Nearly a week after the event, my wife and I are still recovering from a family party to mark our 60th wedding anniversary. The oldest guest present for the event was my 89-year-old brother and the youngest was our great-grandson Henry, who is almost three years old. Including two of my wife’s carers and our housekeeper, we numbered about 20, plus, to Henry’s delight, two dogs.
It was hard going for my wife, who suffers from Lewy body dementia, and has little memory of most events between last week and her childhood years. She made a magnificent effort to recognise everyone, but remains exhausted and confused after the struggle. As for me, I know the way to the bottle bank well enough, but I remain puzzled by how to dispose of all the balloons and decorations in an ecologically virtuous fashion.
In the midst of celebrating our anniversary, I found myself reflecting a good deal on the changes I have seen since we married in 1956. One thing that stands out is the scale of the benefits brought by technology – everything from dishwashers to safer and cheaper air travel, unhappily balanced by the curse of the “social media”.
By and large, however, I feel that I have lived in better and more rational times than our great-grandson Henry is likely to experience. On the other hand, perhaps that is just part of nature’s way to reconcile us to the end of our lives.
I did not make it to Birmingham to judge the impact of Prime Minister May and her ministers at first hand. That is partly because I try to avoid leaving my wife more than I need, as the combination of age worsening her physical disabilities, inflicted in 1984 by the Sinn Fein/IRA terrorists (so admired by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell), and her growing dementia places a heavy load on our team of nurses and carers.
To be truthful, it is no hardship to miss a party conference. For me, there will be nothing ever again like organising, as chairman of the Conservative Party, the 1986 conference as the base from which Margaret Thatcher’s third consecutive election victory was won. After that, any other would be anticlimactic.
I was struck by the shrinking number of local party representatives at the conference, which mirrors the fall in grass-roots membership. No more can the Tories fill the great halls of Blackpool and Brighton. To a large extent, that reflects social change.
When my wife and I married and set up home in Hemel Hempstead, the Conservative Association annual dinner and dance was a great event in our social calendar. Frankly, there was not much competition, other than from the bingo hall.
In those days my party, like Labour, could number our foot soldiers fighting election campaigns on the doorstep in the millions. Now, I worry that unless the current party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, builds some firm defences, the Conservative Party in the country could be taken over in the way that Labour has been hijacked by Trots, Marxists and delusionals.
Wildness in the West
I was back in the House of Lords this week, where there was much discussion of whether the forces of the pro-Brussels establishment there might risk a kamikaze attack on Mrs May’s Great Repeal Bill. Not only would that risk playing into the hands of the Corbynista junta in the Labour Party, which has no use for an unelected House (nor perhaps for an elected one), but it could force the Prime Minister to call a general election.
Many of my Labour friends, and not just those from the Jewish community, are in despair, particularly at the appointment of Shami Chakrabarti as shadow attorney general. There is terrible disarray in the leadership of major Western political parties, with Trump and Clinton in America, poor Angela Merkel in Germany and Mr Corbyn here at home. I pray that Mrs May is immune to the sickness.
Good seed on the land
The thought of prayer turns my mind to the harvest festival service at our cathedral of St Edmundsbury. Under the leadership of the dean, Frances Ward (a woman who has brought me to favour female clergy), those engaged in farming come from all over Suffolk to celebrate a harvest safely gathered in. One does not have to be particularly religious to respect and enjoy the cathedral and its contribution to our town. Which reminds me that it is time St Edmund was restored to his rightful post as patron saint of England. After all, what did St George ever do for England? Another cause to uphold!
Band of brothers
On Thursday it’s time for another bout of nostalgia at the annual lunch of my old Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron, No 604,
the County of Middlesex. The Auxiliary Air Force was founded in the 1930s to build our reserve capacity, and the motto of 604 says it all: Si vis pacem para bellum, or “If you want peace, prepare for war”. After fighting through the Second World War, it was briefly disbanded in 1945 and then, as Prime Minister Attlee recognised the threat from Soviet Russia, it was re-embodied as the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
I was not yet 21 years old when I was accepted as a pilot, still wet behind the ears from my training and one of the first to come through following Attlee’s plan to rebuild the reserves. Under the tutelage of hardened veterans, I grew up flying Meteor single-seat jet fighters to become one of a band of brothers with implicit trust in one another. We often flew in pairs of aircraft tucked close, wing tips only a couple of feet apart. We were front-line squadrons and ready to fight, but we all had civilian jobs so we flew mostly at weekends.
There are not many of us left, reliving those days of fun, excitement, danger, life and sudden death. Just a few old men in our eighties who will soon be gone.
Norman Tebbit is a Conservative peer and was a cabinet minister from 1981-87
This article appears in the 12 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge