Michael Howard

Bernat Hecht was born in Ruscova on 13 November 1916, a member of Romania’s Jewish minority, three hundred thousand of whom would be murdered during the Second World War. (There’s a page memorialising the Ruscova dead, who include members of the Hecht family, here.)

Thanks to the assistance provided by the Landys, a South Wales family descended from refugees from Tsarist Russia, Bernat Hecht was able to come to the UK. In 1940, he married Hilda Kershion, a Landy cousin, and in 1941 a son was born in Llanelli. Bernat Hecht changed his name to Bernard Howard, and was naturalised as a British citizen in December 1947.

That son, Michael, is about to be anointed Leader of the Conservative Party.

On the whole, as we all know, the authorities were keen to keep Jews out of this country throughout the 1930s, and they were supported in this by influential sections of the British press. In a now famous passage, the Daily Mail wrote on 20 August 1938 that “The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming a an outrage – the number of aliens entering the country through the back door… a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed”. (So, no change there.)

But the numbers had not been large, and only 11,000 German Jews were resettled in Britain between 1933 and November 1938. Following the vicious state-sponsored pogrom on 9 November 1938 known as Kristallnacht, however, public pressure on the Home Office led to an increase in the number of visas offered to foreign Jews, and 40,000 Jews were able to come to Britain between November 1938 and the start of the war in September 1939. Although I don’t think we do know quite when Bernat Hecht made it to Wales, it’s very likely that it was in this period, and that he was able to come here thanks to this relaxation in the rules on immigration and asylum and the sponsorship (which was still required) of a family in this country.

It is excellent news that the child of an asylum-seeker is about to become Leader of the Opposition.

It is extraordinary, however, to reflect on the fact that this child is one of the key architects of the politics of persecuting and demonising asylum-seekers which has so disfigured British politics over the last decade, and shamed so much of our political class and our press in the process.

In the 1995 article from which I learned most of the above information, Nick Cohen asks the uncomfortable question, “whether Hecht would have reached a safe haven if his son had been in office at the time”? He ends the piece with these sentences:

“For the moment race is impinging on politics in the loud campaign to keep out refugees. Any Jewish politician who adds his voice to the clamour must, inevitably, be asked what would have happened to him if the new authoritarianism had been in place in the Thirties. And, with an equal inevitability, the answer will be that he would have been shut out and left to die.”

— Nick Cohen, from an article in The Jewish Quarterly, December 1995, reprinted as pp.208-217 of his excellent book, Cruel Britannia.

UPDATE [1/11/2003]: Today’s Guardian has more details on Mr Howard’s family background.

The Butler’s Tale

I took a short break from my reading in the Bodleian Library yesterday afternoon in order to pop over the road to buy Paul Burrell’s book, A Royal Duty at Blackwell’s. I’ve made a start, and I’ll probably read it all over the next few days. Yes, all the juicy bits were excerpted in the Mirror last week, and on Tuesday the Guardian published a handy guide to the contents of the book to save anyone having to take the trouble to buy it. Perhaps I wasted �17.99.

I am, however, rather gripped by the Diana literature, and have been reading in it for a surprisingly long time, and this does appear to be a must-own contribution to the genre.

I don’t think I’m obsessive. For example, although I own a copy of Closely Guarded Secret, the book by Diana’s bodyguard Ken Wharfe, I’ve never read it, because people tell me it’s very dull. (Which also means that I’m not sure why I do own a copy, but apparently I do.) And although in general I have a good memory for points of detail, when it comes to the Diana books it is mostly in-one-ear-and-out-the-other stuff. I couldn’t, for example, say much to distinguish the various aristocratic women with silly names who always flit through these books’ pages — people like Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Lady “Kanga” Tryon and the like, though on the whole I can remember which one “Tiggy” Legge-Bourke is (even if I’m not quite sure if that’s the right way to spell her name).

But I have read a fair few of the recent efforts — both Andrew Morton volumes (but, sadly, not his fawning life of Daniel Arap Moi); the peculiarly-named Lady Colin Campbell’s minor classic Diana In Private (typical sentence, from memory: “There weren’t many virgins in Charles’s generation; he fucked most of them”); Kitty Kelley’s The Royals (a great disappointment: it didn’t live up to the hype at all and should always have remained the hit-piece on Prince Philip it was originally intended to be); and last weekend I was lucky enough to find a copy of the original Sylvie Krin collection, Born to be Queen, whose episode on “Venetia Barkworth-Smythe” (I think that’s the name – I don’t have the book to hand) is quite admirably prescient, presenting in embryo just about all the beans that Morton was to spill over a decade later. (Irrelevant aside: always remember that Pythagoras didn’t like beans because they looked like human embryos: hence the Pythagorean bean taboo that contributed to his untimely death [Diogenes Laertius, VIII.45]).

The most delightful book in the DianaLit genre, though, is one that I don’t remember receiving much publicity. It’s Diana and Dodi: A Love Story, by one Rene Delorm. The book is an eyewitness account of the last few weeks of Diana’s short life: Rene was Dodi Fayed’s flunkey during his fling with Diana, and one of his main functions was to pop the CD of the soundtrack of The English Patient into the stereo on Dodi’s yacht again, and again, and again, in order to provide suitably romantic background music. It’s a very funny book indeed, though perhaps not intended that way. (There’s a very odd page about this book here: e.g., “How Much Titillating Info on Personal Vices? 2 – A Little”. There’s also an interview with Rene here, and an informative BBC page which contains a soundclip of Rene here.)

So I am looking forward to Burrell’s book, though not expecting it to be very good. Still, I doubt it’ll take up too much of my life.

I’m still waiting for more revelations about Michael “the fence” Fawcett, of course.

Oh, and if anyone does have reliable details of the story to which Melanie Philips is referring in this post on her loopy-but-fun blog, including the identity of the senior royal, do drop me a line. It all makes me feel a bit out of the loop.

We’ll be rid of them soon. I’m still optimistic that it’ll be in my lifetime.

UPDATE [2/11/2003]: The admirable Catherine Bennett has enjoyed Burrell’s book as much as I’m hoping to, in yesterday’s Guardian, and has some things to say about Camilla Parker-Bowles which strike me as being offensive, funny, and probably accurate. (Spotted via the Normblog).

Tim and Ed

I saw Tim Collins on telly last night and recognised him. My diligence is paying off.

But — and this is the point of this blogpost — I also saw Ed Vaizey on the same programme. And since he was hymning the virtues of Michael Howard, I was reminded of what he wrote about him a little over two years ago in the Guardian.

He said then that while Michael Howard has “never been loved by the public”, “he is someone the public instinctively turns to when it wants genuine action…” This rather alarmed me — for, as I asked at the time — do you turn to Michael Howard when you want some, um, “genuine action”?

And today it struck me that maybe Ann Widdecombe‘s famous remark about there being “something of the night” about Mr. Howard has been systematically misunderstood…

OK, I’ll stop there. It’s too unpleasant to contemplate.

Tim Collins

Since my friends and I failed so lamentably to identify Tim Collins earlier this month, in a Guardian quiz on the composition of the Shadow Cabinet, I’ve been doing my best to keep up, mostly through regular visits to timcollins.co.uk, where you can read gripping stories like this or this. What appears on the website mostly focuses on celebrating his tireless work on behalf of his Cumbrian constituents, though, and this is of less interest to someone like me who isn’t really interested in Cumbria, and who has become convinced that Collins’ talent overflows his constituency boundaries and deserves a more prominent role on the national stage.

Which was why I was very pleased to hear Tim Collins on the Today Programme this morning, discussing the forthcoming votes on the leadership of the Conservative Party. Selected highlights appear below.

A couple of things to remember are (i) that Mr Duncan Smith had earlier suggested that his critics were cowards, since they weren’t going public with their plotting, so now that his critics were going public another line of criticism had to be developed; and that (ii) this interview went out shortly after 8am this morning, and that by 9.30am, Sir Michael Spicer had told IDS that the twenty five names were in the bag, and that he’d have to submit to the confidence vote. The interviewer is Jim Naughtie, and this is my own transcription, so no promises of strict accuracy down to the last syllable.

Q: Mr Collins, good morning to you.

–Good morning.

Q: Francis Maude has now come out as an opponent of Mr Duncan Smith’s. That may well encourage some others to do the same. Do you believe that the twenty five letters will go in, or not?

–No I don’t, and, to put this in context, it’s been an open secret around Westminster that for weeks, indeed, very possibly for months, Francis has been briefing against the Leader, has been seeking to organise efforts to destabilise him. I think, frankly, it’s a mark of desperation on his part that he’s has felt that has to come out and out himself this morning, because I think that that indicates that he and his colleagues are not confident of getting the twenty five names they have promised so many times by tomorrow evening.

Q: Do you think Mr Duncan Smith will survive?

–I do. We’ve heard from the plotters, or the intriguers, or however you want to call them, we heard two weeks ago that it was going to be within days, we heard last week it would be by the week-end, at the weekend that it would be by Monday, yesterday they told us it would definitely be by Wednesday. Iain took exactly the right decision, a bold and courageous decision, to say, “Now, come on, either you can do it by Wednesday evening or it will be clear that, frankly, you’ve been bluffing.”

Q: If you’re right, and if the twenty five letters don’t go in, what sort of condition will it leave Mr Duncan Smith’s leadership in after the last six weeks?

–Well, I think actually the position is moving potentially, decisively in Iain’s favour over the last twenty four hours, because there’s no doubt that the last few weeks [sic] the one thing every Conservative has been agreed on, whether it’s in the grassroots or in Parliament is that we can’t carry on like this. Now Iain is now the person who is charting a way by which we can bring this process to an end. If it is clear by tomorrow evening, as I hope and believe, that he has faced down his critics, exposed them as a very small minority, not even able to get fifteen per cent of Conservative MPs to call for a vote of confidence, then I think his position will be immensely strengthened, and that he’ll be able to go on from that to make whatever changes he’s believes are appropriate so we can prepare for the next election…

He ends by saying that since the plotters are having so much trouble assembling twenty five letters to force the ballot, he really doesn’t think they’ll be able to get the eighty-plus they need to topple IDS.Sadly, if Mr Duncan Smith does go down in flames tomorrow, that may be the end of Tim Collins’s Shadow Cabinet career, unless dribbling rightists are in demand under the new regime. We shall see. These are interesting — and entertaining — times.

And Gorby is an Honourable Man

From the newswires:

“Gorbachev” and “Gorby” now available only for “honourable” publicity

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, has secured the names “Gorbachev” and “Gorby” as brand names to protect his image, one of his aides said Thursday.

The man responsible for the fall of the Soviet empire took action out of concern at the increasing use of his name and image for commercial purposes, press attache Vladimir Polyakov told AFP.

The measure is designed to “defend Mr Gorbachev’s name by legal means” against unlawful appropriation, Polyakov said, citing in particular the case of a vodka producer in the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod who used the former president’s portrait on his bottles…

Elsewhere, the spokesman said, Gorbachev’s name or image has been used without authorisation to sell construction materials in the United States and noodles in Japan.

Henceforth Gorbachev will only allow his name to be used in relation to “honourable products,” he said.

In the 1990s Gorbachev allowed his name to be used to advertise Apple computers and the Pizza Hut fast-food chain…

As reported by Agence France-Presse.