When Britain Feared the Blackshirts

The novelist Nicholas Mosley, who has died at the age of 93, discusses the rise and fall of British fascism with Raymond Carr in a Standpoint dialogue from 2009

Dialogue History Politics UK Politics
Nicholas Mosley (right) with Raymond Carr, photographed for Standpoint

In June, the British National Party won two seats in the European Parliament. The roots of fascism in Britain go back to the 1930s and the founding of the British Union of Fascists by Sir Oswald Mosley, a charismatic politician and brilliant orator. Mosley had been a minister in the Labour government and briefly threatened to become the British counterpart of Hitler and Mussolini. In the week that the BNP made its biggest electoral breakthrough, Standpoint brought together two men who have been friends for more than 60 years and had an intimate knowledge of Mosley: his son, Nicholas Mosley, 86, the prizewinning novelist and biographer of his father, and the distinguished academic Sir Raymond Carr, 90, formerly Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a leading historian of modern Spain.  

Daniel Johnson: With the rise of the BNP, people are very interested in the phenomenon of fascism in Britain. There are many misconceptions about your father, Nick, and new generations need to be taught these things all over again. Raymond, how did you first come across Oswald Mosley?

Raymond Carr: As a friend of yours, Nicky, he invited me to lunch, I think in 1944. It was an uncomfortable social occasion because Connolly disliked me and I disliked him.

DJ: One thing that emerges from your books, Nick, is that you don’t think Oswald Mosley was fundamentally serious as a politician. What do you think about that, Raymond? Could he have been a threat?

RC: Of course he could not have been a threat, although the Left in general and the communists in particular insisted that he was. He would never have come to power in a general election. Any more drastic seizure of power was out of the question. London in the 1930s was not the St Petersburg of 1917 and Mosley was no Lenin. I think in Luton today the BNP and Muslim extremists exploit the racial tensions of the town. They are a problem for the local police but do not threaten to overthrow the government. Surely the same might be said of Mosley’s fascists in London’s East End. You remember Mosley was a junior minister in Ramsay MacDonald’s government: the thing starts off when he submits the Mosley Memorandum, which sets out his policy, roughly, to deal with unemployment by a Keynesian policy. He was quite close to Keynes and he submitted this memorandum, like a bloody fool — he was a very bad politician, your father — not to the Minister for Labour, J. H. Thomas, but directly to MacDonald, the Prime Minister, over Thomas’s head. MacDonald was a genuine friend of your father, they went on trips together. Thomas was furious, angry and turned to drink, actually, over the whole problem. The memorandum was submitted to the Cabinet, which rejected it, and so did the parliamentary Labour Party. I think Mosley handled the whole thing very stupidly. Mosley demanded it be submitted to the party conference, and to astonishment, and this is where Mosley made his great mistake, he nearly won, and he then set up the New Party. Can you remember any of the New Party members?

Nicholas Mosley: John Strachey was the most important one.

RC: There were 24 members who contested seats. Nearly all of them lost their deposit, and Mosley lost his seat. So he was flung out of the parliamentary way of pushing policies, and then he moved over to not being a party politician, but the leader of a movement, which was the British Union of Fascists. And that was his fatal mistake, because quite clearly, if he’d stuck to his parliamentary career, he would have been a powerful member of the Labour Party. 

DJ: When you talked to him later on, do you think he recognised that this was a great mistake, or did he stubbornly insist that he’d done the right thing?

RC: He couldn’t say that he’d done the right thing, of course he kept on talking all the time about victory but the universal reaction of the political elite was to say Mosley has flung away the prospect of becoming a great figure in Labour, possibly even a future Prime Minister. Even Macmillan sympathised with Mosley’s New Party. Once Mosley sought to bring fascism to England he was doomed. Great talents and great strengths, Macmillan considered, were thrown away. Mosley later recognised this. He said to your younger brother [Max], Nicky, a very interesting thing: “I could have been a powerful politician but I flung it all away.” 

NM: But that whole thing is the history of what was going on in the world at the time he became the junior Minister for Employment in 1929.

RC: He wasn’t in Cabinet. That was the important thing, that’s why he went through MacDonald instead of Thomas.

NM: And so when he was asked by the Prime Minister to produce his own memorandum about how to solve the unemployment problem, he did this with enormous care, and his argument was that they scarcely read it because it scared them. I expect it did scare them, all that Keynesian stuff, huge public spending, and it was turned down. He sent it out to the party, then at the party conference he very nearly won the vote. The reason why he didn’t then carry on and try again at the next party conference was because by this time it was 1931, and people like him genuinely thought, and had reason to think, that this was the end of the capitalist world — there were six million unemployed in Germany, eight million in America — and the reason my father didn’t hang on in Labour is that he thought there was no point at all, the whole thing was nearly over. At that time, no one had heard of Hitler.

What my father did was go and visit Mussolini in 1932, and for obvious reasons he was very impressed with the Duce, not because he made the trains run on time, because apparently Mussolini didn’t. But this chap said, “I’m going to solve all the problems of the world,” and my father felt he was going to do so. And he didn’t feel he could do that if he stayed in either the Labour or the Conservative Party, so he said the only way I’m going to solve the problems of the world — because capitalism was out, communism was the only alternative, but for whatever reasons he would say he didn’t like communism — and so he thought the only thing is I must start my own party. I don’t think when he did so, he thought it was going to turn into fascism, but then he went to see Mussolini.

RC: In his constituency he got 1,000 votes — minuscule, but after that he could never be a parliamentary figure.

NM: But people kept on writing to him, saying all you’ve got to do is lie low for two years. Admittedly when I say “people”, they were people like Bob Boothby, who was a frightful crook. I remember a letter from Boothby saying, “For God’s sake Tom [Mosley’s nickname], just do nothing, you can come back into Labour or the Conservatives, you can even join the Liberals if you want, they’re all longing for you.” But by that time it was the last thing he wanted to do. When I say he wasn’t a serious politician, a lot of people said that he could have become a Labour or a Tory PM if he’d hung on, but he didn’t think that was worth doing, because he thought that in normal party politics you couldn’t ever get anything done, it was always blocked, you put something through and then you went through the mill of parliament and then it was blocked. The only thing to do is if you stood up on a soap box and got the public behind you.

So he thought Mussolini was OK, but he hadn’t thought of Hitler when he started the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Of course, Hitler didn’t come to power till January 1933. Until the end of that year, Hitler wasn’t considered very much, he was just someone put in power by the Hindenburg people, he was a figurehead. Then, by the end of ’33, my father found that he was on some bandwagon that he couldn’t get off. Where could he go? You can’t imagine my father just lying low for three years, it didn’t make any sense, so he went plunging on.

RC: It’s extraordinary. Why didn’t he see that he had a real chance of becoming a Labour Prime Minister?

NM: That’s why I say he wasn’t a serious politician — he couldn’t have been. 

RC: He was a serious politician, but he made a series of catastrophic mistakes.

NM: Yes, but they were such obvious mistakes. I think power bored him.

RC: Oh, come on!

NM: When he was running the fascists, he had complete power. And it was supposed to be this tight-knit organisation where he gave the orders and everyone jumped to it — he loved having power. But he was a hopeless leader. He always used to say: “Of course I didn’t go in for all this anti-Semitism, but of course all my followers were appalling anti-Semites.” He never stopped them. He never tried to, he never wanted to. And then finally, people like William Joyce and John Beckett resigned from the fascist party in 1936 because my father was such a hopeless leader. He was never there. He was always either chasing some woman, taking them out to the theatre, or he was shooting or fishing. Or he was standing on top of a van making a terrific speech and then he would get back in his car and he went off. He was hardly ever in the office. He wasn’t an office politician. He hated the office, and — what is a politician’s life? I don’t know. I suppose Mussolini probably hardly ever went into his office.

RC: He obviously thought capitalism was going to collapse, and it didn’t, of course. He bet that the whole capitalist and parliamentary system would come to an end, and it was a fatal misjudgment.

NM: Yes, that’s absolutely true. That was a total misjudgment. But then an awful lot of people did. That was a time when a lot of serious young men in politics became communists.

RC: The problem for me is: why didn’t Mosley recognise that he had a great following in Labour? 

NM: Well, that is the question. I can’t think what the answer could be, other than that he didn’t want power on those terms. He didn’t want power on the terms of having to come and justify himself to the Cabinet, to the Labour Party, to the party conference. He wanted to be a one-man band. 

RC: Absolutely, I quite agree. He rejected parliamentary politics. He said it was a talking shop, not capable of action.

NM: He wasn’t a democratic politician, there’s no doubt about that. He used to say, “What’s the point of parliament? You have 300 people on one side who are trying to get something done, and you have 350 on the other side trying to stop doing it.” When I was old enough to say these sorts of things, I would say, “But that’s the whole bloody point!” All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. The point of democracy is it stops things getting done. He couldn’t understand that. He said, “But that’s appalling, I want to get things done.” So the only way you can try and get things done is you can go and stand on top of a barrel. But fascism and demagoguery only worked in the days when there was radio and there wasn’t television, because demagoguery doesn’t work on the telly. When one sees clips of my father now, there are half a dozen clips of him standing up in his black shirt screaming and yelling, and he really does seem a complete loony, although very powerful, quite a scary person. But people didn’t think he was a loony in those days, they didn’t think Hitler was a loony, hundreds of thousands of people were mesmerised by this carry-on. My father didn’t have the chance to get on the radio much. Hitler had loudspeakers on the street corners, but my father filled the Royal Albert Hall, he filled Earl’s Court, he filled Speakers’ Corner, but this was 3,000 people. He got them standing on their seats, saying “Hooray!” but then when they drifted away, that was it.

This happened even after the war, when he went to Notting Hill on the anti-black racket. He got enormous crowds, people cheering, and he really thought he was going to get into parliament then, as an independent, and he lost his deposit, again. People were mesmerised by him, by his oratory, which was extraordinary. I remember being taken to his Earl’s Court meeting in 1939, which was acceptable because he wasn’t doing his anti-Semitic drag then, it was “Stop the war, there must not be a second world war”. This was April 1939, he got the whole crowd with him saying, “My friends, how many Polish lives are worth one British soldier’s?” Everyone thought he was wonderful then, but it didn’t make any difference.

RC: Let’s summarise this — universally, the political establishment thought he had made a great mistake in abandoning normal parliamentary parties. But parliamentary power was not what he wanted. So there we are.

NM: I think there is no other explanation of this extraordinary behaviour, as you say. He was beaten at the party conference by a tiny majority. Everyone went up to him and shook his hand, and said, “You virtually won, just don’t do anything for two or three weeks.” He just said no. I think he said no because he wanted to go to the south of France for his holiday. He was that sort of man. 

RC: He wanted both the south of France and political power.

NM: He wanted the south of France and to be able to come back and thrill the crowds.  

RC: Although he did work hard later as a speaker, 200 meetings a year.

NM: He did. He went round and round the country. He also put a lot of work into his little book. In the summer of ’31, he took time off. My sister and I were told we mustn’t make any noise because Daddy was writing a book down in his study downstairs, so we all had to creep about the house. This was his fascist manifesto, a little book called The Greater Britain.

RC: What did that advocate?

NM: It advocated the corporate state, Keynesian economics, huge public spending, roads, motorways, slum clearance. Then he was asked the question, “How can you guarantee the money goes to the right people? Why won’t it just be gathered in by con people, bankers and crooks?” He said, “I’ll be running such a disciplined party that that will not occur. I’ll tell them where the money will go and that’s where the money will go.” Then in another year or so his party, the British Union, was completely out of control, without any discipline. I remember speaking to some of them. One said to me, “We all adored your father but he was hopeless, he never gave us any orders really.”  

DJ: Raymond, as an historian — why did non-parliamentary politics, street politics, not become more powerful in Britain, as in much of Europe? Is it because the parliamentary system in the end corrected itself, having, for example, supported appeasement? Eventually, we recognised that had been a mistake and Churchill then came to power. In other words, the parliamentary system is self-correcting even though it sometimes gets things wrong, gets out of touch.

RC: It was strange. Mosley simply refused to recognise that the old parliamentary system did work, did give the answers. It was a colossal mistake. He didn’t recognise the strength of the British constitution, quite simply.

DJ: Once people became frightened of Hitler, in a sense he was finished because he was associated with a foreign enemy power. But, when he was talking, as you were saying Nick, about “peace at any price” that was a very popular message wasn’t it, up to 1940?

NM: I’ve thought a lot about this, it’s terribly interesting because I can well remember, people were anti-war right up to and including the Munich agreement when Chamberlain came home waving a bit of paper. I remember going to the cinema and people cheering and saying, “Thank God.” And then suddenly by spring ’39 everything had changed. I was at school and I remember suddenly we were all digging air raid shelters because Hitler had very quickly broken his word and marched into Czechoslovakia. Suddenly, people stopped thinking of Hitler in terms of the politics. “Why shouldn’t Hitler have the German-speaking bits of Czechoslovakia? Why shouldn’t he even perhaps get the Polish Corridor or join up the two bits of Germany — poor old Germany?” It suddenly became immoral, he became someone who broke his word, who was wicked. He became a baddie. And then suddenly, everyone was ready for war. Do you remember that time?

RC: Well, I remember it because I was at a German university at that time, and it was perfectly clear — the Germans thought they would get the rest of Czechoslovakia, etc. But then, you see, I was at the time a passionate peacenik, I worshipped Dick Sheppard and the anti-war movement. The change was a real sea change then. I, as a passionate pacifist, like a vast number of people, was turned round. But the odd thing about Germany was that we were obsessed with the danger of a war but the German population thought there was no danger of war at all. “He’ll get what he wants.” What he wanted back then was that Germany should turn to the east. The whole sea changed: the anti-war movement, which was very strong, just collapsed. 

DJ: Why do you think Oswald Mosley was put in prison after the fall of France? Do you think there was a moment in that summer of 1940 when the people were very worried that there would be an attempt to make a compromise peace, effectively to surrender? And therefore people like Mosley who were still advocating peace, still denouncing the war, were too dangerous to be left at liberty?

NM: The story is, I think, that they obviously wanted a national government in May 1940 and Labour wouldn’t join a national government unless Mosley was put in jail.

RC: It’s interesting that the secret service weren’t worried about Mosley until Dunkirk.

NM: Yes, absolutely. 

DJ: That what I was getting at — there was a moment of danger when people like Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, were talking quietly behind the scenes about whether we could reach some sort of terms.

NM: Yes, I think that most people were, and it was only Churchill who absolutely dug his toes in finally and said no. But then I don’t think anyone knows what the final moves were that meant they had to go to jail. Both he and my stepmother Diana suddenly went to jail. My father was sent to jail because it was supposed to be that Attlee made it a condition that they [Labour] wouldn’t join the government unless Mosley went to jail. Diana’s sister Nancy wrote to the Home Office and said: “Well if you’re putting Mosley in jail, for God’s sake, put my sister Diana in too, she’s much more dangerous.”

RC: We must get down to this awkward question about his anti-Semitism. I knew him very well. I enjoyed his company very much. He was extremely courteous when he didn’t lose his temper, which he frequently did in ordinary conversations about politics — he was an extremely interesting conversationalist. But the anti-Semitism is a terribly important part of it all. Nicholas and I disagree about it, you see.

DJ: Did you get the feeling, Raymond, that he was really an anti-Semite?

RC: Yes, he was a curious type of anti-Semite. He wasn’t a racist in the Nazi sense of the word. But he did have the whole thing about the Jews running everything from the cinema to the banking system and so on. He was a curiously old-fashioned anti-Semite. I had a two- or three-hour conversation discussing his anti-Semitism. He justified it, which was totally unsympathetic to me. It was old-fashioned but it tipped over into speaking the same language as anti-Semites did. 

He wasn’t a racial anti-Semite, he was an old-fashioned conservative. Diana was completely anti-Semitic and confessed it in her interview under 18B [the internment regulation]. I never got hold of his interview under 18B, I have only got Diana’s where she openly confessed, “I am a friend of Hitler.” She become one via [her sister] Unity. She chased round the cafés in Munich trying to meet Hitler. Finally, she met him. Diana became a very close friend of Hitler, you must admit that.

NM: Of Hitler, yes indeed.

RC: No doubt about that. But when I brought up this racist thing, he said, “You know well it’s not me, it’s my followers who are anti-Semites.” Well then, why didn’t he stop his followers from being anti-Semites? He capitalised on it. 

NM: That’s what I mean about him — he was a hopeless leader, a hopeless politician. 

RC: I don’t think he was a hopeless politician.

NM: He was a hopeless democratic politician. He hated party politics and he couldn’t even run his own party. He couldn’t tell his followers what to do. They were marching through the streets chanting: “The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids!” My father thought this was a perfectly absurd thing to do and he didn’t tell them to stop. This isn’t a serious politician.

RC: When do you think he made his first anti-Semitic speech?

NM: I tried to pin this down when I was writing my books about him, and it was one of his Albert Hall speeches, I think it was at the end of 1934 or early 1935, and the story as far as I could make it out that is in The Greater Britain, which he wrote in the autumn of ’31, there isn’t one word about the Jews. Absolutely nothing at all: anti-Semitism didn’t exist. Then the fascist party got under way by ’32. And when he started off his fascist movement he did get money from Mussolini through Ciano [Mussolini’s son-in-law and, at that time, propaganda minister].

RC: But he always lied about that.

NM: He always lied about it up until the very last moment.

RC: I broke with your father over anti-Semitism. At dinner with Diana on the day the violent Nazi anti-Semite Julius Streicher was executed, she asked her guests to observe a moment’s silence in his memory. I realised I was in the wrong box and suspended all contact with Diana, and only saw Oswald again a few months before he died.

NM: But he never met Streicher, Raymond!

RC: But he corresponded with him.

NM: Well, his office sent telegrams to and fro. But he didn’t meet him. My father only met Hitler twice. I don’t think he ever met Streicher. Diana met Streicher lots of times.

RC: Diana was very fond of Streicher. Except she said he was a rather second-rate man.

NM: But that was very Mitford-like. If you asked a Mitford if they had ever met some famous murderer, Heath or Haig or someone, they would answer, “Oh yes he was simply sweet.” 

RC: These Mitfordian utterances were confined to friends in private. I think you are in danger of trivialising Diana and the significance of her close friendship with Hitler and her public loyalty to Mosley and his political beliefs. 

NM: As you say, my father wasn’t an obvious personal anti-Semite. He didn’t have a gut feeling, but what he was uselessly, absolutely pathetically responsible for, was not stopping his followers. And this was unforgivable.

RC: But that’s what he told me, that’s exactly what he told me. By omission, if you like, he became indistinguishable from a racist.

NM: Yes, he became indistinguishable from a Nazi, almost. Because he not only let his followers march through the East End, dressed in black shirts, singing the Horst Wessel Lied, the Nazi anthem, to the English words “We’ll fight for Mosley,” he also purloined the Mussolini marching song, Giovinezza. So if you have your followers in their black shirts marching through the streets of the East End shouting anti-Jewish slogans, singing the Nazi anthem, and you think you’re not an anti-Semite, you’re mad. 

When he went back into politics after the war, up to Notting Hill on the anti-black thing, rather than having an argument that he just brushed away, I thought I’d rather have a personal conversation with him. So I went over and said, “Dad, you’re doing the same thing. You’re putting everyone against you like you did before the war, and this is not only wrong, it’s insane! You’re a lunatic!” And I believe that, I think there was a sort of lunacy in him about that. He couldn’t see two and two and put it together and make four. You can’t pin the plot down, as you say, because it doesn’t make sense. He wasn’t what one normally calls a straightforward anti-Semite and yet he was absolutely set up as an anti-Semitic icon. And he allowed it. And why would he do that? That’s what puzzled me. 

I think he saw a global thing. After the war, when I was still very much in contact with him, he suddenly became a passionate pro-apartheid supporter in South Africa. They were the last arguments I had face-to-face with him. There was a very right-wing man out in South Africa who was even more to the right of Botha, and he was a great ally to my father. And my father just believed he was a racialist in that he thought it would make sense: that races weren’t supposed to mix, that it just didn’t work: it was like mixing vinegar and oil or whatever. And therefore it was much better if the blacks went back to the West Indies. Therefore, his policy was to pour money into the West Indies, make jobs so that the blacks would go back. And I said, “But they won’t go back,” and he couldn’t understand this. I think that the one nice story about my father’s show of racism is, when he was quite old, I was chatting to him and I just happened to use the phrase, “Oh well, she’s a very beautiful black woman.” And my father said “What do you mean, a beautiful black woman?” He couldn’t comprehend how a black person could be called beautiful. That was completely daft.  

DJ: What was his relationship with Hitler? Did he get money from Germany?

NM: He never got money from Germany. When I questioned Diana about money, first of all she said she didn’t know anything about the Mussolini money, which was rubbish, of course she did. And then I said, “Did you ever get any money from Germany?” She said, “Oh well Nicky, of course I tried, but Goebbels was terribly mean.” And I said, “What do you mean, terribly mean?”, and she said, “Well, he would never give me anything, so I just used to come home with a couple of hundred pound notes.”

RC: Hitler probably talked to Diana more about politics than any other woman.

NM: Unity met Hitler in the famous meeting in the café when she was rolling her eyes in the corner, and Hitler asked her over to his table and asked her who she was. Unity was a sort of groupie, she was an absurd girl. Diana was an infinitely more intelligent woman than Unity. So in 1938, my father was short of money, she went over to try and negotiate, and when Hitler landed in Berlin — he spent most of his time in Berchtesgaden or Munich — in the evening, he used to send for Diana. He was exhausting. He was an insomniac, he never went to sleep. When people got totally exhausted and dropped off at midnight, then he’d send for Diana who would come over and stay until 4 o’clock in the morning. 

When one asked Diana, “Why did you like Hitler?”, she said it was because he was so frightfully funny. He used to make the most wonderful jokes, he used to make one laugh. And you know what the Mitfords think about laughter. She said she was freaked with laughter. I said, “What did you talk about? Did you talk about politics?” And she said he just wanted to know all the London gossip, about the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson and so on. And then he used to tell frightfully funny stories. He was a wonderful mimic — he used to mimic Mussolini and Neville Chamberlain. 

This is one of my favourite stories: when I was going through my father’s papers I found a letter from Unity to Diana, written in 1936 from Berchtesgaden, saying, “Darling Diana, you really should have been here last night. The Führer kept us all in stitches for hours, imitating a woman trying on hats.” No one can believe that, but I can believe it. 

I can’t think what else the Mitfords would have done with him. Diana and Hitler wouldn’t have talked about politics. It wouldn’t have interested him, it wouldn’t have interested her. She would have talked about politics with someone else, but it wasn’t really her thing. Her speciality was making Mitford jokes.

DJ: It’s interesting, Nick, how in all your books, particularly your recent books, God comes into them: God’s Hazard and The Presence of Infinity. So you clearly do feel you need to talk about this and think about it. Whereas Raymond, you’re quite content to be a confirmed atheist. You don’t miss God.

NM: Raymond and I used to agree about everything, but then we’ve all got a bit old. The only thing we haven’t agreed on is God, and neither of us knows what we mean by God. 

RC: What do you mean to say? I’m a committed atheist, for God’s sake! 

NM: Well, it all goes beyond words. I say that I can’t really put what I think into words anyway. I say that people who think that they can put God into words aren’t really believing in God. They’re believing in themselves. But if you really believe in God then you just have to shut up. So I shut up. And I then go on talking for two hours.

RC: I do go to Church a lot to try and find out why people believe in God. I go to Mass regularly.

NM: That’s wonderful. Well then, of course you believe in God. What else does it mean?

RC: One wants to try and understand the personality of people who believe in God when to me it’s inconceivable that anybody can believe in God. My friends are very odd. I’ve still got a few atheist friends, but the vast majority of my friends are either pious Catholics like Paul Johnson or fundamentalist Catholics like Piers Paul Read. Piers and I have had several conversations about God. He believes in Hell, and I say to him “Shall I go to Hell?” “Possibly,” he says, “you might be going to go to Hell.”

DJ: Does all this talk about Hell worry you, Raymond? Do you think there’s a possibility that they might be right?

RC: Doesn’t worry me in the slightest. Never remotely. My most intimate friends are Catholics, and you see I dislike Richard Dawkins. For him, believers are either fools or hypocrites. This is absurd.

NM: I looked up the difference between deists and theists in the dictionary the other day. A theist is someone who believes in God and thinks they know what they believe. Deists are people who believe in God and haven’t got the faintest idea what it is that they believe. I’m a deist.

RC: Yes, I absolutely agree. We can’t ever agree though because it can’t be settled one way or the other. I believe there isn’t a providential God, or I don’t believe he created the universe.

DJ: Do you think, Nick, that God is necessarily good — the problem of evil and all that? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that God occasionally seems to be rather arbitrary. We rail at Him, and say, “Why do you let these things happen?”, but why shouldn’t He? 

NM: When I was about 12, I asked my father, how does God allow suffering children? No grown-up could make any sense of it. The only person who made sense of this to me was my father, who answered me very seriously. 

He said, “God wanted humans to have their own responsibilities. He wanted to make them not equal to God, but on a higher level than animals, and therefore He gave the animal world, the plant world, the natural world freedom.” So what Darwin says about evolution is all absolutely true. So I became terribly interested in this. In the Bible, Satan is hardly ever mentioned. The only time Satan is ever mentioned in the Old Testament he’s working in cahoots with God. In Genesis, the snake is one of God’s animals, is His creation. God hasn’t told the snake not to come down. God wants to see what will happen.

RC: He’s a bit of a joker, God?

NM: Well, yes. One of the last things I’ve written is: why does no one see that God has a sense of humour? But then one can’t say this in the era of the Holocaust.

RC: What was Diana’s attitude to the Holocaust?

NM: She was once asked by A. N. Wilson or Robert Skidelsky, “Who do you really think are the most evil people in history?” And she said, “Jesus Christ and Winston Churchill.” She was obsessed by it, you see.