Frank Johnson

Why the Norman conquest works for me every time

Text settings

Usually, at this time of the year, I am wandering, or renting, in Western Europe. But, for various reasons too uninteresting to recount here, I am spending this August at home. This removes the one drawback of being on holiday abroad: the search, in la France profonde, or wherever, for the British newspapers; and the knowledge, when they are found, that they are a day late, and that events must surely have moved on.

This year it would have been especially agonising. Lord Tebbit discovers spotty youths in Central Office! Such a phrase, as various authorities instantly pointed out, is a euphemism for Mr Iain Duncan Smith himself. For 'spotty youths' read 'Iain has been captured by the gays, the women, and the ethnic minorities, insofar as the three categories are distinguishable'. The authorities explain that in the Middle Ages, when barons wanted to attack the king, they attacked the spotty youths advising him. That is how things are done in Norman times: the times of Norman Tebbit and Norman Fowler.

Intra-Norman conflict had been aroused because Lord Tebbit had written his article again. That is, the one about how the Conservative party was much more successful during that heroic period in our history when he was chairman, working closely with Mrs Thatcher and, he almost implies, Churchill. I always agree with the article and, more to the point, always enjoy it. Long may Lord Tebbit continue to write it.

This August, another Norman peer -Fowler by name; also a former Conservative chairman - set himself up in opposition to the article. He went on radio to say that the Central Office people were not spotty youths, but just as good as in Lord Tebbit's day, and earlier.

On Tuesday, the first Norman chairman, Lord Tebbit, had a letter in the Daily Telegraph disapproving of a leading article in that paper, which had seemed to side with Central Office. It was the last paragraph of the letter which some of us would have seized on. 'The Conservative party,' it said, 'could do without sneering, inane, unflattering comparisons between Mr Duncan Smith and Liza Minnelli made from Central Office and reported in the Peterborough column on the page facing your leader.'

The frightening thought occurred: what if I had been abroad? I might have seen Lord Tebbit's letter, but not the Peterborough item to which he referred. What agony! Had someone at Central Office drawn a comparison between Mr Duncan Smith and Miss Minnelli? If so, presumably Lord Tebbit - being one of nature's gentlemen -had chivalrously rushed to Miss Minnelli's defence. He was insisting that Miss Minnelli was not at all like Mr Duncan Smith. None of her youths was ever spotty. Nor had she weakened her policies to seek favour with the liberal media.

But mercifully, because I was here at home, I knew that the Minnelli-Duncan Smith comparison was to do with the steep price - £500 - for a ticket to a Conservative dinner at the Dorchester hotel at which Mr Duncan Smith would be the main attraction. Peterborough had quoted someone at Central Office as anonymously saying that they could imagine corporate types paying that much to hear Miss Minnelli, but not Mr Duncan Smith. Presumably, to Central Office, Miss Minnelli is the latest star. Who says the Tories are out of touch?

August is increasingly the time of party splits. Next year, there is bound to be another split between Lord Tebbit and whoever leads the Conservative party. For, to Lord Tebbit, no conceivable Conservative leader can return us to the first Norman age. Norman civilisation only declined under the second Norman chairman (Fowler). I doubt if I can ever go away in August again.

Mr Richard Perle, the American defence authority, urging (in the Daily Telegraph) war on Iraq, suggests that we could and should have made war on Hitler before we actually did (when he invaded Poland in 1939). Perhaps he is right. Certainly, what he said has been said constantly. In particular, the Munich Agreement - by which Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to cede its German-speaking region, the Sudetenland, to Hitler in 1938 - did not bring peace. A few of us, however, have always doubted whether going to war earlier than 1939 would have been possible or wise. The British government would have had little support for going to war when Hitler invaded the Rhineland in 1936, since the Rhineland was German and, as the left-wing Daily Herald said, Hitler was just going into 'his own backyard'. True, the French foreign minister, Flandin, came to London and urged war. But it is unlikely that he meant it. More likely, he was covering himself for the purposes of French public opinion. When war came, he had no difficulty in serving Vichy.

And 1938? War instead of Munich? Had we gone to war then, though the Czechs would have fought, their state would have been quickly overrun, and dismembered just as it eventually was by the spring of 1939. It is often forgotten that Hitler's allies at Munich, in seizing areas of Czechoslovakia, were Poland and Hungary. Slovaks, seeking their own state, were also intriguing against the Czechs. Hitler had plenty of non-German friends vis-