2010

14/12/10 - Liberal rebellions (£)

The Times

Sir, The largest and most damaging Liberal rebellion of the 20th century (”Rebels with few previous causes”, Dec 9) was inspired by a widespread belief that Lloyd George had misled the Commons by overstating the strength of the Armed Forces. John Davidson, Private Secretary to Lloyd George’s coalition partner, the Conservative leader Bonar Law, recorded that the Prime Minister’s figures “were undoubtedly exaggerated, if not actually untrue, and the impression which he conveyed to the House in its optimism and spirit implied that everything in the garden was lovely, which was not true”. In this insouciant manner Lloyd George brought about the deep split in the Liberal Party which, in Davidson’s words, proved “a fatal blow to its corporate existence”.
Alistair Cooke 
London SW1

26/11/10 - PMs always refuse to go
The Telegraph

SIR – Charles Moore (report, November 22) is of course right that Margaret Thatcher would have left office on the highest possible note if she had retired on her 10th anniversary as prime minister.

But prime ministers, successful and unsuccessful, never retire if they are not compelled to do so. Of the 19 British premiers who left No 10 during the 20th century, six were defeated at the polls, four were forced out by cabinet or parliamentary coups, and the remaining nine departed (in Churchill’s case, very reluctantly) because of age or ill health.

Besides, as Mr Moore emphasises, Mrs Thatcher was a doer. Aged 65 in November 1990, and in perfect health, there was so much more that she wanted to do for our country.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

29/9/10 - Squiffy Asquith
The Telegraph

SIR – The claim that Herbert Asquith added squiffy to our lexicon (Letters, September 27) would not seem to be well founded. Though it was widely used as a nickname for the bibulous prime minister, the Oxford English Dictionary gives 1874 as the date of its first appearance – the year in which Disraeli became the first Tory prime minister with a Commons majority for nearly 30 years.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

25/9/10 - Liberal Lexicon
The Telegraph

SIR – The Gladstone bag, “a portmanteau for purveyors of pious platitudes” as Disraeli described it, was not quite the last gift to the English language from a Liberal leader (Parliamentary sketch, September 22). In 1909 came the “Lloyd George”, as the first old age pension was gratefully named by its recipients in tribute to their great benefactor.

As his reputation waned, so did the once widespread eponym.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

2/8/10 - Myth of Tonypandy
The Telegraph

SIR – How very predictable that a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, should tell us, 100 years on, that “the people of Tonypandy remember Churchill in relation to the Tonypandy riots” (report, July 21).

Few myths have proved as tenacious as the totally unfounded Labour belief that Winston Churchill, as Home Secretary, used the Army to suppress riots in Tonypandy in November 1910. Troops were not even deployed. When 300 members of the Metropolitan Police sent by Churchill arrived in the Welsh mining village from London, “the rioters had already been beaten from the collieries without the aid of any reinforcement”, as Churchill informed King George V. Together, the local police and London bobbies then dealt with what he described as “the insensate action of the rioters in wrecking shops in the town of Tonypandy, against which they had not the slightest cause for animosity”.

Churchill certainly ought to be remembered in Tonypandy – with gratitude for restoring order swiftly using police alone and without a shot being fired.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

5/7/10 - A steer from Salisbury
The Telegraph

SIR – It was indeed delightful, as Andrew Gimson noted (report, July 2), that William Hague should have quoted the great Lord Salisbury in his first major speech since taking office.

But he would have done better if he had quoted the words with which Salisbury brought his audience to its feet on November 9, 1896: “Our first duty is towards the people of this country, to maintain their interests and their rights; our second duty is to all humanity.” That is true Tory wisdom in foreign affairs.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

16/6/10 - Saville’s cover for Adams
The Telegraph

SIR – Lord Bew (Comment, June 14) discloses that the Saville inquiry was set up as a result of supposedly clever political footwork in 1998 to give Gerry Adams “some useful cover when he was facing fierce criticism from within the republican movement”.

The destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the early release of some 440 terrorist prisoners, the persistent flouting of ceasefires, the offer of an amnesty to terrorist suspects, the failure to enforce the decommissioning requirements of the Belfast Agreement and payments and offices for absent Sinn Fein MPs at Westminster were just the most prominent items on the long list of concessions given to the republican movement.

They should have provided more than enough cover for Mr Adams.
Alistair Cooke
Adviser to Airey Neave, 1977-9
London SW1 

26/4/10 - The Speaker is traditionally unchallenged
The Telegraph

SIR – It is widely believed that the Speaker is traditionally unchallenged at a general election. This is untrue.

John Bercow is the 10th serving Speaker to stand for re-election since the Second World War. All his predecessors were opposed. Those who had previously represented Labour (Horace King, George Thomas, Betty Boothroyd and Michael Martin) were opposed by independents and candidates of smaller parties.

Only one former Tory MP (William Morrison) got off so lightly. The others – Douglas Clifton-Brown, Harry Hylton-Foster, Selwyn Lloyd and Bernard Weatherill – all faced at least one of the main opposition parties. In June 1987, Labour polled more than 11,000 votes, and the SDP/Liberal Alliance over 8,000, in Speaker Weatherill's Croydon North East seat.

It is established tradition that is being followed at this election in Buckingham.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1

25/4/10 - How Heath’s coalition with Thorpe fell apart (£)
The Times

Sir, Lord Steel of Aikwood states that electoral reform was not the determining factor in scuppering Ted Heath’s efforts to create a coalition with the Liberals after the February 1974 election (letter, April 21). Robert Armstrong, then Heath’s private secretary, kept a detailed and highly confidential account of the negotiations between Heath and the Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, which was made public last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

The decisive meeting took place in No 10 on Sunday, March 3, 1974. Armstrong recorded that Thorpe asked for a firm undertaking on electoral reform, which he had raised in previous discussions. Thorpe reminded Heath that he had “drawn attention to the fact that his party had polled nearly six million votes in the election but had won only 14 seats, and asked what were the Government’s views on the subject of electoral reform. In his telephone conversation earlier in the day Mr Thorpe had adumbrated a proposal under which there would be a Speaker’s conference, with the Conservative and Liberal parties committed in advance to what their spokesmen would recommend to it, and pledge to implement the result within six months. The Prime Minister explained to Mr Thorpe that he and his colleagues could not honourably undertake to deliver anything like this.”

Thorpe replied that without it “there was no possibility of the Liberal Party agreeing to participating in the Government at this stage, though that prospect might change if and when a measure of electoral reform were passed ... [and] if there were to be any prospect of an arrangement between the two parties [short of coalition], it would be necessary for the Prime Minister and his colleagues to give more indication than the Prime Minister had so far given that they recognised the injustice of the present system and were in favour of changing it to a system of representation which was fairer to the minority groups”.

Since no such indication was forthcoming, the discussions collapsed.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

8/4/10 - Don’t just sell your policies, inspire us with vision and values (£)
The Times

Sir, May 6 is “a day made infamous by disaster” in Ireland as well as elsewhere (“Triumph, disaster or a birthday present for Blair?”, April 6). It is the date on which, in 1882, the Irish chief secretary and under-secretary were murdered in broad daylight in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Lord Spencer, viceroy at the time, remarked that the murders were “planned by men of education and some of them men of refinement”. They have many successors among terrorists today.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

17/3/10 - Crimean War vote (£)

The Times

Sir, Professor Hew Strachan asserts that “in 1855 the Government fell, judged by the electorate, not the Supreme Court” (Commentary, Mar 15). It could not have been judged by the latter, which had not come into being. Nor was it judged by the electorate.

The Government resigned after the Commons voted to set up an inquiry into the Crimean War. Palmerston took over, even though he had been part of the discredited ministry. “The aged charlatan has at length attained the great object of his unscrupulous ambition,” said John Bright, the radical firebrand. The war dragged on without any improvement in Army conditions, despite the efforts of The Times’s war correspondent W. H. Russell.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

2/2/10 - Why the silence? (£)
The Times

Sir, Mark Shere (letter, Jan 26) writes that “since 1940 every prime minister that went to university was at Oxford except three (Churchill, Callaghan and Major)”. Is there now no one left in Edinburgh prepared to correct this error because it means owning up to educating Gordon Brown?
Alistair Cooke
London SW1 

18/1/10 - Oxford underwear (£)
The Times

Sir, H. A. L. Fisher, Warden of New College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1940, was not the kind of man who would have wanted his underwear to end up on a dead young tramp to help to deceive the Germans (letter , Jan 16).

He followed his godfather, the Prince Consort, in reserving his approval for “anything that he found exalted”. He had no time for life’s failures. As Lloyd George’s Minister for Education his one objective was to help “young ambition starving for knowledge and stinted in opportunities”.

Nor would the destruction of Germany have appealed to him. His last published article, which appeared in February 1940, expressed the hope that “a modus vivendi with the Germans” would be found. A contribution to Operation Mincemeat should have been sought from the clothes closet of Oxford’s most zealous supporter of the war, A. L. Rowse, of All Souls.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1