|On a Wasted Life||Ian Buckley on Alan Clark's Diaries and mainstream politics|
Harold Macmillan once commented that Tory Governments, formerly full of Etonians, were now full of Estonians. Alan Clark, however, was one of the last of the old Etonians, and his Diaries form one of the best glimpses of the real workings of politics and the transformation of the Tory Party indicated by the Macmillan quote.
Perhaps not all of the contents of the two volumes of Diaries are wholly truthful. To journalist Frank Johnson, Alan Clark is supposed to have said that:-
The Guardian luvvies who get worked up about this sort of statement must presumably have never heard of the colloquialism 'wind-up'. Still, surely all will give their assent to one part of the statement at least: a disaster has indeed befallen the Anglo-Saxon races since 1945. In Britain a large part of that disaster, ironically enough, was created, or at best tolerated, by Clark's own party. "Throne, Altar and Cottage" have long since given way in that quarter to big money and spivy car or currency dealers.
Saw Tories as ridiculous
Clark was at least enough honest to admit that all the Tory claims to have halted the decline of Britain were frankly ridiculous, stating in one passage that, after several years in office, most things were worse than before the Tories started off.
When Jaguar was going under in 1986, he plaintively commented in his diary: "But what can we do? We just don't have the industrial or financial firepower any longer."
But contrary to Clark's contention, the real problem was, and remains, lack of will. Britain has been quite capable of mobilising itself for war, even if those wars were in general against its real national interests.
Though Clark had good friends among the trade union types of the Labour Party (ante phoney Tony) who appreciated his advocacy of protection, he was observant enough to realise that for all the lip-service to idealism, the same rules apply with Labour as the Tories:-
Any wonder then, given the limited mental horizons of these half-baked careerists, that the country sinks lower and lower? After coming back from Macmillan's memorial service, Clark jotted down the following memorable remark: "When Macmillan enlisted, Britain was at the height of her dominion and power... Now look at us - and them!"
Theme of decadence
From Clark's biting satire and 'factory' language, directed (mostly) against his own colleagues on the Tory benches, we gain the impression of a gang of inadequates being let loose on a wrecking spree. The Diaries' underlying theme seems to be of decadence and decay. Clark was obsessed by his own health, and compared a government post to purgatory or a prison sentence. He was at least sensible enough to prefer ogling pretty secretaries to concentrating on endless seminars or Japanese 'Inward Investment' and such like. But this adds to the feeling that Clark always kept the mentality of an over-indulged upper-class student.
That said, he deserved credit for being one of the first 'orthodox' politicians to question the raison d'être of NATO after the disappearance of the Soviet threat - always assuming that such a threat existed in the first place.
Clark learned early on the odd ways of the inhabitants of the dusty 'corridors of power'. The head of the Civil Service, Sir Robert Armstrong, asked to see him for an interview. Armstrong portentously warned Clark that, if the National Front should try to make contact: "You must inform my office immediately."
It is, of course, beyond the comprehension of civil servants like Armstrong to realise that while he and his ilk have been playing the inquisitor or witch-finder with people who hold alternative political views, their own labours have brought forth a crime-ridden, drug-addicted, poverty-stricken failure of a country, racked by ethnic and other conflicts. Truly, it would seem that these senior civil servants inhabit the cosy, smug, self-satisfied world of the Officer's Club on the Titanic!
This is well illustrated by one of Clark's own anecdotes:-
Alan Clark, too, was good at cutting through the pretence and public relations idiocies that present-day governments love to indulge in:-
Overall, the Clark Diaries are a rewarding but ultimately sombre read, since the work is permeated by a sense of the failure of will of even the healthier elements in the 'establishment'. In addition, Clark stressed the unwieldy and antiquated nature of the government machinery itself.
As Clark himself finally came to realise, a career in the so-called mainstream parties is nothing more than a waste of time - and of life:-
Diaries, by Alan Clark. Hardback £20.00 (Weidenfeld & Nicholson); paperback obtainable online at £7.19 from www.amazon.co.uk.