Apr 2005 Journal

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Initial shock

Arriving in London in the spring of 1939, I found myself in a political culture different from the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Central Europe. Not that British politics slacked heat and passion: Churchill had mud slung at him for warmongering, and the Labour Party had just expelled Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps for advocating a united front with the Communists.

This country's difference from the Continent, as exemplified by Austria, lay in the absence of (a) uniformed militias (e.g. Heimwehr and Schutzbund); (b) party badges (such as the Social Democrats' three arrows and the Catholic Party's Celtic Cross); and (c) an English-language equivalent for terms like Putsch.

What Britain also lacked was a set of political acronyms, like the ones I had learned in post-Anschluss Austria. Some of the initials provoked erotically tinged laughter - DdM, the League of German Maidens, was popularly referred to as League of German Mattresses. But most acronyms, e.g. Gestapo, SA, SS, SD - sent cold shivers down one's spine.

Admittedly, some acronyms were in use in interwar Britain, but BUF (British Union of Fascists), SPGB (Socialist Party of Great Britain) and others were confined to the fringes of the political arena. In the intervening 60 years, however, the alphabet soup has spilled into the centre, starting with the SPD and its Lib Dem offshoot. In today's political landscape, alas, initials sprout like weeds: BNP (British National Party), SNP (Scottish National Party), UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), RESPECT (Respect for Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community and Trade Unions), etc.

Am I alone in thinking there is something suspiciously Continental - not to say distinctly unBritish - about the rise of parties known by initials instead of self-explanatory names like Conservatives, Liberals and Labour?
Richard Grunberger

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