So this evening I’m sitting on a train, and I’m thinking about the Daily Mail and its recent interest in the Miliband family. I’m thinking about the photos of Viscount Rothermere with senior Nazis, as I have been all day, including Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels, and of the telegram he sent to ‘my dear Fuhrer’ following the Munich Agreement, in order to ‘salute your Excellency’s star, which rises higher and higher’.
I’m thinking of the Mail’s most famous article of all, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’, but I’m not thinking just of that article, but of other ones too. I’m thinking of the same newspaper’s campaigns to deny Jews fleeing persecution sanctuary in this country, as well as of its much more recent efforts directed against vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers. I’m thinking about the distinctive whiff of anti-Semitism that emanates from the gratuitous reference to ‘the jealous God of Deuteronomy’ in today’s non-apology to the Milibands, and I’m thinking to myself, well why don’t they just call them rootless cosmopolitans and be done with it?
I’m also thinking about Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts in their footer bags, and of the way that Fascists really don’t like to be laughed at. (Recently I’ve been thinking about Paolo di Canio, too.) And I’m thinking of the English Defence League sieg-heiling recently on Whitehall, right next to the statue of another Viscount, Lord Alanbrooke, who made a certain contribution towards the defeat of National Socialism. I’m thinking of what the historians have called ‘the myth of the Blitz’—when we were perhaps just a bit more in it together than we’ve been more recently—and I’m thinking that if you have to have myths in order to underpin conceptions of national identity, and that you probably do, then this isn’t such a bad one to have, all things considered.
So I’m thinking of my Keep Calm and Carry On mug, and of the poster that inspired it, and, although I’m a republican, I’m thinking of the film The King’s Speech, as well as the film The Queen, and of the ways in which these films (despite their flaws) can resonate in a certain kind of a way—as do the lyrics to the Dad’s Army theme song (and I suppose I’m also thinking of my grandfather’s service in the Home Guard).
And I’m thinking, it just so happens, of the last time that we had a Coalition government in this country, and I’m thinking of the contribution that the trade unions made to winning the War, and also about how it was the Labour Party that won a landslide in the 1945 General Election—and I’m thinking too of the National Health Service, which is currently looking after me, as it is looking after so many millions of others, and of what a remarkable civilisational achievement it is. (And thinking about the NHS also leads me on to think, but only briefly and in passing, because he really isn’t worth it, about the ridiculous Jeremy Hunt, who was offering his opinion about the Milibands this morning.)
I’m thinking also of my own parents, who were children during the War, which provided them with so many of their earliest memories, such as that of watching English cities burn. In a somewhat different register, I’m thinking about how much I enjoyed Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day, once upon a time, and I’m thinking as well of my own teacher Ross McKibbin’s arguments, which I heard him set out in his Ford’s Lectures in British History, about how, over the course of the War, public opinion shifted towards a view that those leading figures in public life who had sought to appease Hitler and the Nazis were traitors.
I’ve been thinking about how I never met Ralph Miliband, or heard him speak, but of how much I’ve enjoyed reading his books over the years, especially his masterpiece, The State in Capitalist Society, which I used to tell my first-year Politics students to read with care. I’ve also been thinking about how privileged I’ve been in my own academic life to have had at least some dealings with some members of that extraordinary older generation of academic Jews whose lives were upended by the catastrophe that befell midcentury Europe, but who were able, as so many others were not, to make their way to safety in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere.
Finally, I’m thinking about the way that if Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour is to amount to anything worthwhile—if it isn’t simply to be a vacuous mush that serves as a rhetorical overlay to some kind of New Labour Mark Two—then it has to be clear what it is against, as much as what it is for; to exclude and to marginalise and to stigmatise and to accuse, as well and as much as to include and to celebrate, to commemorate and to affirm.
And this evening I feel that I might really be able to get behind One Nation Labour, in a way that I really didn’t before.