One wedding which made me wonder how I'd behave in a war

Being a lefty, arty intellectual, part English, Polish, American, French and Jewish, I would have been wanted dead by Hitler six or seven times over. I bear this in mind as I arrive at one of many recent weddings.

As I might have mentioned before, among the nice things that have been happening lately is the fact that I have, thanks to relatives who are the right age, and friends of the Beloved, been getting invited to lots of weddings.

At my age, there is nothing bad about a wedding. Before I got married, going to the weddings of my contemporaries had something of the vibe of bomb disposal about it, or potential contagion: I wondered if my then girlfriend would let all the celebrations cause her to lose her mind and insist on a wedding of her own. To me.

Which wedding would be the one that would set off the unstoppable cascade of emotions? This far down the line, I can’t remember which one it was, so I just hold them all equally to blame.

These days, all a wedding means to me is, happily, an excuse to dress up (threepiece suit for autumn/winter, lightly crumpled linen for spring/summer, thus making effective use of the only two suits I possess) and get stuffed and hammered at someone else’s expense.

But the latest one fills me with a certain trepidation, for it is a military wedding, and one of the Beloved’s friends is marrying a flight lieutenant.

At this point I can imagine what you’re thinking. “Ah, that conchie Lezard is going to express his misgivings about the armed forces, and his guilt at having anything to do with the oppressive military-industrial complex and the forces of Babylon, etc.” At which point I will have to gently disabuse you and say that I am afraid the problem lies entirely in the opposite direction.

I remember vividly the fat-bottomed historian Andrew Roberts* once calling me a conchie live on air, saying that I would not have fought in the Second World War. The comeback that instantly sprang to mind was too incendiary to say (“My dear chap, I’m sure that you would not have hesitated to volunteer; only I’m not sure for which side”), so all I could do was seethe.

I most certainly would not have sat that war out. Being a lefty, arty intellectual, part English, Polish, American, French and Jewish, I would have been wanted dead by Hitler six or seven times over, and I am very glad indeed that when I learned German it was because I wanted to, and not because it was compulsory. Not, of course, that I would have been able to learn it compulsorily, because, as my private-school peers were keen to remind me, I was “good enough for the ovens”.

So when I get up close to the military, I am very mindful of the fact that their predecessors put their lives on the line for the likes of me, and I’m very happy that members of my family did what they could, too. (My gambling-mad great-uncle Lizzie parachuted behind enemy lines to see what he could learn from his old croupier pals, became known as “the man who broke his back at Monte Carlo” and was tended to full recovery by the French Resistance. Another great-uncle actually was a conscientious objector, but did his bit by volunteering to be a pathfinder: that is, flying, unarmed, ahead of a bomber formation in order to guide it to target. That takes some balls. Amazingly, he survived.) Things are made worse by the fact that this is going to be a proper RAF wedding: ceremony at St Clement Danes, reception at the Honourable Artillery Company, the works. Even the groom’s father is an army chaplain. So I’m very worried that I am going to get drunk and start gushing, or worse. “Try and stay sober, Lezard,” I say to myself, as I try to remember how you tie a tie.

Oh well. Even before alcohol touches my lips, I am unmanned. RAF St Clement Danes (as it is officially called) bursts with history; officers form an arch of swords for bride and groom to walk through; the bells play “Oranges and Lemons”; and every single person on the top deck of every single bus that passes swivels their head to gawp at the scene.

A lump forms in my throat and I seem to have something in my eye. The Beloved sees me, excited as a seven-year-old, and says: “You’re a crap pacifist.”

*Legal note: I gather that, since this exchange, Andrew Roberts has undertaken some kind of slimming regime and his rear end is no longer so adipose. But believe me, at the time these remarks were made, it was the size of Wales

Military weddings come in many forms. Image: Getty

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Should you bother to vote?

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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