Simon Jenkins: British Official Seeks Control Celebrations Of Historical Events

Roundup: Talking About History

At last history hits pay dirt. For years it was pap for television. The nation's rulers needed scientists for guns, linguists for trade and economists for mistakes. History was for nuts and numismatists. Now up pops Charles Clarke jingling bags of gold. The home secretary has promised the prime minister that he will lock away for five years anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" a terrorist act committed in the past 20 years. He does not care if glorification was not meant. If someone, somewhere takes anything that I say or write as encouraging to terror, even if they do not act on it, I have committed a criminal act.

Nor is this all. Lest any crackpot thinks he can dance up and down any old high street praising Hitler, Mao or Uncle Joe as outside the 20-year limit, Clarke is preparing a list of earlier terrorist acts that also render their celebrants criminals. After "listed" historic buildings we have "listed" historic terrorisms. To the glorious chronicles of our island race, Clarke is to append an open-ended catalogue of listed events. They may include any acts of violence against people, property or, bizarrely, electronic systems anywhere in the world if intended to advance a political, religious or ideological cause or to influence a government.

I am told that this astonishing bill was cobbled together not by Clarke or the lord chancellor, Charles Falconer, who were both away at the time. The author was a No 10 wonk who was trying to think up "12 points" to put in Blair's holiday press conference pack on August 5. The wording recalls the remit of the old House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington. It is born of Joe McCarthy out of 1066 and All That, with a dash of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

A sure sign of a leader losing his grip on reality is when he starts meddling with history. New Labour was born denying its past. As George Eliot said of women, happy is the one who has no history. Blair's party was not-Labour, not-Liberal, not-Tory, just "we". Hence the significance of Clarke's partial cut-off date in the mid-80s. That was the time when Blairism first oozed like ectoplasm from the guts of Orgreave and Wapping.

Terrorism as defined in law more or less covers the story of the human race. Half of Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples must qualify as a listed event. The Crown Prosecution Service must be staffed with experts in William the Conqueror, the Black Prince, the New Model Army, the Gordon rioters, the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Spin doctors must cut their teeth on Alexander the Great, Vlad the Impaler, Innocent III and the Counter-Reformation in Latin America. They must burn midnight oil over the Albigensian crusade. Blair will be heard screaming in his attic: "Beware the Da Vinci Code."

This is government by trivia and whim. Already we are told that Clarke's listed events will not include anything Irish. Why? King William's campaign is life and breath to loyalist militants, as is the 1916 Easter Rising to Blair's pet insurrectionists, the IRA. Why should these groups be excused the law? Soon anyone who visits terror on the British people will negotiate a "listed events exclusion clause" as part of their final settlement.

Even without the cliche that one man's listed event is another's act of heroism, this is a can of worms. Bomber Harris's flattening of German cities in the second world war was specifically described by Churchill as "simply for the sake of increasing terror". The bombing of Hiroshima was, to put it mildly, a politically motivated assault on people and property. Last month it was not glorified, but it was certainly celebrated.

comments powered by Disqus