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Badger: Public service and self-service

LAST week a ninety-nine-year-old war veteran died.

Charles Coolidge, who won the Bronze Star, Silver Star and America’s highest award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, passed away in hospital in Chatanooga, Tennessee.

Mr Coolidge had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1970s.

He received the Silver Star for his actions in Velletri, Italy. He repelled an enemy attack with his machine-gun section and once crossed a minefield with his fellow soldiers by forcing sheep through first at bayonet point.

In autumn 1944, he was in eastern France, ordered to hold a tree-covered hill against a German counter-offensive.

A non-commissioned recruit, he commanded an infantry group of 30 machine gunners and riflemen throughout a four-day firefight with a larger group of German soldiers.

“It’s interesting how the world changes complexion,” he told a Tennessee newspaper, “and what you do to survive.”

When he died on April 6, he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient. Only one remains from World War II, Hershel W. Williams, 97, who received his award for action on Iwo Jima.

Charged with securing the right flank of advancing American forces, Charles Coolidge’s men laid down suppressing fire to repel the Germans and faced down a tank attack.

A sergeant with him that day later told the Associated Press that Mr Coolidge, a talented softball pitcher, threw perhaps 70 grenades; by one estimate, he killed 20 Germans before coordinating his men’s withdrawal.

Mr Coolidge was the last to leave the position. None of his men died in the fight.

He received the Medal of Honor from Lt. General Wade H. Haislip on June 18, 1945.

“My first concern when I was a platoon sergeant was my men,” he told the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “I didn’t care what happened to me, but I wanted to protect my men under any circumstances. I always referred to them as my men — not anybody [else’s], not the company’s.

“They were strictly my men, and I’d do anything for them.”

In 2006, France made him a knight of the Legion d’honneur for his war service. A Chattanooga highway and park bear his name, and in 2013 he was one of a dozen Medal of Honor recipients featured on the cover of Postal Service stamps.

His surviving family include his three children, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Mr Coolidge’s end was as unremarkable as his military life was astonishing.

Aged war heroes fade away every day. Their deaths mostly go unremarked.

If Captain Sir Tom Moore had not raised £30m+ for the NHS, he would not have been knighted. His death, aged 100, would most likely have merited a brief family tribute in his local newspaper and an article in his regimental newsletter.

The Duke of Edinburgh lived a long life of distinguished public service. He was a war veteran of no little courage whose prominence was due to an accident of birth and his marriage to the monarch.

Consider this question: if he had not been the Queen’s spouse of 73 years, would Philip Mountbatten – a scion of European royalty – have achieved or done so much?

The answer is ‘no’.

However, he used his status to establish the World Wildlife Fund, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, the Australian Conservation Fund. Through organising fundraising events, he supported the foundation of nine British Heart Foundation centres of excellence.

That’s how status, power and influence should be used.

Compare that track record to how a former Prime Minister used his status and influence to influence HM Treasury policy direction during the pandemic.

David Cameron did a lot to detoxify the Conservative brand after the years it spent as a political irrelevance after 1997’s cataclysmic electoral defeat. He helped the Party rebuild following Iain Duncan Smith’s disastrous leadership.

He built up after Michael Howard’s interregnum before the 2007 General Election.

Mr Cameron’s reputation has received a deserved battering since he left office in 2016.

The early promise of his government withered even while he was Prime Minister. The Brexit referendum he held to bandage Conservative wounds left him with a reputation as a shallow political gambler and – worse – a loser.

David Cameron’s spin of the political roulette wheel gave us three years of chaos under Theresa May. It helped build Boris Johnson’s road to Downing Street.

Indeed, his is a glittering legacy; more probably and properly, ‘glistening’.


In a litter tray.

Now David Cameron stands exposed as an even worse sort of chance.

After sulking like Achilles in his tent – well, shepherd’s hut – and writing memoirs which do not so much gloss his legacy as coat it in varnish, Mr Cameron turns out to be an ardent lobbyer of government ministers.

Not for David the formal approach through proper procurement channels, however.

Mr Cameron preferred texting the Chancellor on his personal number and meeting Matt Hancock in an un-minuted meeting over a meal. All in the service of a company in which he had a significant financial interest.

Did his lobbying pay off?

Yes, it did.

Did the company he worked for benefit?

Yes, it did.

Is it the same company whose collapse prompted a crisis in the steel industry?

Yes, it is.

Greensill – which had a risky financial model – went under for all David’s lobbying on its behalf.

That is the headline. But beneath the headline is another story.

A Greensill subsidiary, Earnd, won a contract with the NHS to offer staff the ability to access their wages before payday.

The NHS’s corporate services provider is now running around trying to ensure those who signed up to the service still get paid.

The NHS has already had to step in to pay pharmacies that used Greensill’s faster payment services.

And so, David Cameron has managed to drop his underpants and curl out another steaming legacy for himself.

Readers: compare the uses to which wealth, status, power, and privilege can be put.

Badger doesn’t have much time for royalty – he doesn’t really see the point – but he does know the value of good works done in the public interest.

David Cameron used his status, privilege, power, and influence to further his own private enrichment.

It was an utterly valueless act committed by a man without values whose political legacy seems increasingly worthless.

Having betrayed his former office and those who still support him, David Cameron’s memorial will be whatever and how much silver he manages to grub from the money changers in the temple.