2012

27/12/12 - Word on the street

The Times

Sir, The letter of 1889 reprinted on December 26 demands action “to keep the sidewalk clear”. My grandfather’s Chambers Dictionary, published a few years later, defines sidewalk as a “foot walk beside a street or road”. But my father’s 1977 edition places (US) after it. How did this word become the monopoly of Americans?
Lord Lexden
London SW1

19/12/12 - Working coalitions
The Times

Sir, The Opinion article (Dec 14) by Philip Collins was not a cause for boundless joy (letter, Dec 17). He referred to a coalition between Liberals and Conservatives “just before the Great War”. Such a government was not formed until nine months after the war had started. Its performance did not disprove Disraeli’s celebrated dictum.

But if a coalition had come into existence in 1910 as the most dynamic politicians of the era wanted, it could well have provided a happy precedent for David Cameron. Churchill and Lloyd George would have joined forces with leading Tories to devise a devolution settlement for all parts of the United Kingdom, settle Lords reform, and introduce a far-reaching scheme of national insurance. After detailed discussions the leaders reluctantly abandoned the coalition plans which their supporters could not be persuaded to love.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

19/12/12 - Equality for nobility
The Telegraph

SIR – You report (December 17) on daughters of aristocrats demanding equal rules for inheriting titles.

However, there were no descendants of the great imperial hero, Lord Kitchener, who was unmarried. His title passed by special remainder to his brother and his male heirs. Julian Fellowes, who is married to Emma Kitchener, has no grounds for describing his wife’s inability to inherit as “outrageous”. All women were excluded under the terms of the special remainder.

But the question is now academic. There is no longer a “current” Earl. The last of the line died in 2011 and the title is extinct.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

4/12/12 - Press and power
The Times

Sir, Canada not only gave us an underrated Prime Minister, Bonar Law (letter, Nov 29); it also provided his closest confidant (some said evil genius), Lord Beaverbrook, whose vast Canadian wealth subsequently enabled him to become the dominant press baron of his time. But he was famously beaten hands down by Stanley Baldwin when he attempted to use the power of Fleet Street to dictate Tory policy on Empire free trade in the years 1929-31.

Beaverbrook’s defeat showed that legislation was not needed to curb the pretensions of newspapers even when sales were at their height. A courageous elected politician quickly put them in their place, denouncing them in much quoted words for trying to exercise power without responsibility, “the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”. Lord Justice Leveson could have learnt some useful lessons from Baldwin’s courage.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

1/12/12 - The Rotherham by-election
The Telegraph

SIR – At another hotly contested by-election at Rotherham nearly 80 years ago, the seat, held briefly by the Tories, returned to Labour (report, November 30).

The news was brought to Stanley Baldwin, author of the phrase “one nation”, in the Commons. “Rotherham,” he said reminiscently, “I remember once changing trains at Rotherham. They had square seats in the station lavatories. Someone had scribbled up on the wall: 'If square seats don’t bother ’em / They’ve got rum bums in Rotherham’.” He kept on murmuring the words to himself. The election defeat was completely forgotten.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

27/11/12 - Attlee’s war record
The Times

Sir, William Rees-Mogg lets Attlee off lightly for opposing rearmament at the 1935 election on the grounds that as Prime Minister “he would certainly have repudiated” that unpatriotic course (“Don’t underestimate Miliband. He’s like Attlee”, Nov 23).

As Leader of the Opposition before 1940 he could, at the very least, have shown benign neutrality towards Baldwin and Chamberlain as they built up Britain’s defences against the dictators. He declined to do so, even opposing his party’s modest change of policy in July 1937 when it decided to abstain, instead of voting against, the annual armaments estimates. Attlee stood unhelpfully on the sidelines as Neville Chamberlain “led every step towards rearmament and, more than any other man, laid the foundations for British fighting power during the Second World War”, in the words of A. J. P. Taylor.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

14/11/12 - Modern mores
The Times

Sir, Oliver Kamm notes that the legal ban on non-Anglicans holding public office was lifted in 1828 (“The Church will adapt to modern mores”, Nov 9). It was removed by a Tory government even though the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, favoured its nominal retention as a symbol of Anglican supremacy. In practice Protestant dissenters suffered no great inconvenience because Parliament passed annual indemnity Bills which released them from any penalties for failing to attend Anglican worship. But when, in the spring of 1828, petitions arrived at Westminster in unprecedented numbers demanding complete abolition, Wellington immediately gave way. “I am not one of those,” he said, “who consider that the best means of preserving the Constitution of this country is by rigidly adhering to measures which have been in existence for 200 years.” It was a conspicuous example of the pragmatism that is a marked feature of Toryism at its best. Another occurred in the following year when Catholics were admitted to the Commons and most public offices. But in 1830 Wellington’s pragmatism suddenly deserted him. He declared that the country’s medieval electoral system was perfect in every respect, presenting the next great issue — parliamentary reform — to the hitherto enfeebled Whigs, from whom Nick Clegg claims to have derived inspiration for his botched proposals of constitutional reform. The great Reform Act should have been another pragmatic Tory concession.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

7/11/12 - Faithful minister
The Times

Sir, The “marvellously named” Edward Pleydell-Bouverie, to whom Philip Collins accords all the credit for introducing limited liability into company law in 1855 (Opinion, Nov 2), knew very little about business life. The second son of the 3rd Earl of Radnor, he had a significant stake in the family estates of some 30,000 acres in Wiltshire where he carried out the traditional public duties of a virtuous country gentleman with diligence and skill.

His main interest in politics as MP for Kilmarnock for 30 years (with an electorate of some 3,000 in the late 1860s) was to make life as difficult as possible for his fellow Liberal, Gladstone, whom he declared in 1866 to be “neither honest, moderate or gentleman enough” to be a minister, let alone Prime Minister after his hero, Palmerston.

Even though Palmerston was over 70 in 1855, neither the Crimean War nor the sexual favours of a variety of society ladies exhausted his prodigious energies. He swiftly made himself an expert on the issue of limited liability to secure the firm support of investors. The faithful Pleydell-Bouverie, a junior minister (he never rose to the top rank), acted at his master’s behest.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

1/11/12 - Edward Heath’s home
The Telegraph

SIR – Justice would at last be done if Arundells, Edward Heath’s home during his latter years, were to be transferred under charitable auspices to the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury. It should never have left their possession in the first place. Having become their tenant, Heath then forced them to sell the house to him in the Nineties, exploiting without scruple new legislation passed by a Tory government, which he professed to regard with contempt. He loved boasting of his victory over the Cathedral. Heath took the property from the Cathedral against its will, without the resources to provide for its long-term future, as his trustees made clear to him before his death. It should be handed back.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

24/10/12 - Rhodes and Parnell
The Times

Sir, Matthew Parris claims that Cecil Rhodes, the arch imperialist, was a friend of the Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell (Opinion, Oct 20). In fact they met only briefly to strike a remarkable political bargain in 1888.

Rhodes gave Parnell a cheque for £10,000 (equivalent to £1 million today), some of which, his party complained, went into his own pocket. In return Parnell persuaded Gladstone to alter his Irish Home Rule policy to permit Irish representation at Westminster after the establishment of a parliament in Dublin. Naively Rhodes believed that self-governing colonies would be able to follow the Irish example, so realising his vision of imperial federation, a project in which Parnell had no interest.

If Rhodes did offer the advice attributed to him by Parris — resign, marry, return — it fell on deaf ears and does not appear in any of the standard biographies of Parnell.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

22/10/12 - Royal interest
The Times

Sir, Prince Charles is the first Prince of Wales since the 18th century to take a serious and sustained interest in domestic political issues (letters, Oct 18, 19 and 20). Queen Victoria expressly forbade any “independent communication” between her heir, later Edward VII, and the government. The future George V devoted himself to shooting and stamp-collecting. Prince Charles’s unfortunate great-uncle Edward VIII diligently toured the Empire as Prince of Wales, charming all he met, but he was denied access to all important State papers, and discouraged from talking to politicians and civil servants. All three came to the throne insufficiently prepared for their duties.

Prince Charles’s admirable habit of discussing political matters privately with ministers should be emulated by his heirs. Their comments should be disclosed only after death.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

5/10/12 - Miliband and the 'one nation' party
The Times

Sir, As your correspondent rightly observes (letter, Oct 4), Disraeli never used the phrase “one nation”. But he famously deplored the existence of two nations, the rich and the poor, in his novel Sybil, published in 1845 (report, Oct 3). And 30 years later he introduced a few measures to improve the condition of the poor.

His great speech in Manchester 140 years ago, on which Ed Miliband lavished praise, was a brilliant defence of Britain’s historic constitution, cast in traditional Tory terms.

“The programme of the Conservative Party”, he declared, “is to maintain the constitution of the country”. He spoke at length and with deep feeling about the monarchy, the hereditary House of Lords (specifically ruling out the creation of life peers which some leading Tories then favoured) and the established Church. He twitted the Liberals for making “no provision for the representation of the working classes”, which he himself had introduced five years earlier. He devoted no more than nine sentences to social reform in a speech of 3½ hours delivered “without reference to a note”.

Stanley Baldwin was the first Conservative to employ the term “one nation”. In a speech on December 4, 1924, he declared that “we stand for the union of those two nations of which Disraeli spoke two generations ago: union among our own people to make one nation of our own people at home which, if secured, nothing else matters in the world”. It was on that basis that Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain devised the first stages of a distinctively Tory welfare state in the interwar years.
Lord Lexden 
House of Lords 

19/9/12 - Tory prophecy 
The Times

Sir, Despite the deep anguish that it created in Rome, the annihilation of the army of P. Quinctilius Varus in AD9 certainly should not be invoked by Tories prophesying Labour’s rout at the next election (Opinion, Sept 17, and letter, Sept 18). Suetonius famously recorded how a distraught Emperor Augustus wandered through the halls of his palaces crying out “Vare, legiones redde”. He scrapped his plans to conquer Germany up to the River Elbe. But far from being a defeat from which the Roman Empire never truly recovered, as Tim Montgomerie contends, four and a half centuries of first steady expansion and then slow decline lay ahead. Tories surely expect to accomplish a decisive victory over Labour rather more rapidly than this.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

15/9/12 - Dizzy ambitions
The Telegraph

SIR – Matt Hancock MP says he resembles Disraeli on account of his provincial background and education at his village school (report, September 13).

Disraeli, the son of a rich and distinguished man of letters, was brought up in Bloomsbury without any knowledge of provincial England: riding a horse was always a problem for him. He was sent to a private school at Higham Hall, near Walthamstow, but left when he was 15, having been badly bullied because of his Jewishness. Thereafter, like many other upper middle-class children, he was educated at home by a tutor, drawing heavily on his father’s vast library.

The only thing Mr Hancock has in common with Disraeli is a talent for exaggeration.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

10/9/12 - Brown's job
The Times

Sir, The not very witty advice (letter, Sept 6) about the disrespectful treatment of in-trays supposedly given to George Brown on taking up a ministerial appointment reads suspiciously like an invention by a rather mediocre civil servant with a taste for split infinitives — a suspicion not diminished by the fact that Brown was never Home Secretary, the post which he is described as taking up when the advice was proffered.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

4/9/12 - The Tories and Ireland
The Times

Sir, J. R. G. Edwards (letter, Aug 31) is quite correct in stating that “fear of a rebellion in Ireland” existed in 1829 when the Tories under Wellington gave Roman Catholics the right to sit in Parliament. But they did not cravenly surrender to that fear. They took the opportunity to implement a carefully considered plan for Ireland, of which Catholic Emancipation formed just one part, devised by the Younger Pitt but blocked by George III, at the time of the Act of Union in 1801. O’Connell’s vexatious Catholic Association was suppressed, and the size of the Irish electorate cut from about 200,000 to 40,000 voters, the disenfranchised being overwhelmingly Catholic.

As the late Professor Peter Jupp, the leading authority on these events, put it, “the legislation giving Catholics almost equal rights with Protestants was therefore counter-balanced by that which took away most of the political power which had been used to achieve it”. The Tories had long been convinced that “a fresh balance had to be struck between Protestant and Catholic interests which preserved those of the Protestants but accommodated the increase of Catholics in the professions and trade”. In other words, they wanted to make a success of the union between Britain and Ireland which they had created.

As for Disraeli in 1867, he turned legislation brought forward by a Liberal government the previous year, which would have seriously damaged Tory interests into a wider measure of electoral reform which showed for the first time since the fall of Peel in 1846 that the Tories, in Robert Blake’s words, had become “a viable alternative to the still dominant Liberals”. Disraeli, much given to idle boasting, did not “dish the Whigs”; they won the ensuing election with a majority of 106 and Dizzy nearly lost the Tory leadership.
Lord Lexden
Author, A Party of Change: A Brief History of the Conservatives (2008)
House of Lords 

21/8/12 - Yes and no, minister
The Telegraph

SIR – Sue Cameron (Comment, August 16) writes that the Government wants “to give politicians more power over Civil Service appointments”.

There are no grounds for believing that it intends to import the American system under which each incoming administration replaces several thousand officials with its own nominees. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, seems to be trying to promote two important changes.

The first would enable ministers to ask their Permanent Secretaries to appoint a limited number of outsiders as senior officials for clearly defined purposes on short-term contracts to provide expertise that departments currently lack. That is eminently sensible, given the number of large, complex projects that have gone badly wrong and wasted billions of pounds in recent years because the Civil Service lacks people with the skills needed to carry them through successfully.

Secondly, and much more worryingly, Mr Maude is in discussion with the independent Civil Service Commission about giving ministers the power to appoint their Permanent Secretaries. The Commission is firmly defending the status quo: ministers have an informal right of veto (to ensure they do not get someone with whom they cannot work) but cannot pick the candidates that happen to suit them best.

The Commission is right. We must not depart from the fundamental principle laid down in the famous Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1853. “All public servants,” it declared, must be able “to look forward to promotion according to their deserts, and to expect the highest prizes in the service if they can qualify themselves for them.”
Lord Lexden
London SW1

14/8/12 - Zinoviev letter
The Times

Sir, It is not the case that the most notorious attempt to inflame feeling about a Soviet threat to Britain, the Zinoviev letter of 1924, “helped to bring about the fall of the Labour Government of Ramsay MacDonald”, as was suggested in the obituary of the interpreter Tony Bishop (Aug 10).

The forged letter was almost certainly leaked to the press and the Conservative Party at the instigation of the third-most senior MI5 officer, and was published in the last stages of the October 1924 election campaign. Labour nevertheless increased its total vote by a million. MacDonald fell because his ally, the Liberal Party, lost almost half its vote after fighting a poor campaign.

In the view of A. J. P. Taylor, “the Zinoviev letter had its effect on Labour only after the election had been lost. It then became a cover against accusations of a failure, and a bar against any attempt to face the problems of a future Labour government.”
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

8/8/12 - Pankhurst's grave
The Times

Sir, Conservatives should feel deep regret that Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave and monument in Brompton Cemetery have fallen into disrepair (letter, Aug 4). In old age she formed a close association with Stanley Baldwin, a great progressive Conservative and supporter of women’s suffrage, joining his party in 1926. When in the following year he introduced the legislation that gave women the vote on the same terms as men, she put herself forward successfully for the Tory nomination in one of the three Stepney constituencies where she “worked with great energy and dedication”. She would undoubtedly have put Labour under great pressure at the 1929 general election, but, weakened by periods of imprisonment, she did not live to contest it.

Baldwin was given the honour of unveiling her statue beside Parliament. At my instigation a room in the Conservative Party’s new campaign headquarters was named in her memory in 2005. The party should play a prominent part in raising funds to restore her place of burial.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

17/7/12 - Decentralisation
The Times

Sir, Vernon Bogdanor (letter, July 13) pinpoints the 1979 election as the first occasion on which the Liberal Party supported a “democratically elected” upper house. The plan then, however, was rather different from Mr Clegg’s today. It did not provide for direct elections. The Liberals’ concern in 1979 and subsequent elections was a “massive decentralisation of power from Westminster and Whitehall” through devolved parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and the regions of England (Northern Ireland remaining under direct rule from London). In conjunction with this “federal solution” to constitutional issues, “a new, democratically chosen, second chamber” was to bring together “representatives of the nations and regions of the UK, and the UK members of the European Parliament”. It is only in the last few years that the Party has been firmly committed to full, direct elections for the upper house.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

11/7/12 - Lords Bill debate
The Telegraph

SIR – Nick Clegg asserts that the creation of a directly elected Upper House would realise a principle for which Liberals have fought consistently since the 1911 Parliament Act.

The claim is totally bogus. The Liberals touched briefly on the Lords in their 1950 election manifesto, saying simply that “men and women of distinction” should replace hereditary peers. Otherwise they ignored the Upper House until 1979.

From that election the Liberals linked reform of the Lords with their devolution proposals. In 1987 they said that the upper chamber should include “members elected from the regions and nations of Britain”, to which they wanted to devolve more power.

The Liberals’ commitment to a directly elected senate is a recent phenomenon which they pretend has a long history.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

10/7/12 - Upper house needs experience and expertise
The Times

Sir, It is immensely kind of David Yates (letter, July 5), who wants life peers to be known as plain Mr, to indicate that we should be given “a suitable suffix” to cheer us in our new lowly condition. Should we become LOPs (Lords of Parliament) or LPs (Life Peers), recalling a defunct gramophone record? Perhaps those who wish to abase us will be able to propose arresting alternatives.
Mr Alistair Lexden (suffix awaited)
House of Lords 

29/6/12 - School reforms
The Times

Sir,

Michael Gove in particular should rejoice at the decision of Liverpool College, opened by Gladstone, to join the state sector (“Education’s Berlin Wall is falling at long last”, Andrew Adonis, June 26). Addressing the school in 1872, Gladstone charged it with a special responsibility to combat the “scepticism in the public mind, of old as well as of young, respecting the value of learning and culture, and a consequent slackness in seeking their attainment”. Iain Duncan Smith too can draw encouragement from Gladstone’s speech. He went on to denounce the “corroding pest of idleness — that special temptation to a wealthy country”.
Lord Lexden
General Secretary, Independent Schools Council, 1997-2004
House of Lords 

19/6/12 - Don’t knock Enoch
The Times

Sir, Oliver Kamm (The Pedant, June 16) takes Enoch Powell to task, in the week of the centenary of his birth, for supporting the discredited theory that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. In fact Powell believed that they were works by divers hands. “The plays,” he wrote, “were court productions, written in the first place at the court and for the court by courtiers.” In view of his delight in pedantic dispute, Powell’s views should surely be represented with scrupulous accuracy, even where they are wrong.
Lord Lexden
Co-author, Enoch at 100 House of Lords 

12/6/12 - Political diamonds
The Telegraph

SIR – It was thanks to Winston Churchill that the great Cullinan diamond, which weighed a pound and a quarter before it was cut, came into the possession of the Royal family (Letters, June 11).

When the Transvaal government voted in 1907 to present it to Edward VII as a token of “loyalty and attachment”, the Liberal Cabinet of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, then prime minister, did not favour acceptance. Churchill, then colonial under-secretary, protested vigorously about its “very unimaginative view”, and the Cabinet changed its mind. As an expression of thanks, the Transvaal authorities gave him a model of the diamond, which he enjoyed showing to guests over lunch. His secretary recorded that once the butler approached the Duke of Marlborough’s sister with the model, “a shapeless lump on a salver, looking like a not-very-well-strained white jelly that had escaped from its mould. She eyed it with distaste, and said: 'No, thank you.’”
Lord Lexden
London SW1

11/6/12 - Victoria's upset
The Times

Sir, Queen Victoria’s marriage in 1840 was not “ruined” by a struggle to get the ring on her finger (leading article, June 7). She and her “dearest dearest dear Albert” practised beforehand to ensure that everything went well at the first royal wedding held during the day rather than at the traditional hour late in the evening. Her “happiest moment was when Albert put on the ring” in front of a congregation of 300 from which her political opponents, the Tories, had been excluded. “It is my marriage and I will only have those who can sympathise with me,” she said. Her one disappointment was the choir of the Chapel Royal which sang “shockingly”.

It was at her Coronation two years earlier, for which there was no rehearsal, that there was trouble with the ring. The aged Archbishop of Canterbury forced it on the wrong finger. She “nearly screamed with pain”. Proceedings were then held up for an hour while she bathed her hand in ice-cold water to get it off “which I did at last with great pain”.

It was to prevent a repetition of the Coronation disaster that royal pageantry was first organised in 1840 to the standard which we are now accustomed to expect.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

14/5/12 - Turbulent editor
The Times

Sir, With its solemn, upper-crust readership The Times could not possibly have had W. T. Stead as its editor in the 1880s (letter, May 12). A lifelong radical, he invented popular modern journalism, conducting highly partisan campaigns which turned the paper he did edit at that time, The Pall Mall Gazette, from “a sedate chronicle and review” into “the initiator of all kinds of new programmes and movements ... astonishing people by its dash and unconventionality”.

Politicians treated him with great consideration. Gladstone briefed him frequently, even after he had whipped up hysterical public support for General Gordon and caused a baseless scare about the shrinking size of the Navy which forced Gladstone to increase spending on it. The Tory leader, Lord Salisbury, cultivated him too, providing confidential information which ensured that when Winston Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph, suddenly resigned from the Cabinet in December 1886 he had London’s most widely read paper against him.

Stead would not have fared well at a public inquiry into the relations between politicians and journalists.
Lord Lexden
London SW1 

11/5/12 - A bullet in the Lobby
The Telegraph

SIR – Today is the bicentenary of the assassination of Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to have met a violent end. Apart from the manner of his death, aged 49, he has been largely forgotten. But in his day he was regarded as second only to the Younger Pitt as a debater. He campaigned alongside William Wilberforce for the abolition of slavery, and during his three years as prime minister he rallied the nation in support of the Duke of Wellington, rejecting the widespread criticism of the latter as the outcome of the Peninsular War hung in the balance.

He was shot at point-blank range in the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham, who drew a revolver from a specially tailored pocket inside his coat. Perceval clutched “his hand to his heart and exclaimed 'Oh’ faintly, and fell forward on his face”, dead.

The assassin had no political motive. He was hanged seven days later after an unprecedentedly rapid trial.

Henry Bellingham, a junior Foreign Office minister, is a descendant of the assassin. Since retrospective historical apologies have become fashionable, perhaps he should offer an expression of remorse of behalf of his family.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

14/4/12 - How we lost Obama
The Telegraph

SIR – The two Hawaiian princes who went surfing at Bridlington in 1890 (report, April 10) might well have enjoyed themselves even more if they had been part of the Empire on which the sun never set.

Nine years earlier the Hawaiian King Kalakaua was nearly coaxed by the future Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, into accepting British sovereignty. Throughout the London season of 1881 Kalakaua was treated with the greatest honour by the Prince. They drove together in state to a banquet at Mansion House. After a series of glittering parties at which the King was given precedence over the German Crown Prince (to the latter’s fury), he opened the dancing at the most important ball of the season with the Princess of Wales.

The prize was only narrowly lost. A British Hawaii would have enlivened Anglo-American relations.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

9/4/12 - PM's houses
The Times

Sir, If Anthony Hollis should visit Downing Street and Chequers he would not find himself in “public buildings” (letter, Mar 29). No 10 was a gift from George II to Sir Robert Walpole who accepted it as “an official residence for himself and his successors” without any restrictions on its use. The whole house, not just the family flat, belongs to the Prime Minister of the day.

Chequers was given to the nation in 1920 by Lord and Lady Lee of Fareham “as a place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever” accompanied by over half their wealth to pay for its upkeep.David Cameron is perfectly entitled to use both places for party political entertaining. Unlikely though it might seem, perhaps the company of party donors assists his rest and recreation.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

20/3/12 - Father of the House
The Times

Sir, In his tribute to the Queen (Parliamentary sketch, Mar 8) Sir Peter Tapsell recalled the most remarkable of all his predecessors as Father of the House, Charles Pelham Villiers, who held the position at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Unlike Sir Peter, however, he disliked honours, turning down knighthoods and peerages several times.

Villiers represented Wolverhampton from 1835 until his death in 1898 at the age of 96. At his first election the two-member constituency had 1,700 voters. Sixty-three years later Wolverhampton, now divided into three seats, had a total electorate of nearly 30,000. Whenever there was a contested election Villiers topped the poll.

In 1840 Villiers, a Liberal, proposed the repeal of the Corn Laws, carried six years later by the Tory Robert Peel. Two political generations on he was a prominent opponent of Gladstone’s Irish Home Rule Bills in 1886 and 1893, siding with Joe Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionist Party.

In old age he impressed a leading political journalist, George Smalley, with his “elegance of speech and energy of statement”. Eddie Hamilton, Gladstone’s Private Secretary, was fascinated to hear him in 1885 “talking about the events of 50 years ago as if they had happened yesterday”. Lord Derby, however, complained at this time that he was “dirtier as to hands and linen than I ever saw anyone in a drawing room”.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

25/2/12 - Proverbial wisdom
The Times

Sir, In the Commons Simon Burns, the Health Minister, quoted inaccurately the well-known line that “a lie will go round the world while truth is putting its boots on” and attributed it to Jim Callaghan (Parliamentary Sketch, Feb 22). A dictionary of quotations would have shown him that it is an ancient proverb, popularised in the 19th century by the leading nonconformist preacher of his day, Charles Spurgeon. There could be no more vivid illustration of the need for improvement and reform in the Commons rather than the Lords (letters, Feb 21). During the year that I have been a member of the latter, I have listened carefully to the prose and poetry that have been quoted in speeches, noting only one slightly garbled sentence and no misattribution.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

25/2/12 - Gladstone’s lost Whigs
The Telegraph

SIR – Lord Sudeley’s grasp of late 19th-century political history seems decidedly shaky (Letter, February 23).

William Gladstone did not lose the Whig aristocracy while keeping his fellow Liberal MP Joe Chamberlain’s middle-class Radicals. He lost large parts of both.

Gladstone’s fiercest opponent was Chamberlain himself, who established a Unionist alliance with anti-Gladstone Whigs and the Tories in 1886 to stop Irish Home Rule, eventually fusing his Liberal Unionist Party with the Conservatives a century ago to create today’s Conservative and Unionist Party – which now has another Unionist battle on its hands.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

14/2/12 - Housewife
The Times

Sir, The picture of Margaret Thatcher sitting demurely at her dressing table applying her make-up during the 1975 Conservative leadership campaign (Register, Feb 11) provides a powerful reminder of how, in small things as well large, she changed the rules. As Barbara Castle noted enviously in her diary, no senior politician had previously thought of advertising a daily round of homely toil. In the early weeks of 1975 the press was regaled with a mass of photographs showing Mrs Thatcher cooking, cleaning, washing up and painting, as well as beautifying herself.

The unprecedented barrage served an obvious political purpose. It proclaimed, rather spuriously, that Mrs Thatcher was a woman of the people inhabiting a different world from the Tory toffs who had failed the Conservative Party under Heath. The image stuck — to her immense benefit.
Lord Lexden
London SW1 

7/2/12 - It’s a dog’s life with the Royals
The Times

Sir, The modern British monarchy has yet to produce a single cat lover (“A little pedigree chum for royal couple”, Feb 2 ). Dogs have been a firm part of royal life almost continuously since 1833 when the future Queen Victoria was presented with a King Charles spaniel which she dressed up in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers.

Edward VII was so deeply attached to his fox terrier Caesar that it was placed immediately behind the gun carriage at his funeral. George V was more interested in birds, slaughtering pheasants by the thousand but cosseting parrots. But his eldest son, briefly Edward VIII, more than made up for that period of canine neglect. He was always surrounded by cairn terriers, presenting their puppies to his mistresses. One was an early gift to Mrs Simpson.
Lord Lexden
London SW1 

9/1/12 - The Iron Lady
The Times

Sir,

May I comment on two of the “nit-picking points” in Matthew Parris’s article on The Iron Lady (Times2, Jan 5)? He doubts whether she ever wore a hat in the Commons chamber. She sported one from time to time, particularly at State Openings of Parliament. As Education Secretary she appeared under the large box-shaped hats that she favoured at the time.

In referring to Airey Neave, Parris makes the common error of attributing his murder to the IRA. The atrocity was in fact committed by the so-called Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

I once asked Mrs Thatcher whether she thought a film would be made about her. “Perhaps it will, dear”, she said after a pause, and then added: “You’re a historian. It is through books written after careful research that we get closest to the truth, don’t you think?”
Lord Lexden
(Political Adviser to Airey Neave, 1977-79)
House of Lords