2015

14/12/15 - The first Prime Ministerial Christmas card
The Times

Sir, So Dave and Samantha have put a picture of themselves on their Christmas card again (report, Dec.12). The first prime minister to convey the message of the angels in this manner seems to have been Stanley Baldwin. In 1928 he dispatched from No 10 a small oval photograph of himself decked with holly and mistletoe, with the words “May God, Good Will and Good Neighbourhood be your company Xmas 1928”. Perhaps even this impeccably one-nation message stirred divine displeasure. At the general election the following year he lost the largest single-party parliamentary majority of modern times.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

9/12/15 - The powers of the House of Lords
Financial Times

Sir, The removal of the power of the House of Lords to veto secondary legislation would have serious and damaging constitutional consequences (“Cameron moves to bypass Lords”, 7 December). It is in the Lords that secondary legislation receives most of the detailed attention that is required. As the Hansard Society pointed out recently, “its scrutiny committees are more engaged in the process and more influential with government. Peers generally have more appetite than MPs for the detail and technical work required to look at a thousand statutory instruments a year”.

Since this vast body of legislation cannot be amended, it is only through the use of the veto that governments can be brought effectively to account where circumstances warrant it. Unless the Commons suddenly discovers for the first time a taste for the necessary scrutiny work, the curbing of the Lords’ role in this area will put yet more power in the hands of the executive at the expense of the legislature which has already been weakened by the automatic imposition of guillotines on major bills, a practice that continues to thrive despite a Conservative manifesto commitment in 2010 to end it. 
Alistair Lexden 
House of Lords

8/12/15 - Tory housing triumph
The Telegraph

SIR--The Government’s housing target (report, December 4) is 200,000 new homes a year. Attlee’s government achieved that number from 1945. The Tories condemned it as insufficient and pledged 300,000 a year - which Harold Macmillan, as housing minister, proudly fulfilled after 1951.

That government gave housing “a priority second only to defence”. This brought the Tories their second great housing success. Their 1950 election manifesto had reminded voters that “before the war, under free enterprise with a Conservative government, the nation was getting 1,000 new homes every day”. The Tories should now build for a third time on a scale that the nation needs.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

4/12/15 - A disappointing Conservative Party chairman 
The Times

Sir, Andrew Feldman may or may not survive the scandal that has engulfed the Tory party’s organisation. He came to the post of party chairman as an outsider, the only businessman to hold it since the great Lord “Uncle Fred” Woolton who reformed the entire party organisation after the war to its infinite benefit. He “created an infectious and compelling enthusiasm” throughout the party, as he put it in his memoirs, partly by setting its members the target of raising £1 million, which was readily accomplished. Total membership soared to more than three million.

Today the party structure, serving a shrunken membership of some 100,000, cries out for radical reform. Andrew Feldman promised to take it up after the election, but instead he has settled for making what survives “more responsive to the leader’s office” (“Cheerleader helped PM every step of the way”, Dec. 1). A major opportunity for Conservative party revival has been squandered.
Lord Lexden
Director, Conservative Political Centre 1988-97
House of Lords

2/12/15 - Tribute to a fine soldier 
The Times

Sir Robert Ford took up his post as commander land forces in Northern Ireland only three days before the introduction of internment in the Province in August 1971, not a month before as your admirably balanced obituary (Nov.28) states. Nor was this highly controversial step taken by Ted Heath; Brian Faulkner, then the Northern Ireland prime minister, was responsible for it. Ford was given no time to check the lists of terrorist suspects provided by the police, which contained many errors. The following year he did deal directly with Heath over the planning of Operation Motorman to clear Londonderry of no-go areas. Heath asked him if he thought there might be up to 100 casualties. “Yes, prime minister”, he replied. “I think that up to 100 would be politically acceptable”, Heath said coldly. No one was killed, though Ford put himself at grave risk by sitting on the turret of a tank as it went through a barricade that was thought to be mined-- typical of this utterly fearless man.

29/11/15 - No Titanic Cover-up 
The Times

Sir, It is misleading for anyone to suggest that the Titanic inquiry in 1912 was neutered because freemasons were involved in it (“Freemasons suspected of Titanic cover-up”, Nov.24). Its chairman, Lord Mersey, was a judge of fearless independence and asperity of character. He got the task because he was Wreck Commissioner of the United Kingdom. The inquiry interrupted work that he greatly preferred as chairman of a minimum wage committee in Newcastle. All the evidence was sifted over a two-month period by the law officers of the crown, Sir Rufus Isaacs and Sir John Simon, who were no friends of freemasonry.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

27/11/15 - Sponsorship for Victoria's Jubilee
The Telegraph

SIR--Tickets are to be sold for events to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday next year (“Invitation for 25,000 to join Queen’s 90th birthday party”, November 24). In 1887, when her great-great-grandmother marked her golden jubilee in style, she took sponsorship from The Daily Telegraph.

The paper paid for a colossal tea-party for 30,000 schoolchildren in Hyde Park on June 22, 1887. At the end of it a hot- air balloon was released, with “ Victoria” painted on it in large letters. “O look!”, one child shrieked loudly, “there’s the Queen going up to heaven”. 
Lord Lexden
London SW1

12/11/15 - Charles King and Martyr
The Telegraph

SIR-The pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution in 1649 is not the only such relic in the Portland collection (report, November 9).

It is accompanied by a gold toothpick given to a faithful follower the previous evening; the garter ribbon Charles wore upon the scaffold; and a chalice which has a contemporary inscription at its foot. This reads: “King Charles the First: received the Communion in this Boule: on Tuesday the 30th of January 1648 being the day in which he was Murthered” (1648 rather than 1649, because the new year then began on March 25).
Lord Lexden
London SW1

24/10/15 - Votes for Women
The Times

Sir, Despite his personal opposition to female suffrage, Asquith made a determined attempt to give effect to the wishes of “the majority in the House of Commons in favour of votes for women” before the First World War” (“Breaking the law didn’t win votes for women”, Oct.21). When he introduced his 1912 Reform Bill providing for full male adult suffrage, he made clear that the government would accept a Commons amendment to include women on the same terms. In January 1913, however, to Asquith’s great surprise and contrary to all precedent, the Speaker ruled the amendment out of order. This led to the collapse of entire Bill. Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, pressed the case for a referendum but sharp divisions in the cabinet made agreement impossible.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

19/10/15 - Denis Healey’s Good Turn to the Tories
The Times

As editor of the Conservative Party’s publications in the 1980s I once had cause to be extremely grateful to Denis Healey. My duties included the production of a fat tome entitled The Campaign Guide, which set out facts and figures on every area of policy from Esperanto to nuclear weapons from a Tory point of view. A copy of the 1983 edition found its way into Healey’s hands. He was quoted in the press as saying that, “a candidate of any party could make a decent speech on any subject using this book”. Sales, which up until that point had been extremely modest, suddenly jumped.

8/10/15 - Changing the Conservative Party's Name 
The Telegraph

SIR--Leaders of the Conservative Party have often favoured changing its name. For nearly 40 years after 1886 they succeeded. It became the Unionist Party. But in 1925 it reverted to the earlier name in deference to the wishes of the party conference.

In the Thirties, Neville Chamberlain, a Liberal Unionist who detested narrow-minded conservatism, pressed unsuccessfully for the creation of a National Party to include as many Liberals as possible. After the war Churchill took the same view, favouring a Union Party. In 1946 the Party Conference overruled him: “the delegates would have nothing to do with the proposal of changing the Party’s name”, he was told.

Why not reinstate the party’s original name which it bore proudly from its emergence in 1679 until the 1832 Reform Bill? Tory is a Gaelic word meaning “brigand” or “thief”. That could help the current leadership to shed its image of wealth and privilege. Tory and one nation are natural partners.

Yours faithfully
Lord Lexden
London SW1

2/10/15 - Devolution throughout the UK
The Times Literary Supplement

Sir,- A great Jove nods. My good friend Peter Hennessy errs in stating that Gladstone proposed “Home Rule All Round” (September 25). He did no more than acknowledge in 1886 the existence of “the desire for Federation, floating in the minds of many”. After defecting from the Liberals in the same year, Joe Chamberlain became the first to bring forward a definite scheme as the basis for a reformed Union between Great Britain and Ireland. The Liberals declared at the time of their third Irish Home Rule bill in 1912 that it was “only the first step in a larger and more comprehensive policy”, in Asquith’s words. The further steps were never attempted, not least because Winston Churchill told the Cabinet that several regional legislatures would be needed in England, a policy for which it had absolutely no appetite.
Yours faithfully
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords
London SW1 

28/09/15 - Corbyn and the Privy Council 
The Telegraph

SIR--Jeremy Corbyn gives no indication that he wants to join the Privy Council, with or without kneeling before the Queen (report , September 25).

Why not leave him outside it? Ramsay MacDonald was not sworn in until he became Labour Prime Minister for the first time in 1924. A pacifist during the First World War, he was in his time as controversial a figure as Mr Corbyn is now. Briefing on security issues could be provided to him under the Official Secrets Act.

The Privy Council is not exactly in need of new members. From under 300 at the Queen’s accession it has now swollen to over 660—up 170 in the last five years alone-- making it larger than the House of Commons.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

21/09/15 - Bloated Privy Council
The Times

Sir, It may well be that the Queen would agree with Mr Corbyn that something radical needs to be done about the privy council (“Leader wanted to end Privy Council”, Sept.18). Her father ticked off Winston Churchill in 1940 when he wanted to appoint one of his cronies, Brendan Bracken. George VI insisted that only people of high distinction who had rendered conspicuous service to the nation should be admitted. If that view had continued to hold sway, Mr Corbyn would not be a candidate for a role he plainly does not want—and the Privy Council would not have swollen to an embarrassing size. Mr Cameron is the worst offender, having added 170 to it in five years.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

09/09/15 - Railways and Record-breaking Reigns 
The Telegraph

SIR--Nothing could be more appropriate than the Queen’s journey by steam train today, as she becomes Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

Part of the stretch of railway in the Scottish Borders that she is to reopen was used by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, when she travelled overnight from Balmoral to Windsor for her Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, having recently overtaken her grandfather George III who reigned for just under 60 years.

Along much of the route the railway tracks were lined throughout the night by large crowds “who knew they would not see their beloved Queen, but were glad to see the train which carried her along”, as Lord Balcarres noted in his diary, adding that she was “more moved” by these silent demonstrations “than by any of the numerous stirring events which have marked the celebrations”. Then, as now, public affection was intense.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

01/09/15 - Churchill's "Disapeerage"
The Times

Sir, Janice Turner exaggerates a little in saying that Churchill “despised” the Lords (“Cameron dishonours the honours system”, Opinion, Aug.29). Churchill excoriated it for blocking Liberal reforms before the First World War; thereafter he gave it little thought. “The House of Lords means nothing to him”, Lord Moran noted in his diary on February 18, 1953 after a brief conversation about strengthening its powers.

Churchill joked that there should be a “disapeerage”. Those who failed to make a contribution should be taken down a rung. An idle viscount would be demoted to baron; an idle baron would “disapeer”. Should this ploy be applied to today’s inert life barons?
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

31/08/15 - A Gay Lord 
The Telegraph

SIR--The Earl of Devon (Obituary, August 22) did the right thing when he abandoned his opposition to the use of Powderham Castle for gay weddings. A powerful ancestral spirit was placated.

Having been seduced at the age of 10 by William Beckford, the 3rd Viscount Courtenay (1768-1835) later longed to settle down openly at Powderham with a male partner. When threatened with a trial by his peers, he hoped at first that they would not convict him since “most of them were like himself”. But in 1811 he fled into a long and unhappy exile.

Diligent research by a cousin who was a Lords Clerk led in 1831 to the earldom of Devon being revived after nearly three centuries in abeyance. The cousin inherited it.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

22/08/15 - Chilcot Precedent
The Times

Sir, If General Sir Nicholas Houghton should be the subject of criticism by the Chilcot inquiry, he will not be the first serving armed forces chief “to face censure” (“Chilcot will take aim at top military commander”, Aug.21). The Dardanelles Commission, which was set up in 1916 and reported the following year, delivered a bleak assessment of General Sir Ian Hamilton’s performance as commander of allied forces during the Gallipoli campaign.

He was blamed for a “miscalculation of the strength of the Turkish defences” and for not having “impartially weighed the possibilities of success and failure, having regard to the resources in men and material which could be placed at his disposal”. Unlike today’s top brass, he was given no opportunity to comment on the criticisms before they were published. 
Lord Lexden 
House of Lords 

12/08/15 - Lord online 
The Telegraph

SIR--There is an easy way for peers “to show what they do” in return for their daily allowances (“Cable and Alexander could be knighted”, Report, August 10): they can display the full details on a personal website, which is what I do.

For good measure, I add information about my public work outside the House, too.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

20/07/15 - Royal Nazi Salutes 
The Telegraph

SIR--In 1933 the Nazis were novelties, Hitler having come to power in January. Three months later the then Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) received a letter from her former German governess who was running a school in Munich. The British press, she wrote, was “horribly biased” against Hitler.

The Duchess became much more critical of Germany in 1934 when her ex-governess, a Jew, was sacked.

The future Edward VIII, her brother-in-law, thought co-operation with Nazi Germany was necessary to stave off a greater evil. In November 1933 he said that “we are in great danger from Communism”.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

14/07/15 - Heavenley festivities
The Times

Sir, The big children’s party held in Hyde Park as part of the celebrations of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 (letter, July 10) ended with the release of a hot-air balloon on which the Queen’s name had been painted in gigantic letters. “Oh look”, one excited child exclaimed, “there’s the Queen going up to Heaven.” In fact she was seen again on Earth the following day when The Times reported her “feasting with over 7,000 children in the private grounds of the home park” at Windsor. Over 30,000 youngsters took part in these two events.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

04/07/15 - Poor Man's Honour
The Times

Sir, Gladstone declared that “a Privy Councillorship should be regarded as a greater honour than a Peerage”. George V insisted that “especial care should be taken” in making appointments to ensure the Council remained the preserve of “men and women of outstanding eminence”. From Queen Victoria until the early years of the current reign the total never exceeded 300—but as a result of David Cameron’s profligacy, it has now risen to 657 (“Cameron is ‘rewarding his friends with poor man’s knighthoods’”, July 1).  Long established tradition has been abandoned.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

03/07/15 - Savious of the Proms 
The Telegraph

SIR--The coverage of this year’s Proms by the BBC is vigorously applauded by Greg Sanderson who is responsible for it as commissioning editor at the BBC (Letters, July 31).

He would have had nothing to applaud if the Proms had not been rescued from bankruptcy in 1902 by Sir Edgar Speyer, a successful German financier who became a British citizen. This close friend of Asquith donated “many thousands of pounds” for which he was publicly thanked by Sir Henry Wood. His generosity was totally forgotten after 1915 when he was hounded out of the country by wartime anti-German hysteria.

Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel was performed at every Prom concert sponsored by Speyer. It is on the programme for the last night of this year’s Proms. Would it not be appropriate for Mr Sanderson to commission a tribute in the Royal Albert Hall to this great benefactor on the centenary of his enforced departure from our country?
Lord Lexden
London SW1

03/07/15 - People's Telegraph 
The Telegraph

SIR--The success of the Telegraph in achieving “the largest circulation in the world” owed much to a special relationship with William Gladstone (“Celebrating 160 years”, June 29).

His career was at a turning-point when the paper was founded in 1855. The stern, unbending Tory was in the process of reinventing himself as a popular Liberal hero, and he needed to find a way of “working through the press”, as he told a friend.

He chose The Daily Telegraph as his principal route to national fame, and slipped Cabinet secrets to one of its leading journalists, Thornton Leigh Hunt, son of the essayist.

In 1861 the inside story of Gladstone’s battle with his colleagues over the repeal of the duty on paper reached the Telegraph, but no one else. Such scoops helped it reach a circulation of nearly 200,000 by 1871, completely eclipsing the Times.

In return the paper lavished praise on the new Liberal tribune: “Sincerely and in the name of England, we thank Mr Gladstone for the courageous manifesto which he pronounced on Wednesday”, it gushed in 1864.

Thanks to the Telegraph Gladstone was reborn politically as “the People’s William”.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

20/06/15 - Right to Buy
The Times

Sir, The right-to-buy was first proposed by Ted Heath at the October 1974 election (“Tories carried on with right-to buy despite dire warnings of £5bn cost”, June 20).

Overcoming her initial scepticism, Margaret Thatcher repeated the pledge in 1979. It was at that election, not in 1983 that the policy helped her “sweep to power”. Michael Heseltine described it as “the single most important factor” in 1979 apart from the winter of discontent.

In April 1983 the Lords threw out legislation to extend the policy to tenants of housing associations, the plan that has now been revived.
LORD LEXDEN
House of Lords

20/06/15 - The Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff
The Spectator

Sir: David Cameron and Edward Llewellyn did not begin their happy days together in the Conservative Research Department ‘more than 30 years ago’, as James Forsyth asserts (Politics, 13 June). It was in 1985 that Llewellyn, then an Oxford undergraduate, decided that he wanted to join the Department, having helped me edit a collection of Mrs Thatcher’s speeches (the unfortunate volume contained an error and she disowned it). Nevertheless, when he was appointed in early 1988 he soon made his mark with Mrs T in the most testing of all briefing assignments, Europe. Cameron, who arrived a few months later, made no impression on her, looking completely blank when she asked him for the jobless figures (he was the Department’s employment desk officer at the time). Llewellyn seemed the more ambitious of the two. No one could then have predicted their future partnership, or the shape of it.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords
London SW1

13/6/15 - Council development
The Spectator

Sir: As Charles Moore indicates (Notes, 6 June), my former Conservative Research Department employee, Edward Llewellyn, will not lack for company as a member of the Privy Council. He has no fewer than 663 colleagues. The ancient institution has grown by 57 per cent as a result of appointments under Blair, Brown and Cameron. The last is using it to give pleasure to rank- and- file Tory MPs who were rarely nominated in the past. Under the Queen’s grandfather, George V, they were debarred. The entire Council meets on the accession of a monarch. At the current rate of increase, the Albert Hall will be needed when a new reign begins.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

08/06/15 - Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson 
The Telegraph

SIR--Edward VIII was wise to have blinds fitted to his Rolls-Royce when Mrs Simpson came to stay with him at Balmoral in September 1936 (“Royal ghost car that hid Edward VIII’s secret is sold”, report, June 4).

The visit provoked public outrage. The irresponsible monarch was due to open a new hospital in Aberdeen on the day she arrived. The Duke and Duchess of York (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth) were dispatched to the hospital while the King drove to the city’s railway station, wearing goggles, which he thought would provide sufficient disguise.

The Aberdeen press published a picture of his “surprise visit in car” alongside one of the dutiful hospital visitors. “This has done him more harm than anything else and has lost him Scotland”, his private secretary noted. Someone wrote “Down with the American harlot” on an Aberdeen wall. The car blinds were a sensible precaution to shield her from further insult. 

Lord Lexden 
London SW1

02/06/15 - Clapping in Parliament
The Times

Sir, Malcolm Savidge (letter, May 30) notes that peers joined in the clapping at the end of the trial of Warren Hastings in Westminster Hall. Nearly two centuries later applause was heard in the gilded chamber itself for the first time. A recording was made of the ninety year-old Harold Macmillan’s maiden speech as Earl of Stockton on November 14, 1984. Gentle, restrained clapping is audible at the end.

22/05/15 - Prince of Wales's pilgrimage 
The Telegraph

SIR—This week the Prince of Wales visited Classiebawn Castle where his great-uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, spent his last days(“ Mournful memories amid the beauty of Sligo”, May 20). It was the great Lord Palmerston, the only Liberal Prime Minister to win three consecutive elections, who instigated the building of Classybawn Castle (as it was originally spelt) on his 12,500-acre Sligo estate. Oddly, he allowed a controversial Gothic design, having provoked a furious row in London by tearing up plans for a new Gothic Foreign Office by the country’s leading architect in 1859.

He tried hard to help some of the tenants on his overcrowded estates find a better life in Canada, but the plans went disastrously wrong. His agents in Ireland packed them into “ coffin ships” and Palmerston was denounced in the Canadian Legislative Council for acting “ without regard to humanity or even to common decency” when 107 died on the voyage and 174 of the female survivors came ashore almost naked.

Palmerston’s illegitimate daughter married the great social reformer, Lord Shaftesbury. Their second son, Evelyn Ashley, inherited Classiebawn which in 1939 passed to Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina, on the death of her immensely rich father Wilfred Ashley, Lord Mount Temple. Palmerston was her great-great grandfather.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

 06/05/15 - Towards Federalism?
The Times

Sir, A government formed as a result of a Labour/SNP pact could overcome the charge that it would be “fundamentally unfair” on the rest of the UK (leader, May 4) by committing itself to the introduction of a new federal constitution for the country. All four parts would have full internal self-government. A federal parliament at Westminster would preserve the Union on a much looser basis. The advocates of such a scheme could argue convincingly that it is the only way of achieving constitutional stability, assuming that Scottish Nationalists, like Irish Nationalists a century ago, would accept federalism.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

06/05/15 - Labour and the Lib Dems 
The Telegraph

SIR--Tory strategists have unwittingly made it easier for Ed Miliband to seek Lib Dem support by failing to produce the long-term constitutional plan that our country needs to save the Union .

Devolution has produced such grave instability that a division of power along federal lines may now be the only way of keeping our country together. The Lib Dems have been calling for a federal constitution for years. Miliband could seal a pact with them by offering them their goal which also would bring with it another long-sought Lib Dem prize: the abolition of the House of Lords to which conveniently Labour is already committed.

By remaining silent on the most fundamental issue of all during this election campaign, the Tories may have delivered our constitution into the hands of the left.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

2/5/15 - The Tories and the Union
The Spectator

Sir: For once Bruce Anderson does not exaggerate: David Cameron did indeed win golden opinions for his ‘high intellect and low cunning’ at the 1992 election (‘The boy David’, 25 April), putting him among the most brilliant products of the Conservative Research Department over its long history. He contributed magnificently to the widely praised briefing material that the Department produced for Tory candidates, in particular its 350-page Campaign Guide (a publication now discontinued after appearing at elections for 120 years, despite Cameron’s own boast that this is the “most organised” campaign in his career).

But there was more. Thanks to Bruce and others, no one in the place understood more clearly that the supreme object of the Conservative Party is the preservation of the nation. What has happened to this instinctive Tory faith? If he had proclaimed it eloquently and vigorously to the country as a whole last year, Scottish separatism could have been resoundingly defeated at the referendum. By placing undue emphasis on the narrow interests of England without any long-term constitutional plan to bind the entire nation together, the Tory campaign at this election is in danger of contributing to the further weakening of the Union, a prospect that it should be determined at all costs to avoid.
Alistair Lexden
(Deputy Director, Conservative Research Department 1985-97)
House of Lords, London SW1

28/04/15 - Sam Cam
The Times

Sir, The constituency won in 1835 by Sam Cam’s Tory forbear, Thomas Corbett (1796-1868), was not Salford, but North Lincolnshire where he owned some 10,000 acres (“Sam Cam ancestor gave voters free beer”, Apr. 25). His supporters were not a greedy lot. Voters normally expected up to four times the amount that Corbett spent per head on refreshments. Even so this son-in-law of a duke (St Albans) begrudged the outlay and left the Commons two years later without making a speech.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

27/04/15 - The monarch and a hung parliament 92 years ago 
The Telegraph

SIR-The inconclusive election result of December 1923 (Comment, April 21) certainly merits attention today.

Stanley Baldwin, the incumbent Tory prime minister who had just lost his large Commons majority, stayed on, but not “ in the ultimately forlorn hope that the Liberals might keep him in office” and stop Labour ( the second largest Party) taking power. Shortly after the election, Herbert Asquith, the Liberal leader, made a speech in which he “declared war on the government”.

George V told Baldwin that the constitution required him to remain in office. “The Sovereign”, he wrote, “ought not to accept the verdict of the polls except as expressed by the representatives of the electorate across the floor of the House of Commons”. The prime minister’s resignation, if offered before that point, would be refused.

A full King’s Speech was read on January 15 1924 and voted down shortly afterwards. On taking office, Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald did not construct another speech, contenting himself with a personal explanation of his programme.

The Queen’s grandfather had no hesitation in using his royal prerogative powers. That seems inconceivable today. Has the country gained from the evolution of its constitution?

Lord Lexden
London SW1

17/04/15 - Property-owning democracy
The Times

Sir, Tories have indeed dreamt, in David Cameron’s words, “of building a property-owning democracy for generations”( “Right to buy for 1.3m families”, Apr.14). The phrase was coined by a young Scottish Tory thinker, Noel Skelton, who also gave us “compassionate conservatism”, in 1923. It had nothing to do with housing. The aim was wider ownership of industry with profit-sharing schemes for workers.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

10/4/15 - Asquith and the Irish

The New Statesman

Jason Cowley errs in stating that John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party “formed a coalition with Herbert Asquith’s Liberals in 1910” (Politics interview, 27 March). Asquith depended on the IPP’s 70 or so MPs’ votes, but he secured them readily when he removed the Lords veto on legislation in 1910-11, which ensured that Ireland finally got Home Rule in 1914. A peace-time coalition was unnecessary.

When Redmond was offered a senior post in Asquith’s war-time coalition in May 1915, he turned it down.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

08/04/15 - 'Lost' election issues
The Times

Sir,

Your list of key election issues (Apr.7) omits the constitution, despite Rachel Sylvester’s timely warning that “a dangerous game is being played with the future of the United Kingdom”. Since the last election the powers of the devolved legislatures have been increased in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion, creating acute constitutional instability. Scotland has been told that yet more will be conceded to it in the next parliament, but no attempt has been made to examine the impact of further substantial devolution north of the border on the rest of the UK.

It is clear that we need a coherent, long-term constitutional plan for our country as a whole. All parties must be pressed to provide one at this election.
Lord Lexden
Member, House of Lords select committee on the constitution

07/04/15 - Eaton Square 
The Telegraph

Sir--One well-known name that never features on lists of the rich and famous who have lived in Eaton Square, “the grandest, most glamorous residential address in London” ( “ Charmed circle who lay claim to the square”, Apr.2) is Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was to be hanged at Nuremberg in 1946. He lived at number 37 between 1936 and 1938 while he was Hitler’s ambassador at the Court of St James’s (where he disgraced himself by greeting George VI with a Nazi salute).

Ribbentrop was the tenant of Neville Chamberlain, bringing the dark shadow of appeasement to the square. Chamberlain’s family business was in decline and he needed the money that the wealthy former champagne salesman could readily afford.

There is one small consolation for today’s residents concerned about the stigma. Ribbentrop had no influence whatsoever on Chamberlain who rapidly formed a “most unfavourable opinion” of him, as he made clear to his family in 1936.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

09/03/15 - Only federalism can now save the United Kingdom 
The Telegraph

Sir, 
It is not only Mr Miliband who should put “his country before his party”(leading article, March 6) at this time of acute danger to its survival . Mr Cameron must do so too.

It is his duty as a Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister to spell out, with eloquence and conviction, a policy that will halt the process of national disintegration that is the inevitable consequence of having three devolved legislatures using their differing powers for their own ends while undevolved England becomes ever more resentful.

When Gladstone suddenly put forward a botched plan for Irish home rule in 1886, Joe Chamberlain, perhaps the greatest Unionist leader we have ever had, immediately saw that only a federal scheme would work. “In any rearrangement of our constitutional system”, he said on June 17 1886, “new provisions must be so devised as to be equally applicable to England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales under the supreme authority of one Parliament for the United Kingdom”.

Chamberlain’s federal ideals can provide Mr Cameron with the only Unionist policy capable of averting disaster.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

7/3/15 - Alistair Lexden fears the election will be a disaster for the unity of the country
The Spectator

Sir: 

I share Alex Massie’s view that ‘this election is going to be a disaster’ for us unionists (‘ Divided we fall’, 28 February). It is almost too painful to recall that it will mark the 60th anniversary of a great victory in May 1955 when the Tories, standing as Scottish Unionists, won more seats north of the border than their opponents and helped give Anthony Eden a secure majority. Under the baleful influence of George Osborne who could not care less about the constitution, there seems little chance that the Tories will at last redeem themselves by proposing the one remaining policy that could save the union: a new constitutional settlement for the UK based on the federal model. Osborne’s Tories are wholly preoccupied with their so-called long-term economic plan. A genuine long-term plan for the constitution ought to be the overriding priority. 
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords 

23/02/15 - Alistair Lexden sheds some political light on a new Sherlock Holmes mystery
The Times

Sir, 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hoped to advance his political prospects by helping to raise funds for a new Selkirk bridge in 1904 through the short story which has just been rediscovered ("Sherlock's casebook adds new chapter", Feb. 21). An ardent imperialist and henchman of Joe Chamberlain, he was the hopeful Liberal Unionist candidate in a border constituency which included Selkirk. His generosity, though, went unrewarded. He was defeated by 681 votes when the general election came in 1906. A female admirer in Selkirk told him consolingly that, "if the ladies had had votes I am sure you would have got in by a huge majority".
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

13/02/15 - Cameron's mentor
The Times

Sir,
You report that Andrew Lansley gave his political leader his first political job(“ PM’s mentor snubbed over plum UN job”, Mar.10). No, he didn’t. David Cameron was appointed to the Conservative Research Department in July 1988 by me, as deputy director, and Robin Harris, the then director.

Robin Harris has said that he regrets the decision; I do not.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords 

06/02/15 - Alistair Lexden warns of the serious threat from Alex Salmond 
The Telegraph

Sir, Will Alex Salmond become the modern Parnell promising SNP votes at Westminster to any government “prepared to meet his demands”? (“ Parnell’s ghost is hovering as the Tories consider their options”, Feb. 3). When Gladstone brought forward his Irish Home Rule Bill in the hung parliament of 1886 to appease Parnell, he sought at the same time to abolish Irish representation at Westminster completely. He said that Parnell and his Nationalist MPs were “like vermin about a man’s person, troublesome and disagreeable”.

Later he compromised, proposing to retain Irish MPs but cutting their number drastically to reduce their power of blackmail. If Mr Salmond does hold the balance of power after the election, such expedients will surely begin to look attractive to Gladstone’s unhappy successors and the Union will be in the gravest peril. But they will have only themselves to blame for failing to solve the question of English votes for English laws in this Parliament.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

15/01/15 - Macmillan's Bite
The Times

Dear Sir
Reginald Bevins, the Liverpool working-class Tory who had responsibility for licensing the BBC, did indeed propose to take action against the programme (letter, Jan.13). He immediately received a sharp note from Harold Macmillan, “Oh, no, you won’t”.
Yours faithfully
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

15/01/15 - Rule of Law 
The Telegraph

Dear Sir,

The government fully deserves its chastisement by Peter Oborne for attacking the rule of law (“Hypocrites jumping aboard the Magna Carta bandwagon”, Jan.8). The Cabinet contains the holder of a great, historic post who is under an explicit duty, laid down in his oath of office, to protect the rule of law. That is the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. Yet the legislation which he has brought forward in this Parliament has consistently attracted severe censure from the distinguished lawyers who advise the House of Lords as it goes about its work of scrutinising in detail bills which emerge from the Justice Department.

The Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, of which I am a member, recently published a report on the office of Lord Chancellor, reviewing its position nearly ten years after Tony Blair’s hasty, bungled reforms. In his evidence to the Committee Mr Grayling did not accept that as Lord Chancellor the defence of the rule of law rested ultimately with him alone. We therefore recommended that he should be instructed “ to ensure that the rule of law is upheld within Cabinet and across Government”. We also recommended that in future the holder of the post should be a person “willing to speak up for that principle with ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister”. Britain must have a Lord Chancellor who puts his duty to the law above party politics.

Yours faithfully
Lord Lexden 
London SW1

05/01/15 - Dr Wolff
The Times

Dear Sir

Ben Macintyre ("Welcome to Afghanistan.Unless you are a spy", Jan.2) allots a mere six years ending in 1843 to the Asian exploits of the extraordinary Dr Joseph Wolff, a native of Bavaria who became an ordained minister in the American episcopalian church and married Sir Robert Walpole's great-great neice.

It was in 1821 that the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews first despatched him to Asia. He survived an earthquake which killed 40,000 people on his first night in Aleppo since " in consequence of the heat he had providentially gone to sleep in the open fields and thus escaped destruction". He arrived in Afghanistan in 1831 after escaping from a band of robbers in Persia "who stripped him and treated him with great cruelty".

In 1838 he retired to the safety of a curacy at Linthwaite in Yorkshire, but resigned in 1843 " in consequence of the inadequacy of the salary". It was in October 1844 that he set out on his last perilous journey to Afghanistan.
Yours faithfully
Lord Lexden
London SW1