Confusion reigns as Clark turns TV eye on Tory party

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The Independent Online
Today's Conservative Party is suffering from "considerable confusion", Alan Clark, the Tory MP and historian, said yesterday.

The first episode of BBC2's four-part Alan Clark's History of the Tory Party will be shown on on Sunday. It tells the story of the pre-war years, from the creation of the modern party in 1922 through to the start of the Second World War in 1939.

Mr Clark's analysis is typically pungent. He argues that Baldwin turned the abdication crisis into a golden opportunity to dispose of a troublesome king; he criticises a Foreign Office mandarin for spurning a Nazi offer to sue for peace on the eve of war; and he compares the task of leading the Tories to "driving pigs to market".

After a preview of the first episode, Gentlemen Players, Mr Clark said yesterday: "There is no doubt that the Tory party at the present time is in a state of considerable confusion."

He was unable to give William Hague a historical rating as Conservative leader, because it was too early, but he then added: "I didn't vote for him, as you well know." Asked whether it was not the leader's job to resolve confusion, Mr Clark said: "You may think that, but I could not possibly comment."

In the programme, delivered with all the languid charm that Mr Clark brought to his best-selling Diaries, he says that the 1936 abdication was a heaven-sent opportunity to get rid of Edward VIII that was grabbed by the Conservatives and the British Establishment.

"For Baldwin, as for the rest of the British Establishment," he says, "Mrs Simpson was an opportunity disguised as a crisis. For the last 10 years they had been racking their brains concerning what should be done about the Prince of Wales.

"He was selfish, erratic, impatient of protocol and prone to left-wing enthusiasms. The abdication was the last great Establishment coup dressed up as high-mindedness. If Baldwin had really wanted, he could have kept Edward on the throne."

Mr Clark said yesterday: "The Tory party connived at this concept that the monarchy is disposable - because they regarded Edward VIII as a bloody nuisance." But he suggested that the breach of the hereditary principle perpetrated in 1936 was being repeated with the curious endorsement of the current monarch, with her acceptance of Labour plans for reform of the House of Lords.

Mr Clark says that Hitler and the pre-war Tories had much in common: both being "brutal and anti-Semitic". He was also critical of Sir Frank Roberts, a Foreign Office official who did not even pass on to ministers a Nazi approach to avert war.

Mr Clark said yesterday that at that juncture, in 1939, it was madness to declare war on Germany. "To put an army into Europe against the Wehrmacht was just suicide; it was mad." The war had only been won because of a totally unpredictable chain of events, he said.