Lord Carey loses his pulpit

Among the few people mourning the sudden demise of the News of the World may well be the former Arch

For some years now, Lord Carey has taken advantage of the tabloid's distinguished columns to lament the moral decline of society, to warn readers of the threat posed by immigration and Islam, to bemoan the persecution of Christians by bureaucratic multiculturalists, to have the occasional dig at the Pope and subtly to undermine his successor Rowan Williams.

Who could forget, for example, his scandalised reaction to the mauling the Screws received at the hands of Max Mosley and Mr Justice Eady? According to Carey, the paper was absolutely right to expose Mosley's predilection for sadomasochistic sex games to the public gaze. In words that could almost have been ghost-written by Colin Myler, the archbishop feared that Eady's ruling would give carte blanche to depraved perverts everywhere.

It was "bad enough", thought Carey, that "without public debate or democratic scrutiny the courts have created a wholly new privacy law". More seriously from his point of view ("as a Christian leader") it was "deeply sad that public morality is the second victim of this legal judgement". Henceforth, he declared, "unspeakable and indecent behaviour, whether in public or in private" would no longer be considered "significant".

Carey seemed to have missed that the whole point of that ruling was that Mosley's privacy had been violated. His behaviour only became public courtesy of the newspaper in which he was writing. To Carey, though, there's no distinction between private and public morality. To think otherwise -- to imagine that what adults get up to in private should be their own business -- represented "a bleak, deeply-flawed "anything goes" philosophy", which was "dangerous and socially undermining, devoid of the basic, decent moral standards that form the very fabric of our society".

The same decent moral standards that kept the News of the World going for 168 years, I suppose.

Carey wasn't finished with Mosley. In March 2009, he wrote complaining at Gordon Brown's refusal to apologise for the financial crisis -- by contrast with David Cameron, who had "accepted the blame for his party's failure to warn of looming economic danger." Failure to apologise, he argued, was "a sign of a relationship in trouble." A particulary glaring example, he thought, was Mosley's appearance at the House of Commons Select Committee hearing into privacy law. The MPs had "feebly conceded the moral high ground and chuckled at his jokes." Not one had drawn attention to his "moral depravity" and "appalling behaviour". But then, he implied, politicians don't understand the concept of apology.

In October 2009, Carey chose Nick Griffin's infamous appearance on Question Time as an appropriate peg to hang an outspoken attack on the government's immigration policies. He denounced the BNP leader as "a squalid racist" who "must not be allowed to hijack one of the world's great religions" (a strange way for an archbishop to describe his own faith). But he then went on to put much of the blame for Griffin's prominence on the "cowardly failure of successive governments to address our open borders".

Carey went on to demand "clear caps on population growth" and an abandonment of "the discredited policy of multiculturalism". " Make no mistake about it," he thundered, "immigration MUST be a major item on next year's General Election agenda."

Of course, the suggestion that BNP's success (such as it is) can be attributed to mass immigration was scarcely new. Nor the idea that politicians have paid insufficient heed to voters' views on the subject. But it was striking that Carey devoted more of his piece to an assault on government policy than to his attack on Griffin for "hijacking" Christianity, which was rather perfunctory.

There was so much more that he might have said. He might have drawn attention to the great contribution made to his own church by immigrants such as the present archbishop of York John Sentamu, or (someone more of the Carey persuasion) Michael Nazir-Ali, who was bishop of Rochester at the time. He might have extolled the legacy of Martin Luther King, or explained how Christianity had been distorted in the past by the Ku Klux Klan and the architects of Apartheid. He might have reminded readers of Christ's teaching of "love thy neighbour", or mentioned the little-known fact that one of the earliest recorded archbishops of Canterbury was an African. He might, in short, have explained why he thought Nick Griffin was wrong to use the Christian history of Britain in his propaganda. Instead he chose to grouse about immigration. Bizarre.

Carey's career as a kind of ecclesiastical Littlejohn has continued this year. April saw him return to the theme of overpopulation as he called for "a government with a united, national sense of purpose... which is sadly and tragically lacking." Acknowledging that "Jesus himself was a refugee after his birth and his family received hospitality in Egypt", he nevertheless stressed that "there are limits".

"Last year I visited the Middle East, and when I returned I saw more women wearing burkhas in London than I saw in Jerusalem," he complained.

Carey did, however, have some words of praise for David Cameron's tough-talking, which he contrasted with Vince Cable's "defiant act of rebellion" in opposing a blanket cap on immigration. The "real extremists in our midst", he wrote, were not the BNP but "those advocating open borders and uncontrolled migration."

Just last month, Carey used his News of the World pulpit to denounce the "appalling world of bungs and favours" in international football. "As a lifelong lover of the game," he wrote, "I can't believe how low it has sunk. FIFA is mired in financial skulduggery with a stink from the top that affects every layer of the game." It was a "sleazy body" that "must be dragged into the open air."

If he ever had similar thoughts about the sleazy newspaper that helped him extend his own public career for so many years, he kept them to himself.

 

Belief, disbelief and beyond belief
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Nigel Farage's love for Dunkirk shows how Brexiteers learned the wrong lessons from WWII

Film has given Britain a dangerously skewed perspective on World War II

For months now it’s been hard to avoid the publicity for what seems like an epidemic of new World War Two films for 2017. June brought us Churchill (starring Brian Cox), which concerns Operation Overlord and the allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. A month later, in July we were pushed back four years, to Dunkirk, with Christopher Nolan’s film of the evacuation of Allied troops from French soil in the summer of 1940. April had already brought Their Finest, a comedy about making a - let us not let the irony go unacknowledged -  stirring film about the evacuation of Dunkirk in the event’s more or less immediate aftermath and November will bring us Darkest Hour, some events in which will predate all three earlier films, as Gary Oldman’s Churchill struggles through the earliest days of his war premiership.

This glut is peculiar. There are no significant round anniversaries to commemorate (e.g. Dunkirk is 77 years ago, the Normandy landings 73). More, we’re meant to be in the middle of a series of commemorations of the horror and waste of the Great War of 1914-18, but that seems to have slipped away from us in the political turmoil that’s engulfed this country since 2014. Instead, it’s to the Second World War we return yet again. To modern Britain’s founding myth.

It’s a coincidence, of course, that these films should come along together, and at a seemingly odd time. They were developed separately, and films takes so long to conceive and produce that no one could have anticipated them arriving together, let alone arriving in a toxic Brexit Britain where they seem like literally the least useful things for anyone in the UK to watch right now. As works that will inevitably, whatever their own creative intentions and merits, be hi-jacked by a press and political culture that is determined to gloss its opposition to the UK’s membership of the European Union, and its appalling mishandling of the process of exit with garbled references to, the conflict the films portray.

This is an impression that is not exactly dismissed by Nigel Farage posting to twitter of an image of himself standing next to the poster for Dunkirk, along with a statement in which he encourages all young people to see the film. For what reason, we’re entitled to wonder, does he make this encouragement? Does he admire the sound design? Or the aerial photography? Or is he just a big fan of Mark Rylance and Harry Styles? Or perhaps he is, inevitably, indulging in a behaviour that some might call "nostalgic"? Of pining for the past. Except, of course, nostalgia requires an element of pain. The suffix "algia" the same as employed when referring to chronic conditions. For Farage and his ilk there is no pain in this behaviour, just the most extraordinarily banal comfort.

Farage is asking us and asking the young who voted against his chosen cause by an overwhelming majority, and who are are sickened by where he and his ilk have brought us - to share in his indulgence. To enjoy, as he does, those fatuous analogies between the UK’s isolation between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbour with its imminent failures in European politics. To see that "escaping from Europe with nothing is at least better than not escaping at all". Or to believe, once again, in a "plucky little Britain, standing up against the might of a wicked mainland European tyranny, its back against the wall".

All this, confused, indeed nonsensical, as it is, is being invoked, as surely as the anti-EU right have always invoked Churchill. This is despite his own family recognising him, as the EU itself does, as the fervent pro-European he was. Indeed, he was one of the founding fathers of the whole post-war pan-European enterprise.

What Farage and his behaviour demonstrates, yet again, is that British culture, in many ways, learned not merely the wrong lessons from the war against Hitler, but exactly the wrong lessons. It’s a lesson that found its most enduring, poisonous expression in Margaret Thatcher’s breathtaking assertion that the European Union was a "third attempt" by Germany to take over the world.

In contrast to the rush of war films in cinemas, television has recently given us glimpses into theoretical worlds where Nazism did succeed in conquering the planet, in Amazon Prime’s The Man In The High Castle and BBC One’s SS-GB. There are lessons too, in these alternative histories, proper lessons that we have collectively failed to learn from the real one. Which is that fascism or authoritarianism are not diseases to which anglophone countries are somehow miraculously immune due to [insert misunderstood historical fetish of choice].

The Man in the High Castle, particularly in its more subtle first series, goes out of its way to show Americans that their lack of experience of collaboration with Nazi occupation is a result of circumstance, even luck. Not because collaboration is a peculiarly European tendency. SS-GB also worked hard to demonstrate the helplessness of occupation, and how that leads to the sheer ordinariness of collaboration. Both show the understanding that while fascism from the outside is funny accents and funny uniforms, fascism from the inside is your neighbours informing on you and the absence of the rule of law.

That experience of occupation, of subsequent complicity, and humiliation, felt by many other other European nations, is absent in Britain. Farage’s fellow Leaver Liam Fox, without anything resembling self-awareness, asserted that "the United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history". Fox’s remark summed up, again seemingly unintentionally, the oafishness of the principle Brexiteers. A group who exemplify a culture that boils a vast and unimaginably complex conflict down to the title sequence of Dad’s Army - an animation in which a Union Flag is forced off the European continent by a trio of Nazi triangles, and after returning home bobs around defiantly. A group who, in a strange and witless inversion, have fantasised themselves into a position where they see the Britain’s membership of the European Union as the occupation the country once avoided.

This is the UK’s postponed tragedy. At a timethat European countries experienced national humiliations which fundamentally reconfigured their understandings of their place in the world, the UK got yet another excuse to shout about how much better it was than everyone else.

I’m a child of the very late Seventies. I grew up in a world where (British) boys’ comics were dominated by war stories rather than science fiction or superheroes, where literally everyone knew several people who had fought in World War Two - and almost everyone someone who could remember World War One. That war was the ever-present past. I am, as a friend who teaches history neatly phrased it "Of the last post-war generation." After me, the generations are post-post-war. They are free. The moral clarity of the war against Hitler has, in the end, been a curse on British culture - a distorting mirror in which we can always see ourselves as heroes. 

But, not, of course, all other generations. The war generation collectively (I make no claim that there were not exceptions) understood what the war was. Which meant they understood that the European Union was, and is, its antonym, not an extension of it. Unlike their children and the eldest of their grandchildren, they had real experience of the conflict, they hadn’t just grown up surrounded by films about how great Britain was during it.

The Prime Minister who, or so he thought, had secured Britain’s European destiny had also, as he related in his autobiography, seen the devastation wrought by that conflict, including by shells he himself had given the order to be fired. Like Helmut Kohl, whose worshipped, conscripted older brother died pointlessly fighting for Hitler, and Francois Mitterrand, himself captured during the fall of France, his experience was real and lived, not second hand.

This can be seen even in the voting in 2016 referendum. That the young principally voted Remain and the old voted Leave has been often noted. But if you break that over-65 vote up further, there’s a substantial flip to back towards Remain amongst the oldest voters, the survivors of the survivors of World War Two. After all, someone who is 65 today was born nearly a decade after the war ended. It was their parents’ war, not their own. A war that has been appropriated, and for purposes of which those who fought in it would, collectively, not approve.

Let’s return to Dad’s Army, after all, BBC Two does often enough. Don’t Panic! The Dad’s Army Story (2000) a cheerful history of the sitcom great written and presented by Victoria Wood contains a telling juxtaposition of interviewees. The series' surprising continued popularity is discussed and Wendy Richard (born 1943) expresses a nostalgia for the war years, and how people banded together during them. This is a sentiment which Clive Dunn (born 1920) bluntly dismisses. “Like most people I had a foul war,” he says, and disgust and horror briefly pass across his face.

It’s the difference between those who remember war, and those who only remember war films.