Weekly Column

Shackleton at 150

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12th February was the 235th birthday of that great constitutionalist, abolitionist of slavery and author of the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln. “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (My late Father to tease my Mother that that was why he remembered the date, which was also their wedding anniversary!) I am personally no great fan of St Valentine’s Day, which, rather like Hallowe’en has been commercialised and Amercanised out of existence. (St Valentine was a great martyr, but who remembers that?) How much nobler is 15th February, which this year was the 150thanniversary of the birth of my great Polar hero Ernest Shackleton. It will be marked by HRH the Princess Royal unveiling a memorial in “Explorers’ Corner” in Westminster Abbey. Grit, determination, leadership under the harshest of circumstances.

It is hard, by contrast, to believe that a great Nation like the US cannot come up with better candidates for the Presidency, the leadership of the free world, than the demonstrably veteran Biden or the equally obvious crook, Trump. Why cannot America find a Shackleton, or a Lincoln, or perhaps even a St Valentine, all three of whom gave their lives for their great causes?

The squalid scramble for moral rectitude over Labour’s antisemitism this week has been laughable. He who was widely defended as Labour candidate in Rochdale on Sunday, was by Monday expelled as a disgraceful anti-Semite, closely followed by other Labour candidates. They represent Moslem constituencies; yet that should not excuse antisemitism of the kind which George Galloway (who may well be the beneficiary of Sir Keir’s flip flopping over the issue) amply demonstrates.

The appalling dilemma of Rafah, where a way must be found to release a million or more refugees without in any way giving the vile murdering rapists known as Hamas any kind of victory, must be found. The West must be ready to call out the Iranian Ayatollahs who are behind Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis shelling our ships and disrupting our legitimate trade routes.

300,000 dead Ukrainian soldiers demand the outright defeat of that murdering invader, Putin. If we do not do so, we will encourage every dictator in the world to cast envious eyes over and then apparently blamelessly invade neighbouring independent countries. America and we must show leadership in supplying Ukraine the weapons and ammunition which they need.

The World needs people of stature; people who rise above mundane averageness; real leaders who stand up for their beliefs and support those who support those beliefs. The squalid scramble for votes in these by-elections, whose outcome is largely irrelevant anyhow, allows our worst possible instincts to show through. Minnows like Biden, Trump and Starmer simply do not have the stature needed to lead the world in these troubled times.

Come back Lincoln, come back Shackleton, Churchill, Attlee, Thatcher. We need leadership; we need spine; we need grit and determination. I celebrated this Lincoln’s birthday by visiting my three grandchildren - Fred, Frankie and Nina. It made me contemplate that without real Global leadership, the outlook for our children’s and our grandchildren’s world is bleak indeed.

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James Gray
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February 16, 2024