20 APRIL 1991, Page 7



A, the Evening Standard Literary Luncheon last Thursday, Martin Gilbert, the biographer of Sir Winston Churchill made a remarkably eloquent speech about his hero. In conclusion, he quoted a letter which Churchill had written about the Kurds over 70 years ago. Churchill warned that unless the Kurds could be given a separate homeland, there would one day arise an Iraqi tyrant who would try to eliminate them. It was a strikingly presci- ent judgment, and the audience was suit- ably impressed. As they gasped and clap- ped, however, I inwardly thanked the Fates that we did not have a Prime Minister who had cast himself in a Chur- chillian mode. British governments in the decade after the first world war delighted in annexing pieces of territory in different parts of the world, and thinking that they could solve other people's difficulties by the creation of artifical borders and parti- tions. Arthur Balfour promised a 'safe haven' for the Jews in Palestine; Churchill and Lloyd George provided a 'safe haven' for the Protestants in Northern Ireland. Similar 'safe havens' were destined for the Lebanese, the Syrians, and many of the African countries. Goaded by television Journalists and the right-wing of his party, Mr Major has been anxious to show he is not a `wobbler' over the Kurdish question. In a great hurry ten days ago, he came up with the idea of creating a 'safe haven' for the Kurds, and now we find him sending in troops to guarantee their protection and to organise the distribution of essential sup- plies. My heart rather sinks at all this. The Foreign Office say that the troops will only be there for a few months, but how can the troops, once they are there, avoid being caught up in a guerrilla war in the moun- tains of northern Iraq, in order to carve out a piece of territory from a sovereign state and create, in defiance of international law, a new country called Kurdistan? This could prove as militarily disastrous as the Churchillian escapades in the Dardanelles.

When Churchill's friend Lindemann (`the Prof) was given luncheon at All Souls College, Oxford, he was placed next to the Warden's wife, Mrs Sumner. Upon hearing that her guest's distinction lay in a scientific direction, she airily announced, 'My hus- band always says that a man with a first in Greats can "get up" Science in a fortnight!' We all know that Sumner's judgment is, roughly speaking, true. Those of us with arts' degrees do not despise scientists, but we recognise them as half-men, who lack thecelestial fire. We could master their subject — chemistry or whatever it is but they have left it too late to master the poetry of Browning, or Homer or Dante. They lack some essential quality of sym- pathy. And in no one was this more apparent than in that former chemistry graduate, the Rt Hon. Member for Fin- chley. It is for this reason that I am dismayed by the changes in our bank- notes. Instead of a great National hero on the five pound note — Wellington — we are asked to celebrate the engineering feats of George Stephenson — a man of emi- nence, but hardly someone to fill you with patriotic fervour. Now — much more disgraceful to my mind — Shakespeare is to be removed from the £20 note, and replaced with another scientist: Michael Faraday. Shakespeare was the greatest Englishman because he had the broadest sympathy. The principle of electrical in- duction is a poor substitute.

As an addict of programmes like Any Questions and Question Time, I notice that a speaker is guaranteed tumultuous ap- plause if he or she says that we should devote more money and resources to education. Somebody on one of these programmes got their round of applause last week, and added — 'We want to be educating the John Majors of the future!' More rapturous clapping. What were they clapping for? Did the audience suppose that if an earlier generation had spent more money educating John Major, he would have a rather wider vocabulary, or that he would not split his infinitives quite so often? I do not think so. I think they had momentarily forgotten that the Prime Minister had almost no formal education.

It's a tragedy that his paintings were never widely stolen while he was alive.' This must be the first occasion in modern times when both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury are, strictly speaking, uneducated. The same would be true, I suspect, of many of our captains of industry. But we still persist in believing that 'youngsters' will have no 'opportuni- ties' in life unless they are given more and more education. The precise opposite would seem to be true. If you want to be Archbishop of Canterbury or Prime Minis- ter in our present classless society, the best thing you could do would be to leave school at 16 and work on a building site.

The unsavoury case of a headmaster in Ludlow, jailed for 12 years for the sexual abuse of his pupils, amazed me in one particular. That was, the revelation of how much this man was getting paid. He and a partner were running a school for 'dis- turbed' children aged between 11 and 16. The school was meant to contain only 45 pupils, but these men had allowed the numbers to swell to something over 60. They were collecting from local councils over £300,000 gross for the care of these unfortunates. That works out at £150,000 per teacher, per annum. I do not know what the Headmaster of Eton gets paid for looking after 1,100 boys, many of whom are just as 'disturbed' as the children at Castle Hill School, Ludlow, but I very much doubt whether it is £150,000.

Her Majesty the Queen is 65 years old on 21 April, and there have been the usual suggestions in the press that it was time for her to abdicate. There could be only two reasons for thinking this a good idea. One would be that the Queen was visibly 'past it'. The other would be that we must find something to occupy the Prince of Wales. As far as I can see, the Queen is just getting into her stride, so the first reason can be discounted. She is the only member of the Royal Family who is not an embar- rassment in some way or another. As to the second reason — giving the Prince of Wales something to do — I am sure I am not alone in thinking that he would be fitted for almost any form of employment better than he would be fitted to be King of England. Since I am not a monarchist, these things do not worry me very much, but if such a tactless, cranky, bad- tempered figure were to ascend the throne at this jucture — to say nothing of his rocky relations with his wife — it would only be a matter of time before we all decided that it was time to declare a Republic. I suspect that the Queen is wise enough to know this, and that she will continue to reign over us on the Charles II principle: No one would kill me, Jamie, to make you king.'