Culture

Sunlight IS the best disinfectant: Time to release the Mountbatten papers

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The Prime Minister promised his premiership would usher in a “culture of openness and transparency.”

Yet, the actions of the Cabinet Office in blocking the complete disclosure of the late Lord Mountbatten’s diaries would suggest otherwise. With distrust mounting against the Government, it’s time for the Prime Minister to re-evaluate this decision and set about salvaging some basic respect for the truth – and for the people who deserve to hear it. 

In life, Lord Louis Mountbatten enjoyed a stellar career trajectory, from becoming the youngest Vice-Admiral since Nelson, the last Viceroy and first Governor-General of India, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff – garnering great prestige in the process – ultimately cementing himself as one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century.

That glittering career ended abruptly – when he was assassinated in a boat bombing off the Irish coast, in the late summer of 1979. 

In death – Mountbatten was lionised as a war hero and awarded the honour of a full state funeral, with the great and good coming together and honouring his contribution to public life. He was also remembered as a ruthlessly efficient matchmaker, credited with overseeing the betrothal of Queen Elizabeth ll to his nephew – Prince Philip – thereby ensuring the continuation of the Mountbatten lineage. 

For all his many accomplishments – rumours about his private life soon emerged. Even more than four decades after his murder – the name Mountbatten still generates much discussion, with scholars and biographers continuing to question the extent of his contribution to public life – and the many secrets he took to his grave. 

For one biographer – exploration into Mountbatten’s past – has thrown him into protracted litigation with the government, who seem ever so determined to stop full disclosure of Mountbatten’s diaries – even decades after his death, despite the Information Commissioner ruling that they SHOULD be published in their entirety.  

Andrew Lownie believes the material from 1918-1979 could lead to fresh revelations about the Royal Family, Partition and aspects about Mountbatten’s private life – including his rumoured bisexuality and his tempestuous marriage to wife, Edwina. He contends that the continued strategy of obfuscation facilitated by the government is indictive of an “abuse of power.” 

Lownie’s quest for answers has proved a costly affair. Taking on the behemoth – (that is the government) – has depleted him of £250,000 of his own money – and he is now requesting donations on a crowdfunding site. Thankfully – the generosity of an inquisitive society has allowed him to stand a fighting chance on taking on the government, ultimately taking him one step closer in unmasking the truth about one of the 20th centuries’ most mystifying figures.  

Yet, even now, the Government has alarmed observers by persisting with additional legal action to prevent disclosure – in what MPs have described as a “vast waste of money”- with costs spiralling to more than an estimated £600,000.

In their recent application – they’ve shamelessly claimed that the contents are so damaging that publication of his diaries would endanger Anglo-Indian relations. Why on earth are the government so terrified of the views of some long-deceased aristocrat being published? What political capital would they have to gain? 

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Government have since claimed that the papers needed to be sealed in order to protect the Queen and “preserve her dignity.”

No offence, but this is a lady who’s presided over a family that has endured its fair share of scandals, from familial spats, disintegrating marriages, and in recent years, toe-curling TV confessionals, which have generated lurid headlines. These have forced the palace PR machine to abandon its historic policy of “never complain, never explain” and go out on the attack, consequently heaping further embarrassment on the very lady they’re so keen to protect.

I’m sure, that having dealt with such trials and tribulations, the Queen is tough enough to withstand the written acerbic observations of her mischievous second cousin, and not in need of mollycoddling by a government so resistant to scrutiny.  

I’m not buying the excuses – and neither should you. I’m heartily sick of such insidious bureaucracy. We deserve so much better from our public servants.

So what if the contents of the papers might be personally embarrassing? Each family has their fair share of secrets – but we don’t all have the financial resources to ensure their suppression. Why should the Royal Family be any different? Why must the Establishment wield so much power in stopping a biographer from pursuing an entirely legitimate investigative endeavour?   

If Boris Johnson is genuinely committed to ensuring openness and transparency – then he should intervene and make this case a precedent in terms of an attitudinal shift in how successive governments should deal with the secrets of the past. We deserve the full, unadulterated truth – however unpalatable. 

As David Cameron once said…sunlight is the best disinfectant… 

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