Friday, October 23, 2009

As the Good Lordship Put It...

. Friday, October 23, 2009

The recent Head of State nonsense, in what was once known as the Elder Dominion, has smoked Canadian republicans out of the wood work. There are not many Canadian republicans, they are a small and rather predictable breed whose central criticism is that the monarchy is old and British derived. So are habeas corpus and free speech, the latter of which allows many republicans - who are overwhelmingly journalists - to earn a living. Even if only a scribblers living. While reading one of these screeds I was mentally preparing a rebuttal, then I struck gold. The author pointed to a recently declassified report by Lord Moran, Britain's High Commissioner to Ottawa in the early 1980s. The reference is a ham fisted attempt to portray Lord Moran, whose father was Winston Churchill's personal physician, as a condescending British toff.

Back in 1982 when I was the Star's bureau chief in Ottawa, I met Lord Moran, who then was the British high commissioner to Canada.

Our meeting was cordial, but I got the distinct impression that Lord Moran, whose real name is John Wilson, was completely bored with our session, as well as with Ottawa, Canada and Canadians as a whole.

From his pompous attitude, which stuffy Brits like Lord Moran carry off so well, it was clear he saw most Canadians as inferior colonials with limited talents and even less curiosity.

Turns out my first impression was right, as evidenced by a 1984 dispatch that Lord Moran, who was high commissioner from 1981 to 1984, sent to London on his departure from Ottawa.

The letter, obtained by the BBC from the British Foreign Office under Freedom of Information legislation and made public earlier this week, trashes Canadians in general, our politicians, especially the late Pierre Trudeau, our writers, actors and even our skiers.

Reading the six-page letter, titled "Final Impressions of Canada," reminded me of that meeting with Lord Moran.

It also made me wonder why, if top British diplomats like him hold us in such low esteem, Canada continues to cling to its British colonial roots, complete with having us acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as "the Queen of Canada."
Heavens. I wouldn't be surprised that Lord Moran was bored stiff talking to Bob Hepburn (which I guess is not his full name). I've never met his lordship, he might very well be a pompous toff, though I rather doubt it. After nearly four decades in the British Foreign Service, it's unlikely anyone lacking in tact and some measure of humility would have been posted to some of the most sensitive areas of world, notably Africa in the wake of decolonisation. Britishers often come off as condescending and superior by virtue of their accent and bearing. Posture is still insisted upon in the betters schools (Moran attended Eton), so is the Queen's English. Victims of our proletarianized North America culture - not that Britain is so far behind now - might very well mistake manners and education as pomposity. Bobby Hepburn (since we are not to stand on formality and call him Robert) goes to some trouble to destroy the monarchy on the basis of one meeting.

I'm exaggerating only slightly. I'm sure anything involving hierarchy, formality and restraint are an anathema to Bobby. Which is why the living embodiment of such traits is obnoxious to him. The victim of this drive-by smearing, Lord Moran, has not commented and is unlikely to do so. The article does perform one invaluable service, it points us to the former High Commissioner's report. Rather than being condescending, it is a frank and honest assessment of Canada's virtues and faults. I've read very few professional hand-wringers of Canadian identity, a modestly profitable cottage industry here, that capture Canada so well as Lord Moran. Thin skinned nationalists can complain, the honest patriot should make time to review the report here. Ironically the report describes Bobby Hepburn without citing him.

One of Lord Moran's complaints, though he does not say it explicitly, is that Canadians are quite provincial in their attitudes. One of the symptoms of provincialism is overacting to criticism from the metropolis. The Big Time calls you Small Time and you jump up and down about how Big Time you really are. There's a reason people like Michael Ignatieff, whom I do not like, spent so much of their career in London. The former Imperial Capital is a much bigger stage than Toronto or Montreal. An honest man can admit that, a pompous old scribbler will find it harder.


Paddy said...

Dear Kipling,

a most interesting link. What is all the more fascinating is that if the names and dates were blanked out and some suitable contextual substitutes made, I cannot imagine that a foreign ambasador's final thoughts on the United Kingdom under New Labour would be very different!

Consider the content!

A lack of ideology in politics, grotesque patronage even after a lifetime of failure and a low calibre of politicians.

Promotion of mediocrities to the highest honours of the kingdom, cultural acceptance of sleazy behaviour such as divorce and sexual scandal.

Natives living a "pathetic and degraded" existance on welfare handouts.

Large numbers of "ethnics", the votes of which have kept the ------- party in power recently.

I do not see that Lord Moran was being rude in any way at all. There is a world of difference between accurate observation and insult.

Britain is apparently becoming more and more "Canadian". Perhaps Britain could leave the EU and join Canada, thus removing the foreign head of state gripe?

Best wishes,


Kipling said...

Quite right Paddy. Lord Moran was spot on, just being frank and honest. He's not the first Englishman to observe that our politics lack ideology, which is to say values. Goldwin Smith said the same thing over a century ago.

James said...

Bobby is a tired old remnant of the neo-Canadiana of the 1960s, still wandering around wondering why nobody listens to his ever-so-superior-to-everyone-else's view of the world anymore. Only someone so desperate to make his ideas relevant again would grasp at one meeting with a former British diplomat as base from which to launch a factless tirade against the Crown. Canadian republicans really are becoming passé.

Beaverbrook said...

Good post, thanks for covering.

Lord Moran fought with the Royal Navy and Royal Naval Reserves during the Second World War, so I am naturally predisposed to his ilk. He reminds me of our Grand Old Duke of Edinburgh, who was also a navy war man, and who said of Canada: "We don't come here for our health".

LAW Wells said...

Lord Moran's criticisms of politics don't just apply to Canada. Ask any Australian about the political class, and all you'll ever get is cynicism and contempt, primarily because they ARE a seperate class. Honestly, there are fewer and fewer people in all Australian Parliaments with knowledge of life beyond politics (and most of them in the Coalition). I was horrified when a friend (who is a very bright spark, I might add) got a job, straight out of Uni, as a Liberal staffer.

Seriously, if this is democracy, I shudder at the thought of a republic.

God Save the Queen, since only she can save us from this madness!

'99 Referendum Veteran said...

Try writing a memo on your last day in a job, about painful colleagues. It's liberating! That's all that Moran has done. The only reason this is news is because of the effective targets of the memo has read it before it got to the shredder. Ha ha. Serves him right.

PS: LAW Wells. I am a seedy, cynical member of Australia's political class. I've been a Liberal staffer on and off over many years. I've seen and heard just about everything. And those experiences have propelled my disgust of Australia's "beltway" into a sort of Gen-X old-school retro-monarchism. Because for all the Crown's fruitiness and eccentricity, it is fireproofed against the searing, burning vulgarity and toxicity of contemporary Australian politics. ER2 can't do a thing to save us from madness, but she DOES act as a role model and "brand" for our system of government, and as a benchmark against which we can measure our governors-general in keeping an eye on our PMs and ministers. It's sure as s**t better than nothing.

PPS: Prince Edward is apparently in Sydney tomorrow. I'll try and get a photo of him at Kirribilli.

Anonymous said...

The same old tired arugements - the "Monarchy is an archaic colonial hang over", much favoured by the editor of my local daily paper.

Last time he railed trotted that one out when knighthoods were re-instated, a number of letters to the editor were submitted pointing out equally archaic "colonial" hang-overs, and wondering if he would support their abolution as well in the interests of becoming a 'modern' nation, including:

Free speech, trial by jury, universities, parlimentary democracry, an independant civil service and judicary, Rugby and of course newspapers!

The reality is, the issue is more about cultural cringe (a form of national insecurity) which manifests as a form of anti-British sentiment more than any thing else!

Anonymous said...

What a stroke of luck to find this site and kindred spirits! I am seeking background on the 1983 removal of Rudyard Kipling's fine lines commemorating Canada's war dead in the Chapel Of Remembrance in the Peace Tower. According to "The Kipling Journal," December 1985, "Those lines had been among the most famous features of a great war memorial, but there was a move to amend the linguistic imbalance in the Chapel by injecting more French into it, and--this particular text did not find favour."
By great good fortune, circumstances may now be developing that can allow the correction of this injustice. Can anyone help the cause with information? My email is:

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The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary