About Lord Lexden

About Lord Lexden

Career Summary

  • 1966-71 Historical research and teaching at Cambridge, Edinburgh and Belfast Universities
  • 1971-77 Lecturer and Tutor in Modern History at Queen's University, Belfast
  • 1977-97 Conservative Research Department (Political Adviser on Northern Ireland to Airey Neave, 1977-79 ; Assistant, then Deputy, Director,1983-97)
  • 1988-97 Director, Conservative Political Centre
  • 1997-2004  General Secretary, Independent Schools Council
  • 2004-10  Consultant and editor-in-chief, Conservative Research Department
  • 2007- Official historian, Carlton Club
  • 2009-  Official historian to the Conservative Party
  • 2010- Vice Chairman, Conservative Policy Forum



Alistair Lexden OBE has made significant contributions in three spheres of activity: education, politics and authorship. He was created a Conservative working peer with the title of Lord Lexden in November 2010.

Born in Lexden (from which he takes his title) on the outskirts of Colchester, Essex, he read history at Peterhouse, Cambridge. After postgraduate research in Cambridge and Edinburgh (1966-9), he worked as an academic historian at Queen's University, Belfast (1969-77). He taught British and Irish political history from 1660 to the present day. He contributed to a number of academic journals and edited the diaries and memoirs of several political leaders active in the 1880s, both Conservatives and Liberals, for publication, some in collaboration with a fellow historian.

His principal publication at this time was The Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain 1885-86 (1974), a detailed study of the first Irish Home Rule crisis. He lectured outside the university under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) and was chairman of the Northern Ireland Historical Association, fostering links between university and schools. He also worked as an archivist in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, sorting and cataloguing the private papers of a number of modern Ulster politicians. He formed strong views on the importance of providing a broad and deep history curriculum in secondary schools and universities-views which have intensified over the years. 

His second period of involvement in education, which followed a long spell in the Conservative Party's central organisation (see below),was very different. From 1997 to 2004 he was General Secretary of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), a body which accredits some 1,300 independent schools where 80 per cent of pupils in the independent sector are educated. He acted as their principal representative in discussions with government ministers and officials, and oversaw the Council's briefing of the media on issues relating to independent schools. He chaired a committee of senior head teachers and education experts which led to the creation of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which now inspects ISC-member schools on terms agreed with government. Many schools abroad now benefit from inspections carried out on similar lines as a result of an agreement in 2011 between the government and the Council of British International Schools, of which Alistair Lexden is vice-president.

He negotiated arrangements for the introduction of a new system of teacher induction in independent schools, following legislation by the last government. He secured acceptance of the case for the retention of charitable status by independent schools in detailed talks with Tony Blair's No 10 Strategy Unit, which preceded controversial legislation after he had left the ISC. His experiences made him a vigorous advocate of both the need for closer partnership between state and independent schools, and of changes in the state system to enable its schools to conduct their affairs more independently. He is a strong supporter of this government's education reforms.

He retains close links with independent schools and raises issues relating to them in the Lords. He is President of the Independent Schools Association which represents the interests of over 300 smaller, less well-known schools. He is also President of the Council for Independent Education(CIFE) whose membership comprises 18 successful further education colleges.

Alistair Lexden spent most of his career (1977-97) as a senior official in the central organisation of the Conservative Party. He was political adviser to Airey Neave, the Party's Spokesman on Northern Ireland, from 1977 to 1979, developing a commitment to the maintenance of the Province's union with Great Britain which led in later years to a number of publications, some of them under the aegis of the organisation Friends of the Union, established by Ian Gow, of which he became chairman.

He spoke frequently at meetings in Britain and Northern Ireland in the 1990s in defence of moderate unionism. It remains among his principal political interests. He has been chairman of a small charity which makes grants to disabled former members of the security forces. He is president of the Northern Ireland Schools Debating Competition, and has recently expanded its activities by instituting an annual essay prize.

Alistair Lexden was Deputy Director of the Conservative Research Department (CRD) from 1985 to 1997 with responsibility for its day-to-day work and the practical fulfilment of its strategic objectives. Before and during general election campaigns he had full charge of the briefing material supplied to candidates, equipping them with detailed information about the Party's policies and manifesto commitments. From 1988 to 1997 he was also Director of the Conservative Political Centre (CPC), established by Rab Butler, to enable members of the Party at large to participate, through a nationwide discussion programme, in the making of Party policy. For this purpose he was assisted by a small dedicated team in the production of discussion papers, the organisation of seminars, lectures and residential courses, and the publication of pamphlets which he edited in addition to the CRD's substantial output of publications.

Electoral and constitutional reform have featured among Alistair Lexden's publications. The Conservative Party has increasingly become the focus of his historical writing: he has produced a series of studies, of which a history of the Primrose League, the first Tory organisation to attract mass support, is the most recent. He is an obituarist for The Times, and a regular contributor to its letters page, where he has appeared more than 250 times in the last twenty years; he has had over 200 letters published in The Daily Telegraph for which he has reviewed history books. He is now a book reviewer for Parliament’s House Magazine. He is also an adviser, and contributor, to The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a Trustee of the Hansard Society and the official historian of the Carlton Club.