Sunday, 18 January 2015

Harold Nicholson MP

Harold Nicholson by Norman Rose ISBN 0-224-06218-2

Harold Nicholson was a diplomat, politician, biographer, diarist, novelist, lecturer and broadcaster, journalist and gardener.  Never quite making it to the top rank, he never the less was a witness and participant in lot of events.

He is perhaps most remembered for his diaries, which published late in his life and edited by his son, he referred to them as three books he didn't realise he had written and the most successful of his forty books (actually he wrote nearer thirty books not forty)

He had an interesting career, being involved in the conference that followed the ending of WW1 and so worked with Lloyd-George.
His politics were very odd.  Essentially a Whig, the sort of Liberal Grandee who wants to improve the lot of the workers without actually having to have them round to dinner, he zig-zagged  from being a career Diplomat, then standing for Oswald Mosley's "New Party"  - which at the time was essentially a radical progressive off shoot of the Labour party promoting Keynesianism and public works to conquer unemployment.   In spirit it was very similar to the feeling in 1943-1945 when people started thinking if we can do all this in time of war - this organisation, this better treatment for the masses, we should do it in peace time too.

However Mosley soon started his move towards Fascism.  Harold was appointed editor of the New Party newspaper  'Action'. Harold contributed articles of high brow literary artistry such as one entitled "Lift high the Marigold" which perhaps didn't appeal to aspiring black shirts and  which probably explains why circulation plummeted from 160,000 to 15,000 in ten weeks.

He was personally loyal to Oswald Moseley but wrote in his dairies "He has no political judgement. He believes in fascism, I don't I loath it." Harold begged Mosley not to get involved in fascism, saying it was unsuitable for England and would be doomed to failure and ridicule.

Harold switched to the National Labour Party - those few people who followed Ramsey MacDonald into the National (coalition) Government.  National Labour was dying even as Harold was elected to Parliament at the 1935 General Election.  Harold could have easily ended up a Conservative MP had they offered him a seat (he did ask)  and was basically parachuted into as a coalition candidate in Leicester East in a move very much like being given a rotten Borough in the 1800's.

Harold himself recognised he was essentially an old style Whig and would have been more at home in the Liberal Party but recognised they were doomed  (if only he had spotted that with the New Party or National Labour!) although he was friends with Liberal Party Leader Archibald Sinclair.

As an MP Harold had a excellent record opposing appeasement and the rise of Fascism/Nazi's but outside of Foreign Affairs, his speciality, he struggled to make any impact and recognised himself he was unsuited to being an MP.  Harold was more a supporter of Anthony Eden, rather than Churchill. He knew Churchill but wasn't argumentative enough for Churchill tastes.

After a brief junior minister role in the Government, Harold was demoted to the backbenches and lost his seat in the 1945 general Election. Once again he looked around for a party, sending out feelers to Conservative and Labour. He threw in his lot with Labour and stood in a by-election, but soon regretted it. Really he wanted a seat in the House of Lords, politics without all those pesky constituents and elections but he managed to upset both Labour and Conservatives so that neither were inclined to nominate him.

Oddly (or perhaps more generously not unusual for someone of his times and background) Harold held   Typical of his views was that he hated black people but hated injustice and apartheid even more.   He hated anti-Semitism but disliked Jews and made anti-Semitic comments toward them.  He was derogatory about Turks, Arabs, Japanese and the "coloured races".
Trade Unionists were "ghastly" the working class and the middle class were pigeonholed as  "sheep" and "dumb idiots".  He at least felt uneasy knowing that he was asking for votes from people who's views he disagreed with and who would disagree with his views should they know them.   He fell out with Anthony Eden over Suez (or Suez fiasco as it is usually termed)

Ironically his son became a Conservative MP but was deselected for being far too Liberal for the deep blue constituency party in Bournemouth.

Harold private life is covered too.  As a homosexual man married to a Lesbian wife, Vita Sackville West they had a strange but loving relationship which worked for them in the times they live in.

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