The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”
Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”
Wheatcroft is equally hostile to the United States: “There was once a vigorous high Tory tradition of independence from—if not hostility to—America. It was found in the Morning Post before the war, and it continued down to Enoch Powell and Alan Clark.”
As it happens, I met both these colorful figures, who served in various Tory administrations, though never at the highest level. Powell is best remembered for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968, in which he denounced mass immigration from the Commonwealth and warned of civil war. This speech was widely interpreted as racist; it permanently marginalized Powell in mainstream politics. A few years later he left the Tory party. Some people now see him as a prophet who foresaw the difficulty of integrating a large Muslim minority, but his concerns were about race rather than religion.
Powell was once asked whether he was anti-American. He replied: “Most people are. The only change is that it has become a term of abuse.” In answer to the question why, he said: “Well, I just don’t like America, or Americans. It’s like saying you like sugar in your tea. De gustibus non est disputandum.”
At least Enoch Powell was not an anti-Semite. Alan Clark, however, was not only anti-American, but an enthusiastic and unashamed admirer of Hitler, whose portrait he kept on his wall. Clark’s pro-Nazi views permeate Barbarossa, his well-known history of the German invasion of Russia, but they also shine through at several points in The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-1997. He hints that German-Jewish refugees hindered Anglo-German efforts to preserve peace. Of Chamberlain’s belated decision to declare war on Germany in 1939, he writes: “Not since the Angevin kings had responded to mystic revelations from the Divinity instructing them to call a crusade to arms can any group of national leaders have taken so momentous a decision on such tenuous assumptions.”
But it is when Clark comes to Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland that his agenda is clearly revealed. Not only is he convinced (against all the evidence) that Hess brought a genuine peace offer from Hitler, that Churchill turned down this “wasted opportunity” to save the British Empire, and that the entire British establishment then engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up right down to 1987, when Hess was “strangled in his cell.” Clark also believes that a fall in Wall Street stocks on the news of Hess’s flight holds the key: peace, he claims, would have hit profits, which were far more important to Americans (many of them Jewish) than “the certain fate of human beings.”
As for more recent episodes: Clark depicts the Falklands war as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Reagan administration, determined to frustrate the British attempt to regain the islands, and a stubborn Mrs. Thatcher—which is more or less the opposite of the version she herself recalls. Clark gained notoriety by publishing his sensational diaries, but they merely reinforce the impression of a clever but twisted mind, a crashing snob and conspiracy theorist, who fantasized about his boss, Mrs. Thatcher, as a kind of female Hitler, describing the thrill he got from her proximity as “Führer-Kontakt”.
So much for Alan Clark and Enoch Powell as keepers of the Tory flame. But Wheatcroft also admires the Arabist tradition exemplified by the vehemently anti-Zionist Ian (now Lord) Gilmour. Then he goes further back, rejecting Charles Moore’s claim that Conservatives have usually supported Israel in the past: “That highest of high Tories, Lord Curzon, deplored the Balfour declaration. . . . In his day Curzon might have seemed the truer Tory than Balfour, and it’s only recently that his spirit has been stifled in his old party.”
So, in Wheatcroft’s mind, true Tories reject the existence of Israel. He ignores such Conservative heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly supported both America and Israel, or in the more remote past Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Instead, he postulates “infiltration” of the party by “zealous Anglo-neocons” who have “encircled” the Tory leader. He does not want David Cameron to become “the Hugo Chavez of Notting Hill,” he says, but to “forge a foreign policy that, unlike Blair’s, is based on the national interest of this country and not another.”
Geoffrey Wheatcroft emerges here as a British equivalent of Pat Buchanan. It is not often that such venomous resentment of the United States and Israel from the Right is brought out into the open in Britain—and no accident that it is the Guardian that offers these views a platform. To judge from the readers’ comments on the Guardian website, he has brought quite a few extreme anti-Semites out of the woodwork, too. But the tenor of Wheatcroft’s article is not untypical of the circles in which many senior Tories move. It is not only in America that paleoconservatives exist. Britain evidently has its very own Anglo-paleocons.