First man standing: Max Hastings, complete with camouflage paint and helmet, arrives in Port Stanley during the Falklands crisis in 1982 (PA)
Max Hastings is becoming something of a moral example to British national journalists and popular historians, and as his former employer, I am beaming proudly. It is not for me to minimise either the grace of conversion or the purgative value of confession. But with Max's recent announcement in the Daily Mail of his lapsed and renounced faith in Europe, like Stephen Daedalus's confession, there still need to "ooze out, sluggish and filthy" a few more self-reflections.
It is not true, as Max claims, that he "deplored Brussels' follies as much as anyone". He treated his colleagues at the Daily Telegraph newspapers who were Eurosceptic as "lunatics". He scoffed at concerns about excessive dirigisme, because, he endlessly repeated as if in a trance, "Europe is a good thing", and he was convinced that any British dismissal would make his frequent holidays in Italy more complicated. He conducted a ferocious intramural defence of Maastricht 20 years ago and leader conferences on the subject were re-enactments of the first day of the Somme.
He needed almost daily restraint from undercutting Margaret Thatcher, and was, I believe, the original source for the political insight that John Major tucked his shirt inside his underpants. (By my reckoning, next to Lady Thatcher, who should be universally recognised for her prescience and courage over Europe, John Major now seems, in policy terms, Britain's best peacetime prime minister since Salisbury, and a good war premier too.) After he left us, Max became an unpaid booster of the Labour Party.
Max is a great natural journalist and was a strong leader of the editorial department. All who loved the Daily Telegraph owe him much. But we paid a price for his simplistic views, whim of iron, and ten-second attention span. He came back from five days in South Africa all for effectively throwing the whites out of the country, and from two days in Ulster championing a "troops out" approach. His first book, after he briefly lived in the United States in the Sixties, predicted the complete and imminent self-immolation of that country. He had some pretty arbitrary views on the Middle East too, but these may have been moderated after he married a Jewish wife. These problems arose in smaller matters too; according to Max, Dame Shirley Porter was instantly a thief (no she wasn't). Similarly, a deceased schoolmaster of Max's was an evil sadist. Maybe he was, which might explain a few of Max's foibles, but was it necessary for him to put it in an obituary that brought the grieving and raving widow down on me? I thought not.
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