Hot on the heels of dispatching the left-wing myths around the Falklands, despite being a man of the Left myself, I now turn to the issue of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris.

I was involved in a discussion online in which a man who seemed generally thoughtful and sensible said that Sir Arthur should have been on trial at Nuremberg.

I remember in my far-left days hating Sir Arthur myself. Then something odd happened. In 1992, a statue of him was unveiled, and ridiculous dilettante rich-boy anarchist group Class War turned up to brand Sir Arthur a butcher. They called the old men who turned up to honour him murderers.

Even though still on the revolutionary left, I found this heart-breaking. These old men had gone up in tin cans and flown over Nazi Germany while being shot at. They lost many of their friends. Their bravery is beyond question. And they revered Sir Arthur because he was their commander.

I admired these old veterans, but still thought Sir Arthur was monstrous. So I pondered, what makes such a man tick? How could he be so cruel? How could he be so much less of a great man than the likes of other RAF air marshals of World War II.

So I studied the books written by men who’d actually put years of effort into answering those questions. The reality did not sit well with my beliefs.

Sir Arthur, like most air marshals of the War, learned his craft in the war we’re now commemorating the centenary of. It wasn’t what he wanted to be doing with his life, but the country he loved needed him, so he fought.

We, living in our luxurious freedoms and safety, cannot imagine the life of a World War I fighter or bomber pilot. Parachutes were forbidden, for fear of causing cowardice. So a man would climb into a Heath-Robinson contraption made of wood and string and bits of tick-tacky, with a single engine which was apt to cut out randomly, and go thousands of feet into the air to be shot at.

After the War, Sir Arthur intended to return to Africa. He didn’t think his wife would like it so he stayed,, but with doubts. He tendered his resignation in 1922 but was talked out of it.

Up the ranks he climbed. And Harris developed an idea. Before he switched to the Royal Flying Corp (which became the RAF), Harris had the experience fighting with infantry in South West Africa, marching for endless miles through the desert. He saw men die, he saw men in agony. He went literally to Hell.

And then he had to write letters to clueless civilians back home. “Dear Mrs Atkins, I regret to inform you your only son Tommy was killed in action. He died a hero’s death, saving his friends, and it was swift and painless.”  I imagine countless officers writing countless letters like that and sparing the bereaved mother the truth that her son died a slow agonising death and shat and pissed himself while screaming for his mother.

Harris had an idea that could prevent all that. It’s hard to imagine an age before the heavy bomber but that was the age Harris learned to fly in. The Great War version of bombing was a chap dropping a jam-jar of cordite out of a biplane.

Aircraft technology had moved on in leaps and bounds. The heavy bomber had arrived. But it had not been used in a war, until the Spanish Civil War started in 1936. Meanwhile, conventional thinking across the Great Powers was still that battleships were the key weapons.

Harris had a different idea. Just flatten the enemy from the air, and no man has to wade into a muddy trench aiming a rifle. Harris believed in carpet-bombing not because he was cruel and heartless, but because he wanted to save the Poor Bloody Infantry, and artillery.

Harris watched the Spanish Civil War carefully. It saw the first carpet-bombing of a city. This did not go unnoticed by the citizenry in Britain, and a panic equivalent to the Cold War fear of Mutually Assured Destruction set in. Dystopian visions of Britain being bombed entirely out of existence sold well. People were afraid.

Harris was not afraid. He believed that when the inevitable war with Germany came, to borrow a phrase, it would all be over Christmas. If the Government would provide the funds for him to build a big enough bomber fleet, he could win the war purely by bombing.

Harris turned out to be incorrect, but he had no way to know that, given there was no war like World War II until World War II. And the signs looked good. One of the turning points in military history was, as I noted before, when the most advanced battleship in the world was doomed by an obsolete biplane.

One thing I noticed when I used to obsessively study the biographies of German generals when I was a teenager, was that all but the most fanatical Nazis believed by 1944 there would be a political solution to the War. They knew they would lose, and envisioned a Versailles Treaty Mark II.

It was a view popular with the Allies too. Even though Churchill and Stalin had demanded an unconditional surrender, it seemed hard to believe Hitler would have Germany totally destroyed in a cause already lost.

This reinforced Harris’ view that we needed to press harder with the bombing. Another big push and surely Germany would see sense.

On top of which, the strategic bombing was having a massive effect. There’s a leftist myth that the bombing just burned civilians and didn’t further the war effort really. It’s nonsense.

Harris actually did win the War, in a way. Germany had invented the super-weapon Hitler kept day-dreaming of. It was a new type of submarine far more advanced than anything yet seen. Unlike all other submarines of the time, it was not dependent on combustion engines, which mean a submarine must surface for air. It had closed fuel cells and could move submerged for long periods at previously unheard of speeds for a submarine,

Being clever and industrious, the Germans realised that rather than building the submarines whole in one go, it would be more efficient to have specialised factories each building a specific segment of the boat, and then put the bits on trains and weld them together on the slipway.

It was a stroke of genius. But Harris’ men put paid to it. They bombed the factories and they bombed the railways. And it only needed one link in the chain – a factory making the bow section, or a railway line taking them to the port – to be out of action and the whole system would break down. Without the bombing, these boats would have entered service possibly in time to tip the balance in the Battle of the Atlantic, and we’d have lost the War.

And then we come to another leftist myth I used to believe wholeheartedly, which was that the carpet-bombing in 1945 was wanton massacre of innocent civilians for no military purpose as the war was all but over.
I’ve read war diaries from senior officers from early 1945 expressing doubt the War would end by 1946.

Progress had been rapid since D-Day, but the Battle of the Bulge was so devastating that some Allied generals expressed fears Germany would turn the tide (even though that was not really possible by then). At least one general even worried that the War would degenerate into guerrilla warfare, dragging on into the 1950s.

So Harris believed more bombing would help bring an end to the War. And in that he was correct. We all know the story of the horror of Dresden. It truly was a tragedy of epic proportions, It was heart-breaking. I knew a survivor of it. She lost her entire family and was a broken human being her whole life. There’s no doubt that German cities suffered in ways British survivors of German bombing could barely imagine.

But there were German forces trying to regroup in the area and manufacturing facilities making vital war materiel. So Harris’ men flattened the city, and the European War ended in May rather August, which saved many Allied lives.

What I find ironic about my former beliefs is that when I was on the far left, we held the British Government accountable for IRA murders. This was on the grounds that Irishmen wouldn’t volunteer for the IRA if the British Government wasn’t occupying their land.

And yet at the same time we held Harris responsible for the deaths at Dresden. There is only one man in uniform responsible for the tragedy at Dresden. He is Adolf Hitler.

Immediately after the War, much remorse set in among British people and luminaries, about the bombing. But in a repulsive act of betrayal, Harris was blamed. He was snubbed. He was the only man of his rank and stature not to get a baronetcy or peerage in the 1940s.

He was looked on as a pariah. He was bitter about this and left Britain to go back to farming in Africa, and swore never to return to Britain.

The reason this is so iniquitous is that the carpet bombing was decided at War cabinet level. It wasn’t Harris on his own, it was Harris saying “we need to do this” and the War Cabinet saying “do it”. The responsibility was collective, not Harris’ alone.

When Winston Churchill was re-elected Prime Minister in 1951, he wanted to set right this wrong. He told Harris to come back and get his knighthood. Harris wanted to say sod off, but officers – even retired ones – didn’t tell Churchill to sod off. Harris came back, took his gong, and left Britain for good.

His nickname was indeed ‘Butcher’ Harris. This was not a reference to the Germans killed, but a reference to the scale of casualties among the RAF bomber crews. Harris had a reputation for showing no reaction to receiving his daily list of how many of his men had been killed overnight,

Did Harris not care? I cannot know what was going on in his inner world but I believe he cared deeply and was in a constant state of heartbreak about his lost men. But he had morale to consider, and decorum, and professional pride. He would have known he needed to literally keep a stiff upper lip.

There was an even worse betrayal of Bomber Command than of Harris himself. He was tough enough to endure losing his men and he was tough enough to endure being shunned.

The betrayal of the Bomber Command veterans is a stain on our nation The opprobrium heaped on Harris spilled over onto his men They never got a campaign medal. The nearest they got was a clasp for the 1939-1945 Star, and even that didn’t happen until 2013, after most of them had died.

These men climbed into metal tubes and flew thousands of feet over enemy territory while being shot at by artillery on the ground and heavy machine guns in the air. Every mission could mean a fiery death, or being smashed to pieces amid tangled metal, or being in a German camp for years.

How emotionally shattering must that have been – a man might be having Sunday dinner with his mother in the English countryside, and being pushed into a truck by German soldiers in Berlin by Monday breakfast. What those men endured we cannot imagine.

Those men naturally felt a loyalty to Harris. When I saw them being jeered at and called murderers at the unveiling of the Harris statue, by fools who would never have had the right to protest were it not for such brave men, I felt shame at having occasionally bought their risible comic.

There is no way those of us who live freely can ever repay these men. But we could start by paying them the respect they and their commander deserve.


A new star shines in the constellation of landmark resignations of politicians on points of principle.

Robin Cook was the greatest, to me. The best leader my party never had. Michael Heseltine’s resignation during the Westland affair. That was made all the more dramatic by the fact he came storming out of Downing Street catching a cameraman almost unprepared. He hurriedly powered on his rig and the footage had a hallucination-like montage of Heseltines of various colours materialising before coalescing into the man we recognise.

Winston Churchill’s resignation from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty nearly a century ago still stands out as the most astonishing example. He blamed himself for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, and felt responsible for the scale of the losses, so he swapped an office in London for an infantry command at the front.

Geoffrey Howe’s resignation marked the beginning of the end for Thatcher. Lord Carrington’s resignation was huge. He understood foreign affairs in ways Thatcher never could and was sneered at for being a Macmillan-style gentleman in an era of Thatcherite brashness and radicalism.

Make no mistake, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation belongs on the list.

So who is Lady Warsi and why is she so significant? I have noticed quite a lot of people didn’t know who she was. I’ve been watching her for years, initially with negative views and then with grudging respect. Now the grudge is gone and there is just the respect.

Sayeeda Warsi was born in the early 1970s in the year before I was, to parents from Pakistan. They came to this country with nothing, to make a better life. They worked hard, first for other people, then for themselves, and made a lot of money.

Young Miss Warsi, growing up in the 1980s, looked at her successful parents, looked at the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher, and the Labour Party of my hero Neil Kinnock. She concluded that her values – and those she was brought up with – chimed with Thatcher’s party, not ours.

Frankly I cannot blame her. But some on the Left do. It’s as though the Left sometimes feels some sort of ownership of Britain’s ethnic minority population. I recall when John Taylor became the first black Conservative canditate, the far left – which is where I was back then – was in all sorts of a muddle. Taylor had achieved a landmark, but one that didn’t sit well with the Left. And more than once I heard him called a “coconut” (brown on the outside and white underneath). That wouldn’t have been so bad if the people calling him that hadn’t been white on the outside.
Through my leftist blinkers, when I first became aware of Lady Warsi in the late 2000s, I found fault with everything she said and everything she did.

Then one day I saw something that shook me up. Lady Warsi was out pounding the pavement for her party, and attracted the ire of some militant Islamists. They looked like a scary group of very angry young men. With no visible trace of fear, the Lady confronted them. She was firm, but calm. Confident, not arrogant. I remember her citing the Holy Qur’an at one of them as proof he was wrong.

He sneered at her and said in a sarcastic tone “you think you can talk to me about the Holy Qur’an do you?” Unfazed, Lady Warsi calmly replied “yes – I can”.
It was rather hard to dislike her after that. Despite… well, she introduced David Cameron to the podium at the start of his Tory leadership bid. I think he was a catastrophic choice of Tory leader, but then I don’t think there’s been a truly good Tory leader since Supermac. And the last best leader the Conservative Party never had was Ken Clarke. Such an error – last time their party was led by a portly older chap who smoked cigars, they did rather well.

Lady Warsi was the first Muslim woman to be a Tory candidate, and the first Muslim woman to enter Cabinet. She was a very important part of the fabric of Cameron’s front bench. And I am not rubbing my Labour hands in glee at a blow to Cameron because it’s obvious that was not Lady Warsi’s intention. But this is a major political event. In years from now it will be looked back on as a milestone in whatever unfolds over the coming years – what that will be, I do not know.

For the first time, yesterday, I got a feeling Lady Warsi could be a future leader. We’d have to get over the hurdle of peers not being party leaders any more, but I’m sure a way round that can be found. Frankly I’d rather they didn’t. The Tories already beat us to having the first woman leader; if they get the first Asian and first Muslim leader too, it’s going to start embarrassing my party a bit.

Whatever the results of Lady Warsi’s resignation turn out to be, I predict she’s going to play a major role in Britain’s story one way or another over the coming years. Just watch her.

As I discussed in my political testament, I am a man of the centre-Left who spent some years on the revolutionary Left, and a brief period in the Conservative Party as an adolescent.

I was very active in the anti-war movement in 1990-91 and would have been again in 2003 had I not been severely depressed and agoraphobic. I was in favour of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2, but more on that story later, when I get around to blogging about my hero General Ahmed Shah Masood and his betrayal by President Clinton.

One of the Left’s cause celebres was the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano. A very impressive woman once tackled Margaret Thatcher about it.

The left-wing narrative was that the Falklands War was inexcusable imperialist aggression against a weaker nation who wanted only to take back what was theirs. The sinking of the General Belgrano was an appalling wanton mass-murder of innocent young Argentinian conscripts by evil bloodthirsty Thatcher.

I used to subscribe to this view wholeheartedly. There is only one slight problem with this analysis – which is that it is utter bollocks from end to end.

Let us start with the central proposition – that General Belgrano was sunk because of Thatcher’s cruelty. I served briefly in the Royal Naval Reserve (while high as a kite) before depression and agoraphobia knocked me out, but I saw enough to see how the naval chain of command works.

The idea that a prime minister could instigate the sinking of a specific ship during a war is (usually) wrong. The Armed Forces make decisions like that, subject to various caveats. One is of course Sir Winston Churchill, who infuriated his generals by trying to meddle in decisions that are not for a politician to meddle in.

As a result, he often fell out with and replaced his generals. And Churchill did very specifically order the German battleship Bismarck to be sunk at all costs, but that was a very special case – Bismarck had just sunk HMS Hood which was Britain’s favourite ship. It was a colossal defeat and morale blow for Britain and Bismarck‘s fate was sealed the moment Hood exploded.

Churchill was entirely tolerated in this behaviour because he had served in the Boer War and World War I, and had also been First Lord of the Admiralty (minister for the Royal Navy in effect) and had masterminded the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

He blamed himself for Gallipoli and, chastened, resigned from Government and went to the front to fight alongside the men. His experience of the disaster was why he delayed D-Day until he was certain we were ready (and even then worried hugely), much to the chagrin of Stalin. This wealth of experience and perspective is why the generals cut Churchill so much slack in World War II. He was basically one of them.

And yet even Churchill had limits imposed on him by the Navy. Having put so much time and effort into planning D-Day, he wanted to watch it unfold up close. So he hit upon the idea of sailing aboard HMS Belfast which was going to sit off the French coast as a piece of big floating artillery to pound the German defenders.

The Navy were horrified by Churchill’s idea. But he was the prime minister, so what could they do? The only man who could stop Churchill was his nominal commander and close friend, the King.

At the urging of the admirals, His Majesty did precisely that. Churchill pleaded and complained and fumed, and in the end threatened to turn up anyway and sneak aboard. George VI was implacable, and told the Prime MInister “if you’re seen at the coast on D-Day we will have you arrested”.

Meanwhile in another theatre of the War, a young officer, Midshipman Henry Leach, was learning his trade. A Navy son of a Navy son. He was so proud to have been posted to elite battleship HMS Prince of Wales. But then it went a bit wrong for him – before he could take up his post, his father was posted to the ship as captain. Navy rules were father and son could not serve aboard the same ship, so young Leach had to get off the ship. This may have saved his life.

He was posted to another ship and kicked his heels in Singapore as a plotting officer while his new ship was refitted. Prince of Wales stopped by and Captain and Midshipman Leach got together for a gin sling (whatever the heck that is) and a swim.

Two days later, ships arrived with a sorry bedraggled group of survivors from one of the greatest disasters in British Naval history. Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk, their Admiral Sir Tom Philips (a close friend of Churchill) was dead.

Young Leach went forlornly from one exhausted shocked man to the next looking for his father. “Have you seen my father?” He got more desperate as each man shook his head. “Where is Captain Leach?” he eventually was heard to shout. No one had an answer for Midshipman Leach.

I imagine Leach knew deep down all along what the answer was. He knew his father so well, knew what kind of man he was, had joined the Navy because he wanted to be just like him. Which indeed he was. Captain John Leach went down with his ship, of course. Young Leach had lost his beloved father, his inspiration, his hero, his best friend, his biggest supporter. But there was a war to win and Leach fought on, as countless other bereaved sons did.

Fast-forward four decades and young Midshipman Leach is now Admiral Sir Henry Leach, First Sea Lord – the professional head of the Navy. It was 1982, and a different world to the one in which he joined the Navy in the mid-thirties.

Margaret Thatcher was of the World War II generation herself, but not a forces veteran. For this reason, she tended to defer to the advice of senior officers, except when it came to defence cuts.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, Thatcher was entirely out of her depth at first – which sounds surprising now given she made her reputation from the Falklands War. So when Leach strode in to see her to offer advice, she was ready to listen.

“Can we take these islands back?” she asked.

Leach replied “We can and we must!”

“Why must we?”, the Prime Minister asked.

“Because if we do not, in six months’ time we will be living in a very different country, one whose word means nothing!”

So, on the professional advice of her most senior sailor, Mrs Thatcher gave the go-ahead for an operation to retake the Falkland Islands. Not because she was bloodthirsty or imperialist, but because she found herself and the country she was elected to lead in a very unpleasant situation and this was the advice of those employed to deal with such matters.

Now back to the General Belgrano. The idea that a prime minister like Thatcher, with no military or naval background, could get the Navy to sink a ship just to be cruel is utter fantasy.

So why did General Belgrano get sunk? Snippets of misunderstood information repeated by the Left as evidence it was Thatcher being evil include that the General Belgrano was steaming away from the British Task Force and the islands, that she was outside the exclusion zone around the islands that the UK had declared, and that she was an elderly World War II relic ranged against modern British naval hardware.

These are easy to dispose of. Yes indeed General Belgrano was laid down in 1936 as the USS Phoenix, but she was escorted by vessels armed with Exocet missiles. Back in World War II, ships had steel armour to defend themselves from shell fire by other ships.

The Exocet belongs to a later era of naval warfare, the age of long-range self-guided missiles. For that reason, the British ships had no armour, as it’s not very useful against modern missiles. In other words, a single hit from a Exocet would put any of the British ships at the bottom of the sea.

For that reason, it was imperative for the British Task Force that no Exocet-armed Argentinian warships got within range of the carriers of the Task Force, as they had all our aircraft on them and air power has been key to warfare ever since the aforementioned Bismarck – the most advanced battleship afloat at the time – had her fate sealed by an obsolete biplane made of bits wood and string and old jam-pots.

For that reason, General Belgrano‘s task group was being shadowed by the submarine Conqueror. This is where the “old-Argentinian-tub-versus-modern-British-hardware” argument totally collapses. General Belgrano‘s Task Group was armed with Exocets, Conqueror was armed with Mark VIII torpedoes. They were designed and first used in the 1920s.

Nor was General Belgrano the only ship from World War II in the Falklands War. The British Task Force’s flagship HMS Hermes was laid down in 1944.

Let us dispose of the exclusion zone myth. The exclusion zone was never a legally binding commitment to not sink Argentinian vessels that were outside the exclusion zone. There’s no such legal construct as an exclusion zone. It was simply a commitment to definitely sink Argentinian vessels that were within it. The aim of declaring the exclusion zone was a hope that the Argentinians would back off and then the Task Force would have less combat to engage in and lower risk to its ships.

And then let’s wave goodbye to the sailing-away myth. Yes the General Belgrano‘s Task Group was sailing away – it is called a flanking manoeuvre. Conqueror had been tailing her, ready to strike if the Task Group got within Exocet range of the British Task Force, and British Intelligence had intercepted an Argentinian signal about plans for a massive attack on the British Task Force, with the General Belgrano‘s task group as a major component, This is how we know that the sailing-away was a flanking manoeuvre.

And what General Belgrano’s Task Group was sailing towards was shallow water into which the submarine could not follow. Conqueror‘s Commander Chris Wreford-Brown looked at his map and saw there was a route the enemy ship could then double back along that would bring it within Exocet range of the Task Force but well out of range of British submarine fire.

Wreford-Brown knew that he needed to attack the Task Group. But he was aware that such action would be a significant escalation of the war and outside his terms of engagement. Conditions had changed, so he needed his terms of engagement changed, and that meant calling the brass.

So Wreford-Brown escalated the decision to his superiors, who escalated it again and again and eventually it got to Admiral Leach, and to the Chief of the Defence Staff, and then the Cabinet.

I wonder if Thatcher had a private consultation with Leach. I imagine she felt a bond with him. There’s an interesting breed of person – the pro-establishment maverick. Leach was one, as evidenced by him advising Thatcher to go to war, going over the heads of a number of levels of chain of command between him and Thatcher. Thatcher was one. Alan Clark was one, as I noted in my post about the ghastly Gove and his half-arsed musings on things beyond his understanding.

Leach learned how to be a pro-establishment maverick from his father. Captain John Leach almost got court-martialed for deciding to break off attacking Bismarck when Hood went down.

According to a story I heard from an old matelot but have not seen proof of, Leach was also involved in a mutiny to gain better conditions for his men. He narrowly avoid court martial, due to the intervention of King George V, who had once employed Leach and was fond of him.

Captain John Leach’s maverick status was arguably why he was still a captain and not an admiral. So it could be said to have led to his death – if he’d been an admiral he’d have been less likely to be killed in action. But only somewhat, as the examples of Sir Tom Philips and many others show.

So in my head – and this bit is a flight of fancy – I picture a private conversation between Thatcher and Leach. I never met either of them but I know the kind of man Leach was, and had had the pleasure of meeting men of comparable (if maybe lower) calibre when I was in the Royal Naval Reserve, and before that as a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence,

“Prime Minister – an enemy Task Group capable of destroying our Task Force has been shadowed by one of my boats, but is about to enter shallows. It’s a flanking manoeuvre to shake off my boat and double back for a massive attack on the Task Force. They could wipe us out. If we don’t attack now, we won’t be able to attack with submarine torpedoes if the enemy doubles back toward the Task Force. My man’s terms of engagement are clear – he can’t attack. Things have changed. We need to attack. But there will be heavy loss of life, which could have political implications for you. I must advise you in the strongest possible terms, we need to act against this threat.”

“Is there no other way?”, Thatcher may have asked. For all her many faults she was still a human being.

“No, Prime Minister. This is our one and only chance to confront this threat under the circumstances.”

On the record, Leach’s superiors and juniors expressed such a view, and Cabinet discussed it, and agreed.

So, under the advice of her officers, the answer went back down the chain of command. Conqueror attacked General Belgrano. Then she surfaced and observed the stricken cruiser’s escort vessels picking up survivors. Conqueror could easily have sunk them too, and taken the Exocets out of the picture, but chose not to. I expect it would not have sat right with Commander Wreford-Brown to sink them while they were on a rescue mission.

So why does the Left pillory Thatcher over the sinking? Because we do not like her, so it fits our world view to propagate this myth over the General Belgrano.

We thus have the grim spectacle of British people, who claim to want the best for British people, trying to argue impossibly Orwellian propositions such as that it would have been better for several thousand British subjects to live under fascist dictatorship, rather than British liberal democracy.

Ironically, some of them use the word fascist for Thatcher. She was not a fascist; she didn’t ban opposition parties, she didn’t put her critics in prison, she didn’t ban unions, she didn’t shut down newspapers that criticised her.

General Galtiere, the ruler of Argentina, was a fascist, and did all those things. He picked a fight because he wanted a short victorious war to distract his joyless citizenry from his misrule and his ruining of the Argentinian economy. He lost and that’s why he ended up in prison.

I believe Thatcher unintentionally but intransigently ripped the moral heart out of the United Kingdom and left deep scars which have yet to heal. But I think the Left needs to concentrate on criticising her for what she actually did, not what she didn’t do.

As politically inconvenient as may be for parts of the Left, 258 British men died in the Falklands War for freedom. Even more than that number have committed suicide since then, because when they got home their country forgot them and did not understand them or care enough about them to give them the support they deserved.

I was ten years old when the Falklands War was fought. Now when I see Falklands veterans on parade, they are looking almost as old as the WWII veterans looked back in the early 1980s. Let us recognise their sacrifice and cherish them, and be glad and proud that today’s Armed Forces, despite savage cuts from the worst government our nation has had for centuries, would do the same for any of us.

Open letter to the Prime Minister


The Deputy Prime Minister

The Leader of the Opposition

The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats

The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Editor of The Guardian

The Editor of The Daily Telegraph

The Editor of The Independent

Mr Prem Goyal JP OBE

Cllr Peter John

Cllr Neil Coyle

Cllr Rowenna Davis




4 August 2014

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to ask you to investigate the circumstances of the death of Mr David Clapson.

Mr Clapson had worked for 29 years of his life and served 5 years in the Army, including two tours of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

He was a carer for his sick mother until she went into residential care. He became unemployed and claimed £71.70 per week in benefits.

Mr Clapson was sanctioned for missing a Job Centre appointment. When he died his entire wealth came to £3.44 and his kitchen contained six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. Post-mortem examination revealed his stomach to contain no food.

He tried very hard to find work. He did unpaid work placements, and trained up on new professional skills. CVs for job applications were found near his corpse.

Mr Clapson had diabetes and needed insulin to live. Insulin needs refrigeration. Mr Clapson couldn’t afford an electricity supply, so he was unable to look after his insulin. This killed him.

Sadly I never met him and will never have the opportunity to do so, but it was clear he was loved. He was a good and hard-working responsible subject of the United Kingdom. He was a British war veteran. He was a brother, a friend, and son.

I feel in my heart you are a man of good intentions, but your Government’s policies unintentionally killed David Clapson. I have seen evidence that he is not the only person to die as a result of sanctions.

I served in the Civil Service and the Royal Naval Reserve and I believe somebody is culpable for misconduct in public office in the death of Mr Clapson.

If when I served in the Civil Service my decisions had caused a good man to needlessly die, I would hope and expect to spend several years in prison.

I urge you to take measures to prevent a repeat of this tragedy and to punish those responsible.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant.

Nigel Mountford

I am back after having gone mad again, with depression. And still I live in fear of mania even though my bipolar diagnosis has been overturned – more on that story later.

What brings me here today is a landmark in poetry, and a lamentation that I am, and am likely to remain, childless.

I have loved poetry since I was a teen. I was lucky enough to have an inspirational English teacher at the comprehensive school my country’s government kindly gave me a free education at – Mrs Anna Mack – and she introduced me to the poets that are still my favourites. Wilfred Owen is my favourite poet. I feel utterly connected to him. His poem Strange Meeting has been my favourite poem for over 25 years.

Seamus Heaney is my next-favourite poet. As a sheltered boy growing up in a Tory enclave of Yorkshire that was in the 1930s in the 1980s, many of the topics that ‘Famous Seamus’ wrote of were far beyond my teenage understanding, but the sheer force and clarity of his poetry drilled into my soul and never left. I was lucky enough to go and see the great man read his poems many years later on London’s South Bank.

Maurice Riordan comes next in my pantheon. A friend and admirer of Dr Heaney, and since the great man’s untimorous going forth to the beyond, the greatest living Irish poet, in my humble opinion.

And then comes Dharmachari Maitreyabandhu, a poet and spiritual teacher who I consider a genius. I would call myself a disciple of him, because he is a leading teacher in the Buddhist order that I hope one day to join.

But what brings my to be writing this is a poet who is only 14 years old. I wish I was his father. I’d tell everyone how proud I was of my son and would pretty much dine out on that for the rest of my life.

His poem, which has gone viral on the web, has a disarming profoundness. But there’s something extra special about it. In my Buddhist movement, poetry is very important. Many of our teachers use poems, their own and other poets’, to communicate spiritual truths. But in every poetry discussion at my Buddhist centre or on a Buddhist retreat, there’s always at least one man (and it’s always a man) who says “I just do not get poetry”. That’s fair enough. It’s how I felt about poetry until I was 14 (thanks Mrs Mack for getting me past that).

But this poem, by this amazing teenaged boy, it’s something I can point to and say to those who have yet to find any poetry that reaches them – “read this, see what happens”. I think that if I still didn’t like poetry, this would turn me. Poets who can turn poetry-dislikers are rare and precious.

Wilfred Owen. Seamus Heaney. Maurice Riordan. Dharmachari Maitreyabandhu. Jordan Nichols (grade 8).

Our Generation

Our generation will be known for nothing.
Never will anybody say,
We were the peak of mankind.
That is wrong, the truth is
Our generation was a failure.
Thinking that
We actually succeeded
Is a waste. And we know
Living only for money and power
Is the way to go.
Being loving, respectful, and kind
Is a dumb thing to do.
Forgetting about that time,
Will not be easy, but we will try.
Changing our world for the better
Is something we never did.
Giving up
Was how we handled our problems.
Working hard
Was a joke.
We knew that
People thought we couldn’t come back
That might be true,
Unless we turn things around

(now read from bottom to top)

Jordan Nichols (grade 8)

Actor Sir Tony Robinson has criticised unfit-for-purpose education secretary Michael Gove for his infantile nonsense about World War I. In summary, Gove claimed that left wing academics use fictional accounts of World War I such as Blackadder Goes Forth, Oh, What a Lovely War! and The Monocled Mutineer to misrepresent the War out of “an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage“.

What is most irksome about this diatribe is not just that it’s completely inaccurate – the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth is a particularly poignant celebration of such virtues for example – and not just the absurdity of railing against criticism of the well-documented failings of the Imperial General Staff, it’s the fantasy that the Left is behind World War One revisionism.

Until fifty years ago, the generals’ competence was not publicly challenged. Men who’d served under them certainly challenged it privately, but the public discourse was largely uncritical.

Then a young historian called Alan Clark published his book The Donkeys. This was the first serious attack on the reputation of the generals, this was the turning point that opened them to criticism, and led to the current prevailing and correct view that there were a lot of generals in World War One who were unfit to command.

Young Clark was roundly condemned by various luminaries, some historians, and the family of Field Marshal Haig (although Clark stopped short of condemning Haig – he was still too venerable to be attacked directly, although as he had the power to promote or remove generals, inevitably Clark’s criticism reflected on him).

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, however, said Clark had “done a good job in exposing the total failure of the generalship”.  Montgomery, unlike those who attacked Clark, had close-up experience of the generals at work. Montgomery spent about half the War in the trenches and in battle, being wounded a number of times. He spent the rest of the War as a general staff officer – directly assisting generals as they planned and coordinated their actions. And as the most successful British general of World War II himself, he knew exactly what a general should be.

So who was this left-wing firebrand Alan Clark and was he motivated by “an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”? No. He went to Eton then Oxford, was part of the Conservative Party’s hard-right Monday Club, and was blacklisted from being a parliamentary candidate by the Conservative Party for being too right wing. He was well-connected and got them to change their minds, and became a Tory MP.

He was so far to the right that one of the only two times I wrote to a prime minister was to complain about his right-wing extremism to his leader John Major. Despite this I was rather fond of him, as he was very entertaining and charismatic, and his notorious and very revealing diaries were best-sellers, later adapted for TV.

So why did this extremely nationalistic establishment-man choose to tear down such cherished icons?

If one truly loves Britain, truly cherishes virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage, then the “unhappy compulsion” must be to point out that many of our patriotic, honourable and courageous men who answered the call to fight for King and Country were appallingly let down by their leaders.

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,

And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack

As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Captain Siegfried Sassoon MC (1886-1967)

In a media age, every disaster has an image that becomes iconic of the grief of the bereaved. For last Friday night’s tragedy in Glasgow, when a police helicopter crashed into a packed pub, that image was of young John McGarrigle, holding up his mobile phone bearing a photograph of him and his father, also called John McGarrigle. Father and son are smiling into the camera, in the now-ruined Clutha pub. They look so happy, so close. Young John knew his father was dead even though at the time, his body lay undiscovered in the wreckage.

Yesterday the ruined helicopter was removed from the Clutha and the search was completed. Overnight, the final list of the dead was released, and as his son already knew, John McGarrigle died in the Clutha on Friday. He was 57 years old.

John McGarrigle was a poet. As a tribute to him and the other 8 who lost their lives, here is one of his poems. The others who died were Robert Jenkins, 61, Mark O’Prey, 44, Colin Gibson, 33, Samuel McGhee, 56, and Gary Arthur, 48, who were all in the Clutha listening to live music. The crew of the helicopter died with them. They were pilot David Traill, 51, and police constables Kirsty Nelis, 36, and Tony Collins, 43.

Write Nice Things

last night
as I sat by my typewriter
a junkie
climbed in my window,
I was writing a poem
a very interesting little poem
about a flower that I’d seen
that day,
the junkie battered my wife
stole all of our money
and when he left
took with him
my television set
and my hi fi unit,
this unfortunate little incident
rather disturbed me
it really put me off writing
my little poem
about the birds and bees
and the flower that I’d seen
so, I wrote about the wind and the trees

John McGarrigle