Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Peter Wilby: Her Majesty’s Nazi salute, the left’s gut feelings and Corbyn’s Foot problem

Do no Harman.

The footage of the Queen, as a six- or seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth, giving a Nazi salute in the 1930s cannot be dismissed as mere playing around. She had no idea what the Nazis stood for but her parents, the future George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and her uncle, then the prince of Wales and later Edward VIII, certainly did. Most Britons probably regarded Hitler as a somewhat comical figure, rather as they regard Kim Jong-un now, but the royal family and the prince in particular – whom Hitler later regarded as a potential figurehead of a collaborationist regime – may have been in earnest.

The royal family moved in aristocratic circles and, even now, few people understand the extent of pro-Nazi sympathies among the British upper classes of the 1930s. Most of us associate the period with working-class hunger but members of the aristocracy believed themselves to be in equal distress. With death duties at 50 per cent, their great estates seemed doomed and, if communist ideas took hold, their demise would have been greatly hastened. Since aristocrats’ patriotism depended on their continuing to own the country, many had no problem about flirting with treachery.

Like their German counterparts, to whom they had close links, British aristocrats considered Hitler a bulwark against communism. Before his career as a Soviet spy in the British secret services, Kim Philby joined the Anglo-German Fellowship, formed in 1935. Its members included Lord Redesdale, the Fascist sympathiser and father-in-law of Oswald Mosley, and Lord Brocket, a guest at Hitler’s 50th birthday celebrations. Philby knew that membership would put his credentials as “one of us” beyond question.

Given that she grew up among people willing to go to any lengths to protect their privileges, I suppose it is a miracle that Elizabeth II turned out as well as she did. We’d be foolish to rely on further miracles.


No privacy by appointment

Where the Queen is at fault – or, at least, where her advisers err – is in believing that she can reasonably expect to keep an eight-decades-old family film out of the public domain. The royals are not private citizens. Because the monarch’s position as head of state rests on hereditary entitlement, even royal sex lives and child-rearing practices are matters of public interest. Thanks to their palaces, estates and legions of servants, the Queen and her family have more privacy than most of us. They should, however, have no legal right to private lives; news­papers, broadcasters and historians should be allowed to publish what they discover.

Besides, if the clips are so private, why are they in something called an “archive” and not gathering dust in a forgotten box of junk, as most people’s old home movies and family photographs are?


First, do no Harman

The trouble with the left, we are frequently told, is that it deals too much in abstract concepts and not enough in gut emotions. So, allow me to engage my gut. It strikes me as shameful that, among 650 well-paid and comfortable MPs who have just got a 10 per cent pay rise, only 124 voted against a Tory bill that proposes to take money away from people, including children, who are infinitely worse off than they are. I am thankful that a few Labour MPs dared to join Nationalists and Liberal Democrats in the “No” lobby. Harriet Harman’s argument that because Labour lost the election it should abandon all opposition to welfare cuts is preposterous. Labour lost because it put its case badly. It should resolve to do a better job next time, not abandon its principles.


Surviving No 10

My gut also tells me that, since Jeremy Corbyn’s views are closer to mine than those of any other Labour leadership candidate, I should be thrilled by his 17-point YouGov poll lead. Even if I believe the figures, however, I have two problems. First, Corbyn is 66; if he fought an election in May 2020 he would be a year older than Michael Foot was when he lost in 1983. Voters would question his capacity to survive five years in Downing Street. Second, a Labour leader needs a supple mind, a willingness to compromise, a reassuring manner and a capacity to present the party’s policies in a way that gives them wide appeal. I fear that Corbyn lacks such qualities.


Northern fiction

My holiday reading this year included ­Jonathan Freedland’s The 3rd Woman and, on Kindle, D T Kiernan’s Barnsley Boys. Both are thrillers, which I do not often read, but one author is a fellow hack, the other a former schoolmate, and I regard it as a duty of solidarity to follow their work. Freedland’s is the more politically correct novel, as you’d expect from a Guardian columnist; he puts a superwoman journalist in the leading role and portrays most male characters as corrupt or deluded. Nevertheless, I preferred Kiernan’s because nearly all of his characters are working-class northerners, many speaking in Yorkshire dialect.

Perhaps my reading isn’t wide enough but since the days of John Braine and Stan Barstow such figures seem to have become an endangered species in English fiction.


Natural-born cricketers

Sport plays strange tricks with one’s emotions. Now the selectors have dropped Gary Ballance, born in Zimbabwe, for his Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow, born in Bradford, following the calamitous English defeat in the second Test at Lord’s, we are very close to an England team whose members were actually born in England. The only non-English player left is Ben Stokes, a New Zealander who came here at 12. Over the past 50 years, the England cricket team has rarely been without exiled South ­Africans, Australians, Zimbabweans, West Indians and others. In immigration debates, I am on the extreme liberal wing. Yet I shall feel more comfortable with an all-English (or nearly all-English) team. Perhaps my gut isn’t so left-wing after all. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 22 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage