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Who's getting to Blair?

Tony Blair took a tremendous walloping in last month's Euro Elections, and there is no doubt that public dissatisfaction over Europe had a great deal to do with this. We should not get too carried away over this, however. The Prime Minister's stock has been falling steadily over issues ranging over a much more general front. The war in Iraq, and the casualties being incurred in the following occupation, have played their part in this. Government lies over Iraq and so much else have invited public disgust and contempt - not least the lies over immigration, which has forced its way back to the top of the political agenda. Then there is disillusionment over pensions, council taxes, schools, hospitals and transport: just about everything that New Labour touches it reduces to shambles. The disaster in the Euro poll was one just waiting to happen, for a number of reasons.

But does this tide of public anger have any sobering effect on our Tone? It would seem not! Hardly was the ink dry on the ballot papers which delivered to the Premier a massive vote of no-confidence on Europe than he was over in Brussels at the EU summit meeting as good as signing up to the new Constitution, with just a few crossed 't's and dotted 'i's being argued about - points of detail over which no doubt there will be fresh concessions just as soon as Blair thinks he can get away with them. Common policies in foreign affairs, defence, criminal justice, the economy and immigration are all basic to the Constitution. Blair claims that he has won the right for Britain to impose vetoes in some of these areas, but as he has surrendered so many vetoes in the past, this claim is worth virtually nothing.

As a token of just how much opposition Blair's Euro policy has stirred up in the country, a new rebel group of some hundred back-bench Labour MPs has now been established in Westminster, sworn to torpedo his plans for a European super-state.

Tony Blair is a politician. All politicians, virtually without exception, are dedicated to their own career interests, their jobs, their offices and their public standing - over and above any consideration for the good of their country. And Blair certainly is not one of the rare exceptions.

For some time now, whether it be on Iraq, immigration or Europe, Mr. Blair has been acting in a way that defies all common sense when seen from this standpoint: the standpoint of what is good for him as Prime Minister and Labour leader. He seems bent on cutting his own political throat.

Which can only lead us to ask again the question we have asked more than once in the past: What is it that has taken hold of Tony Blair to steer him along these self-destructive paths? Is there some strange esoteric power that has control of him and directs him, like a guided missile, towards decisions not only disastrous to Britain but, more pertinently still, disastrous to himself.

Who is getting to Tony? And how - and why?

D-Day: 60 years on

Services of commemoration of those who gave their all in World War II always leave one on the horns of a dilemma. A great deal of heroism was shown by the men who stormed the Normandy beaches, although of course there were cases of cowardice as well. It is necessary to the amour propre of every nation that it highlights the first and plays down the second, that it feels good about itself with regard to the record of its soldiery. That holds good for Britons, Americans, Russians, French and - yes - Germans.

Looking at the veterans who attended the 60th anniversary of the invasions last month, one was struck by the thought that, on the whole, they represented the finest of British manhood - a better generation, one is tempted to say, than the ones that have followed them, although the latter contain many admirable exceptions, of whom the liberators of the Falklands were an example.

But that natural respect should not prevent us asking a number of critical questions about D-Day and the larger war of which it was part. Do we still deceive ourselves that the Normandy battles were the decisive ones in that conflict? In fact they were mere side-shows by comparison with the ones fought on the Eastern front, such as at Stalingrad and Kursk. The war was won and lost in the titanic conflict between the forces of Hitler and Stalin. This is not to diminish the men who took part in the D-Day landings, only to achieve some historical perspective.

In addition to this, people must be reminded that the Allies in the West, like the Soviets in the East, enjoyed a very heavy preponderance over the Germans in both numbers and weapon power, particularly in the air. From the launching of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Germans were always fighting against overwhelming odds. Even at the time of the invasion of France in 1940 their numbers were inferior to those of the Franco-British forces.

Does all this really matter? Yes it does, because over the past 60 years there has for ever been a political dimension introduced into the discussion of Second World War history, and that dimension was glaringly present in the coverage of the D-Day celebrations last month. Not content with paying respects just to the brave men of that generation, our historians and journalists have persisted in reading into their courage and their sacrifices proof of some kind of superior virtue in the systems, ideologies and leaders for which and for whom they went to war; some kind of 'moral' message that rises above mere military valour and puts a special stamp on the proceedings. We find this distasteful and not in keeping with the true spirit of soldierly chivalry. When survivors of a hard-fought conflict get together long afterwards, their main thoughts are of the comradeship between them: between those still living and between the living and the dead; of their good luck in being still alive to remember and tell the tale; and - dare it be said - of the respect they had for their adversaries, who also contained their share of the bold, the brave and the noble. Such remembrance is cheapened by the obsession of politicians and professional scribblers with introducing divisions between 'good guys' and 'bad guys', somehow investing those who fought on the opposite side with less honour than they deserve.

Soldiers do not think much about these things; politicians and scribblers think of little else, and they degrade what should be ceremonies of dignity, pride and thankfulness.

And all that is a reason why World War II, and to a lesser extent World War I, are elevated by politicians and media to a status far out of proportion to their actual positions in British history - a history in which Blenheim, Quebec, Trafalgar and Waterloo represented much more important milestones in the rise of our nation from small island to great power. The establishment feels compelled constantly to exploit heroism on the battlefield to drive home its message of self-justification, to remind everyone of the victory of 'right' over 'wrong' instead simply of that of Britain over its enemies.

And we must speak here of enemies on the battlefield: the men who, through the quirks of fate and by the decisions of their rulers, were thrown together as adversaries for a brief historical moment and obliged to kill each other by order: something very different from natural enemies representing inevitably conflicting interests.

One of the uncomfortable truths about World War II - especially hard to bear for those of us in Britain - is that the war was widely unpopular in this country, particularly by comparison with the one which preceded it 25 years earlier. Far more people than will ever be admitted were unconvinced that we had any good reason to fight Germany a second time. One consequence of this was that servicemen's instinct of self-preservation was somewhat stronger than it had been on the Somme and at Ypres, and that this resulted in less than heroic behaviour on the part of some individuals and units. In the First War, by 1918 we British had got our act together and were near to fully punching our weight; in the Second War we never really did so, though there were certainly instances of great valour on the part of many fighting men and regiments, and it is right to salute these and remember them.

Judging things by overall military performance, Britain cannot look back upon World War II as a demonstration of the national superiority on which we were so fond of congratulating ourselves at the time, and still do today; in fact that performance revealed deep flaws in our political leadership, our military command, our industrial machine, our political and social system and our way of life. Those flaws, far from being corrected in the ensuing years, have only become worse. We simply would not be fit to mount a Normandy invasion today, and there is little consolation in the thought that today neither would our erstwhile enemies be fit to oppose it.

It would therefore be much better if we were to commemorate these past battles in a somewhat lower key, paying respect to the men who fought well (on both sides), but not using the occasion to glorify a system which in fact was found wanting in many of the essentials of national capability.

Above all, we should learn to view the conflicts between Anglo-Celt and Teuton, whatever their outcomes, not as causes for celebration, but as devastating racial tragedies - slaughters of the best, as preludes to a world takeover by the worst.

Britain is not ready to see things in this way. When she is it will be a sign that we are on the road to better times.

The moral high ground?

While we are on the subject of World War II, we should mention an item of interest which appeared in The Sunday Times on the 20th June. This referred to 'dirty tricks' operations carried out by the British Foreign office during the war. Headed "British 'sex bombs' hit Nazi morale", the story stated that researches at the national archives at Kew had revealed the work of a special intelligence unit of the FO, run by Sefton Delmer, a tabloid journalist. The unit's speciality was concocting scandalous rumours about German and other Axis personnel designed to spread alarm and despondency and depress morale. Obscene postcards were dropped over the German lines spreading wholly fictitious stories such as one which alleged that SS troops had assembled the 'perfect Aryan girl' from the legs, arms and torsos of air-raid victims. Tales were spread about foreign workers sleeping with German soldiers' wives. One picture put around showed a black farm labourer having sex with a German hausfrau. Drawings were circulated showing the sons of German soldiers being raped by male Hitler Youth leaders, and wives having lesbian sex because they were 'lonely'.

This vile propaganda, bereft of the smallest grain of truth, was so bad that it even disgusted some British leaders at the time. Stafford Cripps, a member of Churchill's Government, tried to get it stopped but got nowhere, and it continued until the end of the war. Lies and dishonesty, combined with the most revolting pornography, were thought quite permissible if they served the purpose of defeating Hitler.

All this, it is worth remembering, was coming from the side that considered itself to be occupying the moral high ground in the conflict. It invites the question: If these fabrications are now being acknowledged, how much more fabrication - as yet not acknowledged - was employed in the propaganda of Britain and her allies in the war to make the world safe for 'democracy'?

Faces of Britain, 2004

What can be said of the appalling hooliganism of English football fans in Portugal that has not already been said more than once in these columns in the past? It is all very well to claim that the hooligans were a minority among the fans but the fact is that no other country in Europe produces comparable minorities. Again and again it is the Brits, mostly the English, who behave obectionably across the continent, whether they are there to watch football matches or simply to holiday.

There is a deep sickness in this country which sermons from journalists and politicians clearly do nothing to eradicate. It seems that only a social and cultural revolution which restore national pride, discipline and self-restraint will ever suffice. May the day soon dawn when this happens. In the meantime we can only expect more of the same.

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