most famous naval success – plinth pals with General Sir Charles James Napier, Major General Sir Henry Havelock and George IV. Forever placing him next to Horatio Nelson would be a fitting tribute for a man who played his part in World War Two at sea and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese.

Some might cry out that London would lose the contemporary artworks that are displayed on the fourth plinth. Beyond Rachel Whiteread’s beguiling ‘Monument’ – an upside down transparent resin copy of the plinth itself – and Antony Gormley’s ‘One & Other’, which saw 2400 members of the public each spend an hour on the plinth, the other installations have been highly missable. London is awash with brilliant spaces for the display of contemporary art, and Sir John Mortimer’s recommendation of the fourth plinth as the home for a rolling programme of temporary artworks has long since gone stale.

Many on the internet would be enraged by the erection of a statue to the Duke of Edinburgh in such a prominent location. “The country has reached its quota for statues of racist, old white men” as one person replied when I floated the suggestion on Twitter.

These people couldn’t be more wrong. Philippos Andreou reached this country as a Greek Orthodox child refugee in a cot made from a fruit box. He became the longest-serving consort in the most successful reign of any monarch, and helped shepherd our country through war, peace, and monumental change.

To judge him on the colour of his skin, or on a few terrible comments in the course of a lifetime of service may be the sort of lazy, reductive thinking we have come to expect from social media, but it does an utter disservice to his life. Try getting through 22,219 solo engagements at which you are expected to be entertaining and interesting, surrounded by the world’s press, without saying a few things you might regret.

The Duke took on exile, poverty, his mother’s schizophrenia, and personal tragedy, yet not only served as consort to the Queen but founded an award scheme that helped millions of young people find meaning, purpose, and discover the benefit of the great outdoors.

If he isn’t the sort of person we should be erecting statues to, then it’s time to do away with statues. So long as we put them up to anyone, we will be putting them up to brilliant people who lived flawed and imperfect lives whose records don’t regularly conform to the changing standards of modern life, as even a cursory glance at the lives of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King can confirm. Statues don’t have to represent an endorsement of everything contained within a life, but merely the greater balance of it.

Some claim that the fourth plinth is being saved for the Queen, but our longest serving monarch will – many years from now – be surely deserving of a square and a column all of her own. Right now, we must agree on a fitting tribute to her husband. He was a funny, curious, flawed man. He should be honoured in a place that befits his naval service and the high regard in which he is held by the public.

Let’s put the Duke of Edinburgh with the people – in the middle of things; not with the politicians in Parliament Square, constantly surrounded by unwashed campaigners with megaphones, but in the most iconic square in our great capital city, where he will be cherished by visitors from around the world for centuries to come. It’s time for Plinth Philip.

Sarah Ingham: We might have had a Juan Carlos or an Ernst August. Instead, we’ve had the Queen – and the Duke.

11 Apr

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

As the pomp and circumstance of a 41-gun salute led by the Royal Navy echoed around the United Kingdom and across the seas from noon on Saturday, it was a tribute to much more than a royal consort.

The passing of the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted the towering contribution he made for more than seven decades in the service of this country, its people and the wider Commonwealth.

Like the Queen, to whom he swore fealty at the Coronation almost 70 years ago, he exemplified public service, duty and self-sacrifice.

Statistics compiled by the Press Association provide a snapshot of an extraordinary record; before his official retirement aged 96, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. This does not include those ten of thousands of occasions he accompanied the Queen, both at home and abroad, in his chief role as Royal Consort. As an early Private Secretary, Michael Parker, explained: ‘He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job, first, second and last, was never to let her down.’

For those of us daunted at the prospect of getting dressed up for a work do and an evening of indifferent food and small talk – if not tiny talk – with strangers, our sinking hearts must go out to the late Duke. Not for him crying off at the last minute or that extra glass of wine to help jolly things along. No looking bored or swallowing yawns, either. Year in, year out, he was permanently on parade.

The Duke’s decades as an exemplary consort would have been enough to earn him gratitude across the globe, but he gave so much more. He was involved in hundreds of charities, great and small, from the Society of Underwater Technology to the Junior Astronomical Society via the Alvis Owner Club. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was a counterpoint for millions of young people increasingly cocooned by a health and safety-obsessed culture, while the Duke himself wanted to build a green future long before the

Ecology Party became the Green Party. His concern about the under-reported problem of global over-population – a concern more recently shared by environmental scientist James Lovelock – is worth revisiting.

Like the majority of men his age, he had served the country in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, when he was mentioned in despatches. His anticipated life-time career in the Royal Navy was cut short with the Queen’s accession. Instead, he served Queen and country in a very different role.

In famously walking two paces behind The Queen, for decades Prince Philip offered the country moral leadership.

It is only following the Duke’s death that his qualities are being fully appreciated. In a pre-feminist era, many men would have baulked at publicly subordinating themselves to a woman. As the man in the shadows to a woman in the limelight, he pre-dated Denis Thatcher by more than a quarter of a century in time – and light years in public attitudes towards gender equality.

The Duke leaves behind a country where political leadership is not viewed as an honour in itself, but a potentially lucrative entry in the CV. His passing coincides with uncomfortable questions for David Cameron about lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, along with the general murkiness surrounding billions of pounds of Covid-related contracts which have led to accusations of cronyism.

For the Duke to have spent decades in the public eye beyond any reproach and above suspicion is testimony to him. Two examples in Europe point to might have been: King Juan Carlos and Prince Ernst August of Hanover. The former Spanish monarch was forced to abdicate and is now in exile following accusations of corruption, while the German prince last month received a suspended prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. Conversely, the Duke’s charge sheet seems to amount to handful of ill-chosen remarks.

Had he been a 26-year-old marrying into the Royal Family today rather than in 1947, much would have been made of his personal journey from stateless, penniless refugee to palace. Instead, as he said, ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’ This stoicism was apparent when he reflected on lost or wounded naval comrades. He observed: ‘It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun . . . You just got on with it.’

The Duke was in hospital when Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke of Sussex. It is unimaginable that the Duke would ever have offered up to the media his unsettled childhood, his parents’ divorce or the history of his mother’s mental health in an effort to claim exculpatory victimhood and garner the sympathy of press and public. Following the loss of their patronages in February, the Sussexes declared: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ This underlines the generation gap between grandfather and grandson – and the gulf in their values.

In the hours after his death was announced, Boris Johnson stated that the Duke helped to steer the Royal Family and the Monarchy so that it remained an institution ‘indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.

On Friday evening the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, one for each year of the Duke’s life. The Queen has lost a beloved husband and the country has lost one of the most admirable public servants in its history.