We have finished! We were met at Christ Church and daughter Clare – Christ Church chaplain – bless her, laid on a reception in her rooms. We tottered in and the first thing that Moses did was to be violently sick on the new carpet!
The longest day…
Apparently the normal Roman day’s march was 13 miles and we did the extra mile …quite a feat in this heat. We met no walkers – we so rarely ever do – but we came across a gaggle of children from Wheatley Park School the establishment that Theresa May went to. Poor Theresa, with the world against her I’ll bet she wishes she was still back there. I told the children about our Clubfoot Programme.
At the start of today’s walk we were met by a beady-eyed woman who shot out of her house to complain that one of our party “… was sitting on a wall that was private property,” and was I aware that this was forbidden? She had leaped out the night before to ask why we were “gathering in the road”? As it is a public place I just grinned at her and told her we were “spies”, optimistically thinking I could banter her into some degree of normality. I was wholly wrong. There is always someone who’s whole purpose in life is to take offence at the least pretext and cause trouble. I tried to calm her down and I totally failed. Poor woman. She must be lonely.
A Mixed Blessing
Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, wrote an article for the Times in essence saying that the British colonial empire was like all human endeavours – a mixed blessing. A great many of our efforts were constructive and of lasting value, yet our history is tragically spotted by terrible incidents like the 1919 Amritsar massacre, about which we rightly feel shame.
This is the point: very little in history has been unequivocally good or bad. As an overarching judgement, this seems to me incontestably true, yet Nigel Biggar was bound to attract criticism because lefty intellectuals – with which Oxford is infested – have always chosen to broadcast that our colonial past is a matter of everlasting shame. And as the left proclaim moral absolutism, there is simply no point in arguing. With shrieks of fury, they insist there can be no challenge. Their mantra is that not only was the empire intrinsically evil but that every misery that today afflicts people who were once subjects of the Crown is the result of British imperialism.
Of course, this isn’t even remotely the case but it is the sophistry of our times: idiotic and deluded. This story reinforces the idea of a spurious victimhood amongst people who, if they are honest, are not victims of empire at all but victims of their brazenly corrupt and vicious leaders.
Anyway, one of this lefty tribe wrote an open letter condemning Biggar and all his works. Then he (or she) got 59 other lefties to sign it. It was a perfect example of an attempt at mob lynching. Now I have an Oxford diploma in theology and I am not totally thick, yet having read this open letter three times, I am still unable to understand what the dons – whose collective brainpower has to be the size of Basingstoke – are trying to say. It was clear they don’t like Biggar but all they could claim was that he was out of date and discredited, so there!
Anyway, then the cavalry for Biggar galloped up in the shape of editorials and letters both in the Times and Telegraph. They all backed Biggar’s right to freedom of speech. Further, they alleged that the 59 signatories were trying to bully Biggar into some sort of compliance with their snotty, confused propaganda. It’s interesting that none of the lefties has written to the papers to put the record straight, or maybe some did and it was not fit to publish. I hazard a guess that one of them wrote a letter then asked the Greek Chorus to sign it in lockstep. Once one of them joined, no one wanted to be seen to disagree. How pathetic! I hope they realise now they have made hogwhimpering fools of themselves.
Of course, empire had its advantages. There has been plenty of chaos since its withdrawal. All the biggest African states, including the Congo, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia have been crippled by vast civil wars. There have been 40 coups in the last half century, most involving the murder or execution of a head of state. In Uganda, a tenth of the population has been murdered in two successive reigns of terror, and a million died in Rwanda. Zimbabwe, with its rich gifts of natural beauty, an intelligent people and vast quantities of minerals, has all the hallmarks of a failed state today.
Even the more civilised regimes have imposed one-party rule, abused human rights and supressed civil liberties. Many – including South Africa – are now heroically corrupt and absurdly inefficient. Poverty remains the common bond of too many African states, and the wealth of Midas the lot of too many leaders.
I could name 25 countries whose people would be a great deal better off now under empire: Somalia and Zimbabwe for starters, and what about Pakistan?
We built cities, hospitals, railways, schools and universities. We provided an incorrupt civil service. And what did we teach? Aspirations of freedom, justice and human dignity; humanitarian ideals from the likes of Livingstone; and basic Christian values of honesty, democracy and the rule of law. Of course, the new leaders have junked much of this wonderful inheritance, and replaced it with corruption and barbarism, but the shadow of our influence persists.
Unfortunately, the Empire itself was often unable to live up to what we taught. But all in all, it’s not a bad legacy. Of course, we all have to accept that it has gone with the wind, but I hold my head up high for being British. Further, I am proud of the empire Britain built – and despite its flaws, I am in awe of what our imperial ancestors managed to achieve.
Dear Mr Benyon,
my name is Chris Harries, I live in Bristol, and I am a ZANE supporter, and I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed Out in the Midday Sun (together with its predecessors). You are a splendid diarist.
I so agreed with your section on the British Empire. It reminded me of the story of the Oxford Don who said to a pupil at a tutorial, ‘Of course, there is one thing to be said in favour of colonialism’. ‘What’?, asked his appalled charge. Came the quiet reply, ‘post-colonialism’. ZANE supporters can all think of a country where that applies.
A number of years ago I found myself organising a visit to the University of Bristol by General Sir David Richards, who had just come back from command in Afghanistan. He came to see us to talk about his experiences there. I had dealings with his aide-de-camp, a Bristol graduate, who described to me a recce visit General Richards and he, and others, had conducted prior to the British deployment. One day during their visit their Afghan hosts took them to Maiwand, the scene of an Afghan victory over the British in 1880 during the Second Afghan War. One of the Afghan officers said to the ADC that ‘actually’ a lot of Afghans realised that ‘if we had let the British in’ for 150 years or for however long it would have taken, ‘we would have what the Indians have got’, namely a mechanism for representative government, a road and rail network, a judicial system etc etc, ‘everything the Indians have got and we have not’. Interesting to encounter such a perspective.
May ZANE thrive, and may we all be treated to further walk commentaries!