Month: January 2015

The Day Churchill Said No Compromise

On May 10, 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the launch of Plan Yellow, the code name for a long planned “blitzkrieg” designed to smash the combined armies of Belgium, Holland, France and Great Britain.

On that same day in England angry debate in the Palace of Westminster was posing a greater threat to democracy than Hitler’s triumphant army and air force. A month earlier, in April, Denmark and Norway had fallen to the German juggernaut despite earlier boasts the British Navy would be more than adequate to prevent Nazi aggression.

Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a long-time advocate of appeasement with Hitler, listened to the debate with little comment even as both  Opposition and his own party’s back benchers condemned his timorous response to the growing military threat.

The complacency came to an end on May 7 when a former First Lord of the Admiralty, Tory MP Leo Amery, shook the House of Commons, indeed all England, with a denunciation of Chamberlain not heard since 1653 when Cromwell told Parliament it was no longer fit to govern and to vacate the premises. Amery said he spoke with reluctance “because I am speaking of those who are old friends and colleagues,” but they need to be told some truths. Speaking directly to Chamberlain he declaimed: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

He went.

Three days later on May 10 Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, as the German army thundered to the coast and in 17 days held the British Army, plus thousands of French, Polish, Belgium and Dutch soldiers, trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. Across the English Channel Churchill was fighting the toughest and most important battle he ever fought.

Churchill had quickly organized a War Cabinet comprised of Labour, Liberal and Conservative MPs. It was not a united cabinet. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, both members at Churchill’s invitation, strongly maintained their appeasement positions claiming there had been an offer from Italian dictator Mussolini to act as go-between with Churchill and Hitler. They urged Churchill to at least consider the offer.

For five days they argued. Churchill remained adamant. There would be no compromise unless Hitler gave back all land militarily occupied in recent years.

On May 13 Churchill chaired a morning meeting of the war cabinet where the cry for appeasement became louder as bad news from Europe continued unabated. He adjourned the meeting until seven o’clock that evening and took himself over to the House of Commons. Historian and collector of Churchill speeches, Robert Rhodes James, MP, said the mood was tense when Churchill rose to speak: “The news from Europe was bad and was getting worse,” he wrote. “The public, although not yet frightened, was confused and alarmed, and the House of Commons tense.”

The House fell silent as Churchill begged to move “that this House welcome the formation of a government representing the united and inflexible resolve of the nation to prosecute the war with Germany to a victorious conclusion.”

He swept on with only modest apology for any “lack of ceremony (parliamentary protocol) with which it has been necessary to act” and added the first of what would become many rallying cries to parliament and the people: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government (in the war cabinet still briefly adjourned) I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We are told the Commons sat in stunned silence as he marched on, unafraid to talk about “the ordeal ahead of a most grievous kind….We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering…..(as we) wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

His challenge to those who still thought they could buy peace with concessions to Hitler was clear: “What is our aim? Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, however long or hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival….Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

Robert Rhodes James tells us: “When the speech ended the House of Commons, after a brief stunned silence, erupted into a rare and moving ovation. Churchill himself was deeply moved. As he walked out of the chamber, past the Speaker’s chair, he was almost in tears. He looked up, and caught the eye of his old friend and personal aide Desmond Morton. “That got the sods, didn’t it?”’ he said.”

It is 73 years since Churchill won his battle with those in England who admired Hitler and some 50 years since he died. And many are those who have forgotten he was the man who “got the sods” and won the home front battle that eventually won the war.

Remembering The Last Lion

Just a brief note to remind readers that next Friday, January 30, marks the 50-the anniversary of the day the great city of London, England, fell silent as a gun carriage carrying a flag draped coffin rumbled through its ancient streets.

It was estimated that one million people lined the streets between Westminster Hall and St. Paul’s Cathedral that day as Big Ben chimed a quarter to the hour at 9:45 am and then fell silent as the United Kingdom paid final tribute to Sir Winston Churchill, the man who had kept them “bloody but unbowed” through the tumultuous and often fearful years of the Second World War World War.

On January 15, 1965, “the Last Lion”, already in frail health, was struck by a major stroke. Ten days later, on Sunday, January 25, the voice that had once held a Commonwealth of Nations together  in times of great trouble, fell into what poet Christina Rossetti once described the “silence more musical than any song”.

For three days, by order of Queen Elizabeth, the former Prime Minister lay in state in Westminster Hall, next door to the House of Commons where he had spent much of his life. In three days 300,000 walked past his coffin in the same silence they would later take to the streets. Among the thousands was a nine year old lad named Justin Welby. He remembers holding his mother’s hand – and the palpable silence broken only by the gentle shuffle of feet. The young lad will be officiating during the 50th anniversary memorial service next weekend as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Fifty years ago Patrick O’Donovan, writing for The (Sunday) Observer newspaper on January 31, eloquently described the silence of the million or more people who had lined the streets to say farewell the day before: “The route was lined with young soldiers, their heads bowed over their automatic rifles in ceremonious grief. The bands played old and slow tunes. The drums were draped in black. The staffs of the drum-majors were veiled. They moved slowly, steadily, at a curious inexorable pace, and it looked as if nothing could ever stop them. The great crowd watched with an eloquent and absolute silence.”

O’Donovan wrote the gun carriage carrying Churchill’s coffin and body rumbled “past hotels and steamy restaurants and newspaper offices and pubs surrounded by this extraordinary silence that could not be broken even by the bands and the rhythmic feet. It was a silence, not of grief but of respect…”

It is estimated 350 million watched Churchill’s funeral on global TV; that 112 Kings, Queens and Presidents of other nations plus 3,000 other guests of rank and 7,000 servicemen and women walked with The Last Lion from Westminster hall to St. Paul’s then to the banks of the River Thames where a small vessel waited to take the coffin a short run to rendezvous with the train that would take him “home” to Oxfordshire. As the vessel passed the giant cranes of the London docks the gantry on each one slowly bowed in salute. Fifty years later it remains an extraordinary emotional sight.

Readers too young – or too old – to remember that eventful day will find a feast of photos and stories on YouTube or with a quick click on Google.

And be sure to track down O’Donovan’s Observer piece. It’s a classic and could help a few under 50’s to better understanding of the times parents and grandparents lived in and through.

“Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave”

Here’s a souvenir program guide to the Saanich Soap Opera starring newly elected Mayor Richard Atwell with a supporting cast of council members, the police department and its governing board of directors, a chorus of workers at Saanich Municipal Hall and an audience of baffled citizens from Vancouver Island’s largest municipality.
November 15, 2014: Richard Atwell, a newcomer to politics, is elected Mayor of Saanich.
December 1, 2014: Atwell is sworn in and assumes his role as Mayor of Saanich. Sometime between his election but before he was officially sworn in he informed city administrator Paul Murray his services were no longer required. No reasons have yet been given.
December 8, 2014: Saanich council meets in camera to discuss Atwell’s action and the close to half a million dollars the severance of administrator Murray will cost tax payers. Following the meeting council issues a unanimously signed letter disassociating all members from the Mayor’s unauthorized decision.
December 11, 2014. Mayor Atwell made a late evening call to 911 because he feared a verbal exchange and a “minor scuffle” between him and the fiancé of a woman friend could escalate from a verbal exchange to something more dangerous. Police attending suggested criminal charges be laid but Mayor Atwell declined dismissing the incident as “a nonevent”. The story didn’t make newspaper headlines until January, 2015.
December 15, 2014, Mayor Atwell asked for a report on a new program installed on his Municipal Hall office computer. And voiced his first concern that he was being spied on.
January 8, 2015: News reporters began asking Mayor Atwell for details about his December evening visit to the home of the female former campaign worker during his election. He admitted to strong verbal exchanges and bit of pushing and shoving as he left the house and called 911but strongly denied any sexual relations with his former campaign worker .He insisted he dialed 911 because he feared for the safety of others. Throughout a series of radio, TV and newspaper interviews he denied any sexual relationship with the woman.
January 12, 2015.Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie reported to council meeting in camera that no criminal wrong doing had been committed when a computer program known as Spector 360 was installed for security reasons on the Mayor’s office computer and other’s including the computer assigned to Chief Downie’s wife who works in Municipal Hall. Mayor Atwell whose area of expertise lies in computer software and hardware sharply disagreed with Chief Downie’s findings, and accused him of being in a conflict of interest position and repeated his claim that he had been harassed by the police and was being spied on.
The Mayor has asked for a full review by the Police Complaints Commission. The PCC says it may take some time to investigate and report.
January 13, 2015: Mayor Atwell called a hasty press conference in the board room of a private company and well away from his private office in Saanich Municipal Hall. He wanted to confess to lying about his relationship with the woman whose fiancé‘s actions led to the December 911”minor scuffle” call. The relationship had been sexual and he was sorry he had lied initially.Most of his rambling statement involved further charges of harassment by Saanich police, and the claim that he was being spied on when he worked from his Saanich Municipal Hall office. He renewed his demand for a full review of the installation of Spector 360 on his office computer which he feels was set up by ”someone planning to spy on everything I did on my computer.” Municipal staff immediately responded that the installations were for security and that last December 2 the Mayor was given the standard Network Access Terms and Conditions Form all employees and council members are required to sign. They claimed Mayor Atwell has not returned the consent form which would give the municipality the standard to “access, inspect, retrieve, read, copy, store, archive, delete, destroy and distribute…..all communications and system data use….”
The system was recommended after an independent audit felt the Saanich system was vulnerable to external hacking and required protection against :”…internal activity that may result from external threats.”
January 14, 2015: Saanich Police Board members asked Mayor Atwell to vacate his position as chairman pending the outcome of various investigations now underway. Atwell vacated the chair but said he found the request strange. He would abide by it pending the legal clarification he was seeking from his personal lawyer.
The Police Complaints Commission investigation could take two or three weeks once initiated.
Stay tuned, as they say in radio. And while we wait for Mayor Atwell to vindicate his claims of harassment by his own municipal police force we may recall what Sir Walter Scott wrote many years ago: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
It’s a maxim all politicians – real or would be – should live by.

Oh deer, Oh dear

Graeme Roberts’ e-mail was brief. Eight words summing up two stories that in the words of a famous cliché would “be funny if they weren’t so serious”.
It read: “Oak Bay – Oh, Deer! In Saanich – Oh Dear!”
The Oak Bay story is the never ending tale of Bambi and parents growing fatter by the day courtesy Oak Bay’s luscious gardens. Sharply drawn battle lines exist between those who would protect the flora and those who defend the right of the fauna to chow down where they wish.
The debate could be ended by a catch and release program or a cull and meat release drive. Either one could be carried out expeditiously. And the world would not come to an end.
The “Oh, dear” in Saanich is more serious. There, in the largest municipality on Vancouver Island, a new chief magistrate has swept into the local government China shop like the proverbial bull leaving a trail of confusion behind him. Some might say wreckage but I think Saanich council is far too strong to let a few bewildering decisions by neophyte Mayor Richard Atwell rattle the foundations of their belief in democratic decision making.
Council has already unanimously censured Atwell for telling chief administrator Paul Murray his services were no longer required. That he made the move without consulting with council was bad enough. That he made it before he was sworn in as mayor was even worse, and an early indicator that maybe his ideas on mayoralty power were not quite in line with reality.
Worse was to follow on December11 when a late evening altercation, described later by Atwell as “a small fracas”, caused him to dial 911 because, the local newspaper reported him as saying, “he had concerns for the safety of everyone concerned.”
Let’s connect a few dots from the Times-Colonist story on the “small fracas”.
1. Mayor Atwell had been invited to the home of a female election campaign worker and her partner. He said both were at home when he arrived around 8 p.m. He insisted earlier newspaper reports which had the partner arriving at the residence some time after Atwell were wrong.
2. Atwell said he didn’t know if anyone had been drinking but told reporters he didn’t have any alcohol with him when he arrived at the residence. No official time has been given for his departure.
3. During a three way conversation voices were raised but the newspaper report says Atwell “would not elaborate as to why the man, the woman’s fiancé, was upset” but admitted “there were raised voices.”
4. Atwell: “I got the sense he (the fiancé) was bothered that I have spent so much time with this woman working on the campaign as we have. And on that date he didn’t want me in the house. I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit.”
5. Newspaper report: “Atwell said he was outside the house at the top of the stairs when he was grabbed or hit from behind. He walked away and called 911.
6. Attending police recommended he file criminal charges but he said he didn’t feel that necessary. “It was a private incident…a non-event…but at the time in the heat of the moment…I felt for everyone’s safety I should call 911.”
7. He stressed in his press interview that he did not have a sexual relationship with the woman but acknowledged that during the election campaign he had talked with her about post-election job options – including the possibility of her becoming Saanich’s chief of staff. “I thought she would be able to do a job like that, but that job doesn’t exist in Saanich”
8.”Chief of staff” may not exist in Saanich, but there is an opening for a chief administrative officer, the one created by Atwell before he was adorned with the chain of office. He told the press the unnamed woman was no longer on the short list: “Because these are council decisions. I can’t even bring forward anyone’s name, there’s an administrative process for this I’m just one vote. I don’t have any influence like that to make these things happen.”
9. Atwell’s profile on LinkedIn lists him as: “Software engineer, San Francisco Bay area – computer hardware”, and under “experience”, “Owner Self employed, October 2007 – Present (7 years 4 months). Currently on sabbatical”.
10. When the election results were confirmed last November 15 the local newspaper reported Mayor-elect Atwell “seemed dazed” by his thousand vote victory over incumbent Frank Leonard. Time to shake off any latent dizziness – and update his LinkedIn profile. The sabbatical is over.

Who Is the Victim of Discrimination?

I’m hoping for early year clarification of the situation at Western Trinity University, a privately funded Fraser Valley uiniversity fighting for the right to live with a code of ethics for students and staff. The code – known as the TWU Community Covenant – is something staff and students are asked to agree to when they sign up to teach or to learn.
One clause in the Covenant requires a pledge to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” No one seems to have placed much importance on that particular demand until WTU announced it was expanding its education programs with the establishment of a faculty of law. Only then did provincial law societies rise in their wrath to protest discrimination against student and faculty, male and female, with same-sex preferences. I wonder why the law societies see only homosexuals as being discriminated against? Have fornication and adultery, considered sexual intimacies that violate the sacredness of marriage since men and women first pledged their troth, lost status in what we call the new normal? I wonder what the reaction of law societies would be if a strong advocate of male-female sex without marital boundaries launched a suit against WTU charging discrimination?
Laughable? Probably, but the current issue doesn’t involve people who engage in things heterosexual. Same sex supporters, often too quickly offended, launched law suits; the university countered. Some who first announced support for WTU did instant turnarounds from welcoming a new faculty to condemning WTU’s mandate as a clear act of discrimination – against gays. Some provincial governments joined the objectors; others still hover on the brink to wait, as do I, for clarification and calm judicial guidance.
I have written before in support of WTU’s right to establish whatever moral code it wishes staff and students to meet. It is a privately funded, Christian based university. No student or would be faculty member is forced to attend or teach – or work in the front office. There are other universities without “mandates” – with one or two named in recent headlines as scrambling for codes of conduct in the wake of grossly disreputable behavior by male students to female students.
The November 6 issue of the Globe and Mail reported Clayton Ruby (a Toronto lawyer representing an openly gay man who feels WTU’s mandate strongly discriminatory) had asked the Supreme Court of British Columbia to consider consolidating several legal petitions now pending on the WTU issue. The story said Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson had agreed “to hear several issues over two days later this month”.
The findings will not resolve the legal issues raised, but they will, I hope, provide a clear road map of where we are and why and how we define discrimination. And I add, as I did before when writing on this issue, I am not and never have been involved in any way with WTU. I view their charter as too unforgiving and lacking in the warmth of understanding and tolerance.
I would never sign such a document but firmly believe the university has the right to have such a code of conduct. And I hope the courts, eventually, rule that way.

There but for the grace of God, goes God

When Sir Winston Churchill was asked what qualifications a young man or woman required for a successful life as a politician, his answer was simple:”It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
I’ve been pondering those words of wisdom since the new mayor’s elected in Victoria and Saanich came post-election lumbering onto the public stage with promises of “changes” for their people.
Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps boldly pronounced her first change in the way things were going to be done at Centennial Square by declining to swear an oath of loyalty to “the Crown”, the symbol of office worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It was old fashioned, she said, unnecessary and time for a change.
It was noted the shiny gold necklace, a historic “chain of office” always worn by duly elected mayors, polished to perfection and cascading over her shoulders for the occasion, remained in place. A symbol of continuity of a form of government, historic, old fashioned, unnecessary, but apparently worth preserving.
Mayor Helps appeared to wear it with pride but I’m not sure whether it was for proud, old fashioned, desirable tradition, or because it looked great with her dress.
Over in Saanich newly elected but not yet sworn in Mayor Richard Atwell had a brief conversation with his municipality’s chief administrator, told him to clean out his desk, work out his severance pay and go find another job.
Mayor Atwell’s thunder and lightning entrance was justified, he said, by his election campaign promise to do things differently if elected. He certainly did that and showed little regret even after council issued a formal, unanimous, statement divorcing it from the new mayor’s decision.
Maybe Mayor Atwell’s haste to prove he could make unpalatable decisions with “change” his only reason, will be tamped down a little as 2015 unfolds and his council members remind him that votes are taken on all Council issues and that majority decisions rule not the mayor.
With those kind words I leave our two new mayors – and all other new politicians – with a few words of wisdom from my favourite philosopher Dr. Laurence J. Peter whose book Peter’s Almanac is one of my treasured, if slightly battered, possessions.
Senior readers will remember him for The Peter Principle which made us laugh while learning a few truths about life. Here are two of Dr.Peter’s Peter Principles for people over-savouring victory at the polls.
Peter Principle 1: In a hierarchy individuals tend to rise to their level of incompetence.
Peter Principle 2: The cream rises till it sours.
In other words as a newly elected member of any kind of governing body, don’t get too proud or you may end up like Sir Stafford Cripps, a brilliant English politician in many ways but always emanating a feeling that he thought himself a little better than anyone else.
As Cripps walked to his seat in the House of Commons one day Churchill growled to a neighbour: “There but for the grace of God, goes God.”
In 2015 I hope our new mayors can remember they may be captains of their civic team, but remain single members.