Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A little known fact about Sir Alfred Sherman

The death of Sir Alfred Sherman, self-styled (accurately in part) progenitor of Thatcherism has brought out all sorts of reminiscences. Sir Alfred was such a difficult person in many ways that we must all wait for a properly researched and argued biography to form any kind of conclusions about him.

Here I should like to offer a small vignette that is, perhaps, not very well known. Sir Alfred had ambitions to become the leader of the eurosceptic movement by taking over, if possible, the Anti-Federalist League, which subsequently transmogrified itself into the UK Independence Party, a name and a concept he disliked, as I shall explain.

The AFL was formed in 1992, a few months before the election. In the confusing period after the election and through a by-election, with Alan Sked still leader, Sherman came to at least one of the public meetings we held at the LSE. This must have been immediately after his Karadjic interlude, though it was not till later that he told me he had been dismissed by that great humanitarian for being too much of a hard-liner. Back in London, Sherman still had close connections with the Bosnian Serb organizations here and went to many places accompanied by at least two unpleasant looking toughs who had, undoubtedly, worked for the Yugoslav secret police in a previous political existence.

Still, Yugoslavia was a bit of a backwater, particularly as it was unlikely to last much longer as a state, and Sherman wanted to make his way back into British politics. He told me that he had tried to take other Conservative politicians in hand and groom them for leadership as he had done with Thatcher but none of his plans seem to have worked out. It obviously did not occur to him that there was something special about the material he had been using in the past. (He would not have liked anyone to ask this question but one cannot help wondering exactly who was using whom.)

So, clearly, he had to find another niche and the burgeoning eurosceptic movement seemed to be just the ticket. He had always been a fervent supporter of various nationalists, getting into trouble when he invited Jean-Marie Le Pen to a Conservative Party Conference fringe meeting and generally making comments about the need to send second and third generation immigrants “back” to their parents’ homeland. Being somewhat humourless, he never really appreciated the irony of the situation as he, too, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.

He certainly opposed the European Union by the nineties though the probability is that he had not really seen the dangers back in the seventies. Few people did. Why he should oppose one artificially created supranational state and yet have no particular objection to others, remained a mystery.

The idea he toyed with was the taking over and grooming of Alan Sked. If that did not work out, he reasoned, then he could take over himself and put the eurosceptic movement on the right tracks.

The first thing to do, he explained to me over coffee, was to define what we wanted to fight for as well as against. Not unreasonable but he then proceeded to make life a little complicated. It is English nationalism that we need to define and strengthen, he insisted. It is not strong enough. All this stuff about the United Kingdom was a political cul-de-sac.

Given that Sir Alfred made numerous comments about being Jewish and being vehemently against this, that and the other because of that, this idea of strengthened nationalism, a sort of sturm und drang seemed rather odd and, given that we were trying to build up a country-wide organization, inappropriate.

Besides, Alan Sked was not going to relinquish his position or put himself in the hands of the man whose behaviour had entailed the changing of the locks on the Centre for Policy Studies building to prevent his entry.

All the same, every now and then I think about what would have happened if...


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