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The Spectator's Notes

The EU hasn’t settled the ‘German question’. It’s reopened it

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: Kohl and Mitterrand at Verdun; Jutland 1916; bathrooms; babies’ names; cuckoos

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

‘No one can seriously deny that European integration brought an end to Franco-German conflict and has settled the German question for good,’ wrote Niall Ferguson in the latest Sunday Times. I hesitate when confronted by such an assertion by such a learned professor. But I think I would seriously deny it, or at least seriously question it. Surely what brought an end to Franco-German conflict was the utter defeat of Nazi Germany. European integration was a symptom of that end, not its cause. As for settling the German question, isn’t it too early to say? The eurozone is the first large non-German area to have been dominated by Germany since 1945. It is a mess. In countries such as Greece, its travails (mass unemployment, prolonged recession) have provoked the first new outbreaks of anti-German feeling since the war. Modern Germany is definitely not engaged in the Griff nach der Weltmacht whose terrible effects a hundred years ago were commemorated this week at Verdun and in respect of Jutland. But by using the single currency as the lead weapon to advance European integration, the EU project has created a new disturbance of the European order. The EU’s disastrous solution, which will go ahead if Britain votes to remain (and possibly even if we vote to leave), is to deepen the eurozone further, with fiscal and banking union. Germany will shape this. More German questions are raised than are settled.

Mrs Merkel and President Hollande stood together at Verdun to symbolise their countries’ reconciliation. In 1984, their predecessors, Kohl and Mitterrand, did so hand-in-hand. Most people considered this very moving. A friend of mine privately asked Margaret Thatcher if she did not think so too. ‘No, I did not,’ she exclaimed, ‘Two grown men holding hands!’ I have recently heard that the Kohl/Mitterrand gesture arose because the two men were stranded on the field of commemoration with no interpreters. Unable to talk to one another, they resorted to body language instead. It turned out more eloquent than words.


Here is my great-grandfather, Norman Moore, writing in his diary for 1916, of the news of Jutland breaking in London. ‘Friday June 2nd: The newspaper contents announced…severe fighting near Verdun, and no more. When I came out [of a meeting], half an hour later, they bore the exciting heading of great naval battle. The news seemed bad not good some 16 ships of ours lost. I knew Alan [his surviving son, in the Navy] was not in it yet felt anxious. On reaching home I telephoned to Mrs Crawshay to ask if she had any news. The night before she had sat next the Duke of Devonshire (at Lord Kenmare’s) who spoke of news of a victory… After dinner Lady Leslie telephoned to me & I went to 46 Great Cumberland Place where were Seymour Leslie and Mrs Crawshay & Lady Leslie & Lady Randolph Churchill. She [Lady Randolph, mother of Winston] had heard that 11 ships were sunk. Later she went to a dance where she thought she might hear news & telephoned thence at 12.50 a.m. saying Admiral Hood had gone down with his ship: & that the Lion had been in flames but brought off.’

The United States is convulsed by an argument about lavatories. Which ones should people who consider themselves neither male nor female, or who believe they are moving, or have moved, from one sex to the other, be free to use? Should special extra ones be built for them? I don’t propose to take sides here, but simply point out that the row has brought about the global victory of the American usage ‘bathroom’ to mean what we call (or called) lavatories or toilets. It is an odd choice of words, because the room referred to very rarely has a bath in it. In Britain, this usage of ‘bathroom’ at least gets rid of our long-standing class conflict about ‘lavatory’ versus ‘toilet’, though I suspect that some purists will equate it with the latter and happily fight the old war on a new front.

According to a recent law report in the Times, the Court of Appeal has just forbidden a mother to name her daughter Cyanide. The child was born to a schizophrenic woman, as the result of a rape. The girl is in local authority care. The mother’s lawyers argued that it is a statutory duty to register a child with a name and that the law has no provision to refuse offensive names. But Lady Justice King (itself a striking, though not offensive name) found that the choice of name was an act of ‘parental responsibility’. Because of the care order, this responsibility had devolved upon the local authority, which did not like the name Cyanide. So far, so good. But the judge also said that children were ‘capable of great unkindness’ and so ‘a name which attracted ridicule, teasing, bullying or embarrassment would have a deleterious effect on a child’s self-esteem’ and cause the child to resent ‘the parent who had inflicted it upon her’. This is so true, but is it a legal point? The country nowadays is full of children burdened with grotesque names. Are we to ban them? If you forbid Cyanide, should you permit Chardonnay? A further complication is that the little girl is a twin, and her mother wanted to call her twin brother Preacher. This too Lady Justice King forbade because, although Preacher ‘might not be an objectionable name’, ‘there was considerable benefit for the boy twin to be in the same position as his sister’ and for both to be named, as was proposed, by their half-siblings. We are not told what names the half-siblings want. I do hope it is something kind and simple, like Jack and Jill. In my mind’s eye is the old advertisement for Start-rite shoes, and the poor twins having so far to go on the long hard road of life.

For the first time ever, I have not heard a cuckoo in England this spring. I brood over this. On the other hand, my wife and son and daughter-in-law all have, so it could just be that I am growing deaf. I brood over that too.


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