CHRISTOPHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD
Was ‘peace for our time’ really a cunning deception as Chamberlain prepared to take on Nazis?
One political story I was told over the festive season was so startling that I cannot resist passing it on, even though it dates back 80 years. Few moments in our history have been looked back on as more humiliating than when, in 1938, Neville Chamberlain flew back from Munich, having supposedly been duped by Hitler into thinking that he had secured “peace for our time”.
As we know, a year later came war. Chamberlain was castigated for having been a craven appeaser and, after eight more unhappy months, was forced ignominiously to resign, to be succeeded by Winston Churchill.
My friend Greg Lance-watkins recalled how, in 1967, as a young officer cadet at Sandhurst, he boarded a packed train from London to Inverness, on which the only unoccupied seat was in the dining car. Seeing his uniform, the chap in the seat opposite invited him to sit down, and Greg recognised him as the former prime minister Alec Douglas-home.
In their three hours of enjoyable conversation, and remembering that Home had been with Chamberlain at Munich as his parliamentary private secretary, Greg quizzed him about the moment when Chamberlain, after leaving the aircraft at Heston Aerodrome, waved a piece of paper (which no one was allowed to see) and was greeted with cheers from the waiting crowd.
After hours without food in the unheated aircraft, the party then rushed back to Downing Street where, according to Home’s account, as Chamberlain was still taking off his coat, he said to senior colleagues who had gathered to greet him: “Gentlemen, prepare for war.”
According to this story at least, far from being fooled by Hitler, Chamberlain had become just as aware of his true intentions as Churchill. By pretending otherwise, he bought another year for Britain to step up preparations for a war he now realised was inevitable.
An hour after taking Christmas Communion at our village church, my son Nick recognised that he was suffering all the familiar symptoms of exposure to gluten. Since he was diagnosed as gluten- allergic a year ago, he has been scrupulously careful to avoid it, and the only obvious culprit was gluten in the wafer he had eaten (the slightest exposure produces the symptoms).
Although my son is not a Catholic, it seems that, for some years, the Papacy too has been embroiled in a controversy over such wafers, concluding last year with a ruling that, because “the body of Christ contained gluten”, the use of gluten-free wafers must be forbidden.
After Watergate and Climategate, we now have “Ramsgate”. This is the curious little tale of how, as part of the Government’s contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, Chris Grayling’s Department for Transport has promised £13.8 million to a virtually penniless little company to reopen a very limited ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend, to help replace the projected very severe reduction in traffic through the Dover- Calais corridor.
With few staff and owning no ships, it seems this company is rewriting that old music hall song to read: “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, we haven’t got the men, we haven’t got the ships, but at least we’ve been promised the money.”
But there is a further much more serious twist to this tale, which has been widely missed. The Government’s own worst-case scenario envisages that DoverCalais traffic will be cut by 88 per cent. That is from the current 81,000 truck movements a week to less than 10,000.
But expert analysis of the £107 million allocated by Grayling to set up substitute ferry routes suggests that these could at best provide only 3,700 truck movements a week, leaving a massive potential shortfall, which could, over six months, cost the UK about £100 billion in lost business.
Heaven knows who Mr Grayling gets to do his maths, but does he really think that, in addition to all the other anticipated possible losses to our economy, taking this massive further hit is not significant? As on so much else, this man seems to live permanently in a land of make-believe.
Last Wednesday evening, I noticed that nearly 70 per cent of all the electricity we were using came from the fossil fuels the Government wants to see eliminated (12 per cent from coal). Only 2.8 per cent was coming from wind and solar, which they want us increasingly to rely on. Can ministers explain how they thus plan to keep our lights on? The answer of course is “no”.
As he took off his coat, he said: ‘Gentlemen, prepare for war’