ConHome Diary: Hitler, Hitler, Hitler
7 Apr 2017 at 13:23
Helen Szamuely, who died this week, wasn’t famous, but she should have been. She was a Brexiteer years before the word Eurosceptic was even invented. Her work in the broader Eurosceptic movement was vital to making the case for leaving the European Union. I first met her when I was running Politico’s. She loved to come in and shoot the breeze and discuss the latest ups and downs in the Westminster world. She loathed elected politicians and viewed them as a hindrance. Her perspective on the EU came from her own background, which she rarely spoke about. Born in Moscow and the daughter of an intellectual, she moved to this country as a child. Her English was faultless but there was always a trace of an accent. Freedom was her watchword, and it was the prism through which she saw everything. Her writing on Eastern Europe and Russia was incisive and ground-breaking, yet somehow she was never recognised for her work. Helen was a difficult character in some ways. Difficult to work with, she was an individualist who was certainly prone to the odd flounce. She succeeded me as editor of the Conservative History Journal but it has to be said that she and I had rather different interpretations of the word ‘deadline’! I shall miss her infectious laugh and cheeky nature. She loved a good gossip and although I hadn’t seen her much in recent years it was always good to catch up when we ran into each other. Peter North knew her far better than me and has written this marvellous tribute HERE [add link http://peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/helen-szamuely.html ]. My thoughts go to her daughter Katharine, who was devoted to Helen, who in turn was so proud of her offspring. I know it’s a cliché, but Helen will be greatly missed by all who knew her. And if the Eurosceptic movement awarded honours for contribution to the cause, Helen ought to be awarded a retrospective peerage.
Labour’s latest vote catching policy is to propose that all primary school children should get free school meals. It’s one of those motherhood and apple pie policies that is quite difficult to argue against. It is likely to cost £1.2 billion and will, according to the Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, be funded by putting VAT onto private school fees. This policy was last proposed by Labour in the 1983 Labour manifesto, the most left wing in its history. I have no idea how many people who send a child to a private school is a Labour voter, but this policy ought to reduce that number to close to zero. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the type of people who send their kids to private schools. Yes, rich people do. But there are thousands of normal people who do so too, who scrimp and save in order to give their children the best education possible. Putting VAT on school fees will add between £2k and £6k to their bills. It may be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.
I’ve done quite a bit of coverage on my radio show this week of the Prime Minister’s trip to the Middle East, especially to Saudi Arabia. On Monday I interviewed a documentary maker called James Jones. He has made a film called ‘SAUDI ARABIA UNCOVERED’. I hadn’t seen it when I interviewed him but I watched it on Youtube on the train home that night. I so wish Theresa May had been able to watch it before she set foot in Riyadh. It’s certainly an eye-opener, especially about the way women are treated in the Kingdom. Have a watch. You’ll be horrified and tell all your friends about it.
I suspect Michael Howard has spent the week metaphorically kicking himself. Not known for his loose lips approach to interviews, he appeared to suggest that if Spain didn’t back off Gibraltar Theresa May might well decide to go to war, in the same way that Margaret Thatcher had over the Falklands. Well, that’s what his words were interpreted as saying. What he was trying to do was point out that May has the same level of resolve as Thatcher. I suspect as the words came out of his mouth he was thinking to himself “Hmmm, maybe I could have phrased that better…”. We’ve all done it. He may not be a member of the government, but as a former party leader his words are obviously taken very seriously. The reaction was totally over the top, but that’s the media world we live in. Misspeak in a live interview and repent at your leisure.
Not easy being a West Ham fan at the moment… A bit like being a Shadow Cabinet member…
I’ve known Ken Livingstone for many years. We agree on very little but I’ve always liked him, always enjoyed talking to him. He was a good colleague on LBC for many years. But he really has gone off the rails on anti-semitism. It’s as if he can’t help himself. Why is no one advising him to stop doing interviews which inevitably make things worse? Why didn’t Labour’s disciplinary panel make it a condition of his rather to lenient suspension that he mustn’t do any more interviews on the subject? Unfortunately Ken has developed a form of Tourettes on this issue and he simply cannot resist mentioning the word Hitler. In a 13 minute interview with me on Wednesday afternoon he mentioned Hitler twelve times. I know, because I could see people on Twitter counting the mentions as the interview progressed. Not a good place to be.