Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 7 May 2005

Another week of this, and I think I would have ended up voting Labour

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Another week of this, and I think I would have ended up voting Labour. Ann Toward, the widow of Guardsman Anthony Wakefield, who was killed near Amarah, southern Iraq, on Monday, said that Tony Blair was to blame for her husband’s death. Although it is obviously true that if there had been no war in Iraq, Guardsman Wakefield would not have died there, it is unfair to blame a British prime minister for the death of a volunteer professional soldier. Ms Toward herself has said that her husband wanted to go to Iraq, against her pleading: ‘He said it was his job to go to Iraq.’ There is no suggestion that political imperatives have forced British soldiers to do things which, in military terms, are unreasonable to ask. Sorry to state the obvious, but Guardsman Wakefield was killed by terrorist bombers, not by Tony Blair. One cannot blame a distraught widow for making accusations, but one can blame a media culture which encourages such vulnerable people into the political arena. It is part of the terrible self-righteousness of the anti-war media and politicians that they do not see this as a problem. Do they think that all those widows who do not agree with Ms Toward, and have not come forward to blame the Prime Minister for their husband’s deaths, are morally defective? There were and are good arguments against the war, but when its opponents have marked out Mr Blair as a killer of our troops, I have found myself half wanting another four years of the wretched man. I almost asked Alastair Campbell to send me one of his store of postal votes for a Lib Dem/Labour marginal.

Scotland is experiencing net emigration, we are told by opponents of Tory immigration policy. Mightn’t it be something to do with its governmentalised monoculture and consequent lack of opportunity for anyone who doesn’t want to be a bureaucrat? No doubt the rest of us in the United Kingdom benefit from the skills of Scottish émigrés, but I think that English voters are gradually beginning to question why we should be governed by Scottish politicians, sitting for Scottish seats. When one looks at Gordon Brown, John Reid, Alistair Darling and all the others, one feels tempted to ask Mr Blair the question put to him in another context, ‘What part of the words “Send them back” don’t you understand?’

An interesting talk with a woman who teaches at a ‘challenging’ comprehensive school in the Home Counties. There were two big problems, she told me. The first concerned the Muslim pupils. Most of them longed to be free of religious control, particularly over arranged marriages, but they found that the authorities’ deference to ‘Muslim opinion’ tended to reinforce that control: they regarded the court ruling permitting the full jilbab to be worn in a school in Luton as very bad for their freedom. The second problem was family breakdown among whites. Almost all the trouble came from children from broken homes — unhappy, uncared for, knowing their ‘rights’, with parents who refused to back the school over discipline. I suspect that both these problems are very widespread and I know that neither of them received any attention in the election campaign.

The hunt for Robert McCartney’s killers — latest news. On Sunday, Sinn Fein and Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), held a rally in the Short Strand, supposedly to ‘rededicate’ a hunger strike mural. They made no reference to the murdered member of the local community, but complained that Sinn Fein were being ‘criminalised’. The McCartney sisters suggested that they would be less likely to be criminalised if they did not commit crimes. Supporters of Liam Kennedy, standing against Gerry Adams in the name of human rights, tried to put up two posters of a man lying on the ground being beaten up with baseball bats by two hooded men with the words ‘Time to go’ and a list of paramilitary organisations on them. J.C. Decaux, the site owners, then rejected the posters because they were ‘offensive and inappropriate’. Whom, among the non-criminal population, could they offend?

The 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe coincides with the campaign in the French referendum on the European constitution. As the war staggered to a close Heinrich Himmler, seeking to save his skin by betraying Hitler, sent a message to General de Gaulle urging on him an ‘“entente” with defeated Germany’ because the Soviets would ‘liquidate’ him and the Anglo-Saxons would ‘treat him as a satellite’, whereas France and Germany united — ‘if you overcome the spirit of vengeance’ — would make de Gaulle ‘the greatest man of all time’. De Gaulle did not reply, of course, but in his memoirs he did say of Himmler’s offer that there was ‘an element of truth in the picture it sketched’. This perplexes the general’s biographer, Jean Lacouture, who regards Himmler’s message as ‘insane’, but it should not. De Gaulle shared Himmler’s analysis of where France’s interest lay, though naturally he wanted alliance with a democratic, not a Nazi Germany. Similar thinking governed the dealings between Albert Speer, Hitler’s only truly intellectually able minister, and Jean Bichelonne, the minister of production in Vichy France. The two young men got on well and, Speer recorded, shared ideas of ‘a European Economic Union’: ‘Irrespective of national frontiers, Europe had to be economically integrated.’ Bichelonne died not long afterwards, having taken Speer’s advice and allowed Professor Gebhardt, the prominent Nazi doctor, to operate on him, but their ideas bore fruit in the invention of the euro. The European constitution brings about the political union which monetary union assumed in advance. It will be momentous if France defies the orthodoxy by which, in differing guises, it has been governed since 1940. Which is why I would take a small, sad bet that it will end up narrowly voting ‘yes’.

Following my mention of Hitler’s dog Blondi last week, a distinguished reader writes with a story of Captain Robert Maxwell MC in Berlin in 1945, a story which Maxwell himself had told him. Seeing that upper-class English officers often owned a dog, and wanting to be like them, Maxwell tracked down the man who had bred Blondi. He demanded a dog, but the man explained that he had no puppies, just his last bitch which was not yet pregnant. Maxwell took the bitch. The man shot himself. My correspondent continues, ‘When Maxwell told me the story he was still baffled by the man’s actions. When I asked Maxwell what became of the dog, he became shifty and said it went to a good home.’