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Peter Rhodes on paying for slavery, a forgotten sweetheart and a Labour leader who wants power

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Anne Shelton - wartime legend (Photo: David Shrimpton)

Alas, we are now on the wrong side of the solstice. I have always thought the longest day ought to fall in July, not June, and the shortest day in January, not December. Zero support, I grieve to report.

So farewell, Dame Vera Lynn, who has died at 103 and will probably be remembered for all time as the Forces' Sweetheart. Nothing should dim her memory. But there were other wartime female performers who were adored by the fighting men. Anne Shelton was a forces' sweetheart and a national treasure. Sadly she died 26 years ago and today is barely remembered.

A handful of British companies who accept they benefited historically from slavery have agreed to make payments to a number of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups and are doubtless hoping that will draw a line under things. Don't bank on it.

A few quid paid by Greene King brewery or Lloyds of London to a group of charities comes nowhere near the vast sums for reparations suggested by some campaigners in the US and UK. They are talking not in terms of thousands, or even billions but trillions of dollars. Twenty years ago an American lawyer reckoned the debt due to African Americans amounted to about £120,000 for every living black American. In 2004 a Rastafarian organisation reckoned Britain should pay £72.5 billion to Jamaican Rastafarians wishing to resettle in Africa. When some activists refer to “white guilt money,” they are proposing colossal sums to be paid not to charities but to nations and even to individual citizens.

Never one to ignore a bandwagon, the Church of England has also issued a formal apology for its role in slavery. This is a bit tricky, given that St Paul famously wrote: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart . . . and masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” Even saints have their bad days.

No surprises in the Labour Party's own analysis of its General Election disaster: toxic divisions, a muddle over Brexit, anti-semitism and an unconvincing leader. But that was then and this is now. More by accident than design, Labour today has an electable leader and a credible shadow cabinet. More to the point, Keir Starmer actually wants power, as opposed to Jeremy Corbyn who enjoyed sniping at anyone who was running the country but never seemed keen on doing the job himself. The eternal protester.

The track-and-trace app being tested in the Isle of Wight has proved a flop. But can any technology cope with human nature? How is anyone expected to react to a text message on their smartphone telling them they may have been in contact with a coronavirus victim, and to self-isolate immediately for 14 days? Do you instantly obey, and disrupt all your plans? Or do you quietly delete the message and pretend you never saw it? For ordinary people, self-isolation is a pain but self-delusion is second nature.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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