This comment appears in The Times.
THIS WEEK the Government announced plans to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. The former MP Tam Dalyell objected. A celebration would be a “reckless, stupid thing to do”, reinforcing his “distaste for the Prime Minister”. Dalyell is reputed to possess independent judgment and doggedness. In reality, he is the most overrated Labour parliamentarian since his fellow aristocrat Oswald Mosley.
Dalyell famously posed the “West Lothian question” against proposals for Scottish devolution in the 1970s. After devolution, English MPs would be unable to vote on Scottish domestic matters, yet Scottish MPs would vote at Westminster on the same issues as they affected England. It amounted, argued Dalyell, to the incompatibility of devolution with a unitary state.
Dalyell’s remorseless pedantry has been taken as evidence of a keen constitutional brain. Yet no one suggests parliaments for the Faeroes and Greenland threaten the stability of Denmark. There is controversy in Spain about greater Catalan and Basque autonomy, but no counterpart to the West Lothian question.
In his anti-war campaigning, Dalyell has invariably adopted the worst possible argument. In the Kosovo War, he helped to establish the Committee for Peace in the Balkans. Its impressive title was a euphemism for ignoring the popular struggle against a xenophobic Serb regime. A survey of Kosovar Albanian opinion in 1995 showed 100 per cent support for separation from Serbia.
In the Falklands War, Dalyell alleged, with no evidence but much abuse, that Margaret Thatcher had sunk the Belgrano to thwart a Peruvian peace proposal. In his tract One Man’s Falklands he casually insulted the Falkland islanders, who had “never thought through their long-term future before demanding British military help”. He dismissed human rights concerns under military rule in Argentina as “basically a metropolitan Buenos Aires problem”.
He concluded, anticipating numerous (non-existent) Tet Offensives that would mark Argentine resistance in the next quarter of a century, that “the closeness of the analogy with Vietnam has not been sufficiently considered on the British side of the Atlantic”.
To adapt the dictum of an earlier Prime Minister: after this inglorious record, a period of silence would be welcome.
UPDATE: There wasn't space in a brief piece for a longer quotation from Dalyell on the Falklands, but this one - also from his contemporary account One Man's Falklands - is extraordinary for what it tells us of the man's socialist internationalism. Dalyell believes that Europeans need to get a sense of perspective when it comes to military aggression: "Europeans are appalled by minor military aggressions and coups. In South America, if they are not regarded as routine, at least they have a familiar look."
At least Dalyell had the decency to note in his book that MPs scoffed at this argument when he presented it in the House. What an ethnocentric lot they must have been.