CHRISTO­PHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD

Was ‘peace for our time’ re­ally a cun­ning de­cep­tion as Cham­ber­lain pre­pared to take on Nazis?

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Back Page -

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’

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