Tory 'toff' with a taste for Nazis
THESE days when we've grown used to how awful and corrupt New Labour can be, it may do no harm to remind ourselves -and the young who have known no other government - just what Tories can really be like.
Fictional MP Alan B'Stard switched to Blair's camp and took charge of flogging peerages, but real life Tory bastard Alan Clark remained a Thatcherite -and more- to the end.
Now, ten years after his death an official biography of the Tory minister, whose diaries televised with John Hurt entertained as scandalously as the fictional creation, is out. We don't know yet how honest it will be. But on the BBC Today programme the book's author, Ion Trewin, has described Clark as "wonderful".
Fearing this presages Clark's rehabilitation by respectable politicians and media, Dominic Lawson, son of a Tory chancellor, and former editor of the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph, felt prompted to ripost: "Alan Clark was not wonderful. He was sleazy, vindictive, greedy, callous and cruel. He was also a thorough-going admirer of Adolf Hitler, although his sycophants persisted in thinking that his expressions of reverence for the Fuhrer were not meant seriously. They absolutely were".
An Old Etonian who lived in a castle in Kent, Clark was however at one time said be on a Tory party list of "unsuitable" people to be candidates, perhaps because his remarks about admiring Hitler had found their way into an American Nazi journal called Stormtrooper. He was nevertheless selected for Plymouth Sutton, and became its MP. His right-wing views on race, immigration and the European Union were no problem in winning favour with Margaret Thatcher, and he became junior Employment Minister. It was his remark to senior civil servants about people who might "fear being sent back to Bongo-Bongo land" which marked the man's style and attracted the attention of the Daily Mirror as well as Searchlight magazine.
But it was British Nazi John Tyndall's boasts of having important friends in Westminster and Whitehall, that set some people wondering ...Tyndal had donned uniform with Colin Jordan's National Socialist Movement and done time with Jordan for storing weedkiller as explosive. He could be just bullshitting, but what if...? It so happened that Tyndall, made his boasts to Ray Hill, who was acting as a mole for Searchlight. Eventually he came up with something definite. He said that he'd had dinner with Alan Clark.
When journalists asked Clark if this was true, the Tory minister insisted it had only been lunch, and in a third-rate Italian restaurant, and said he found his dining companion was a "blockhead". He explained that he had gone along because he was interested in some articles on defence which Tyndall had written in Spearhead. The propriety of a government minister discussing such matters with the leader of the National Front was thus brushed off.
Alan Clark's taste for controversial company came up again a few years later when the London Evening Standard remarked his presence at a cocktail party at David Irving's Mayfair home.It was to commemorate Irving's book Hitler's War, and the swizzle sticks were tastefully decorated with swastikas. But the minister and war historian Clark later distinguished his views from those of the revisionist historian Irving. "Irving would have made peace in 1940 because he wanted us to be a German satellite. I would have made peace in 1941 because that would have saved the empire".
Clark was naturally delighted when some academic historians started echoing this hankering of some of Britain's upper class for what they believe might have been. But he seems to have remained a "lovable rogue", however unlovable and immoral he really was, for cthe most onservative and pious members of the Establishment.
Let Dominic Lawson continue:
'When Alan Clark died, in September 1999, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, led the tributes, saying: "We will all miss him". One MP had the courage to offer an honest view of his late colleague: David Heathcoat-Amory – who had the genuine article's ability to see through Clark's phoney imitation of the upper-class Englishman. Heathcoat-Amory told the BBC that "he wasn't a particularly nice man. He could be very cruel with colleagues. One incident that sticks in the mind was when we were having a whip-round for a colleague and he [a multi-millionaire] refused to chip in ... I also think he was very conscious of his own image and status, and his own reputation as a diarist."
That rang true. When the London Evening Standard began publishing some spoof Alan Clark diaries, he sued them for a considerable sum of money, although it must have been clear to any reader that these were nothing more than a form of humorous homage. Yet Clark, for all the witty demolitions of his colleagues in his diaries, took himself very seriously indeed – it was a source of great bitterness to him that neither Margaret Thatcher nor John Major could take at all seriously his insistence that he should be Foreign Secretary.
He made it to Minister of State for Trade, however, in which role he did something truly wicked. At the time, this country had an embargo against selling weaponry to Saddam Hussein. Clark did not agree with this policy, and so gave the nod and a wink to a company called Matrix Churchill to sell machine tools to Saddam, which he knew were for military use. This was against the law, so when HM Customs discovered the shipments, the Matrix Churchill executives were arrested. They protested that the then Trade Minister Clark had given them the all-clear; but when he was visited by the police, he lied and said that he had done no such thing.
So the executives went on trial – and would have received substantial prison sentences, were it not for the fact that the judge overturned so-called ministerial public interest immunity certificates, which had kept from the court documents revealing Clark's involvement. Clark, of course, had signed those certificates, and must have thought that this would end any chance of his lies being uncovered.
Immediately, the Matrix executives' lawyers put to Clark in the witness stand the incompatibility between his remarks to the police, and what was now being revealed. Clark drawled, "it's our old friend economical... with the actualité": in other words, he admitted that there had been a conspiracy between him and the Matrix Churchill executives to disguise the nature of the exports to Saddam. The trial collapsed – and Clark became an instant hero. It was felt that he had told the truth in the dock, and thus saved the defendants from unjust incarceration. The truth was that Clark had been content to see the men locked up on the basis of his perjurious evidence – for which he should have been prosecuted – and only came clean when the forced disclosure of documents he had connived in suppressing had put him on the spot.
It turned out that Clark had earlier explained his motives for clearing the exports to Saddam: "The interests of the West were well served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, the longer the better." He was indeed a notable historian of wars, one of his most acclaimed works being Barbarossa, an account of the Eastern Front in the Second World War. He was intent on proving Hitler's talent as a military leader, but over the years it became clear that there was more to it than mere technical admiration of Hitler the war strategist. In 1981 his diary records: "I told Frank Johnson that I was a Nazi; I really believed it to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished."
Johnson, who was then on the staff of The Times, gulps and tells Clark that he can't really mean it. Clark really did mean it. But even when he complains in his diary that Johnson "takes refuge in the convention that Alan-doesn't-really-mean-it", his readers continue to believe that this is all an uproarious joke. Yet, and this is to his credit as a diarist, he does not attempt to mislead his readers about his true opinions: at one point he records his thoughts of defecting to the National Front, and when two NF emissaries come to visit him he writes, "How good they were and how brave [those] who keep alive the tribal essence."'
While Clark was involved in the Matrix Churchill trial he was cited in a divorce case in South Africa. Not content with having an affair with Valerie Harkess, the wife of a judge, he seduced her two daughters to boost his tally. Clark's wife Jane remarked on what Clark had called "the coven" with the line: 'Well, what do you expect when you sleep with below stairs types?', and referred to her husband as an: 'S,H,one,T'.
"Again, the reading public seems to find Clark's frenzied extra-marital rutting merely amusing: or perhaps it is just that they appreciate his lack of hypocrisy in admitting all to his diary. They should consider what it was like to be in receipt of his unwanted attentions. Some years ago the (married) journalist Minette Marrin recorded her own experience of it. They had both been invited to a "political" dinner at a private house. He instantly pressed himself on her in a most unsubtle way, demanding that she leave their hosts, join him for a private dinner and then...
Marrin recalled: "He thought 'no' was a form of flirting ... When at last he came to believe that I was impervious to his charms and would not rush off with him into the night, he turned to me with a particularly vicious look. And this is what this self-styled gentleman, this intellectual, this flower of our civilisation, then said: "Well, fuck you then. Fuck off. I'm not talking to you any more."
I think it would be better if we heard no more about the "wonderful" Alan Clark.'
And that's that. Except to say that when Clark encouraged businessmen to supply hardware to Saddam Hussein, and advised them to "be economical with the actualite", just as when he approved arms sales to the Indonesian dictators, he was acting for his government. None of Clark's scrapes dissuaded Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives from deciding he was just the man for possibly the country's safest seat in 1997. Only a brain tumour removed him two years later. Clark's personal behaviour and prejudices had probably reflected far more of his class than even those praising him would care to acknowledge.