Letters

Letters

A selection of Lord Lexden's letters this year to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New Statesman and The Spectator. You can read letters from previous years in the menu to the left.

10/04/18 - Disraeli's Abyssinian triumph
The Daily Telegraph

SIR—This month, it will be 150 years since an Anglo-Indian expeditionary force stormed the Abyssinian fortress of Magdala to liberate the British consul and a number of others who had been held in chains for over six months by the Emperor Theodore II, unmoved by Queen Victoria’s requests for their release.

Benjamin Disraeli, newly appointed as prime minister, received news of victory early on April 26 1868, “gorgeously arrayed in a dressing gown and in imposing headgear”, as an awed cabinet colleague recorded. With characteristic hyperbole, he reported to the House of Commons that “the standard of St George was hoisted on the mountains of Rasselas”, and raised income tax from fourpence to sixpence to cover the cost of the campaign and the rapid departure of British troops, their mission accomplished.

Is it wise of the Victoria and Albert Museum to make the spoils of war available to the current Ethiopian regime, even in the form of a loan (report, April 4)? Guarantees of safe return could be hard to obtain and enforce, and other requests could follow. On no account should the Emperor’s necklace, presented to Disraeli, leave Hughenden, the house he adored, where it is now displayed by the National Trust, as he would have wished.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

28/03/18 - A chilly Easter in Lexden
The Times

Sir, The implementation of the Easter Act 1928 does not require the formal approval of the Church. The act stipulates only that “regard shall be had” to its “opinion”. Furthermore, parliament is expressly empowered to amend its provisions through the secondary legislation needed to bring it into effect.

Late April certainly does not guarantee balmy weather. The heavy snow in Devon on April 21, 1921 (letter, Mar. 26) was repeated in Essex on April 20, 1945. Through the window my mother watched large snowflakes fall after my birth that day.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

09/03/18 - Attempted political theft
The Daily Telegraph

Sir, Henry Bolton, the former Ukip leader, wants to purloin “Disraeli’s One Nation social conservatism” (“Ukip leader ousted in racism scandal sets up a new party”, Mar. 7). The great statesman never used the term; it was invented more than 40 years later by Stanley Baldwin, who would have denounced such a fraudulent attempt to rebrand Ukip’s socially divisive policies.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

05/03/18 - Did Churchill drink too much?
The Daily Telegraph

SIR - Lady Avon asserts that her uncle Winston Churchill drank “not more than most men” (report, March 2).

It is true that he would toy with a weak whisky, described by one of his private secretaries as “scotch-flavoured mouthwash”, for hours on end.

During and after meals, however, he imbibed on a scale not seen among politicians since the 18th century. It has been estimated that he consumed some 42,000 bottles of champagne during the course of his life.

Very substantial regular intake enabled him to avoid insobriety. The only occasion on which he was seen drunk was at the Tehran Conference in 1943 after a long night exchanging toasts with the Soviet leaders.

He wrote: “I had been brought up and trained to have the utmost contempt for people who got drunk—except on very exceptional occasions and a few anniversaries.”

Lord Lexden
London SW1

19/02/18 - Votes at 16 - and all other rights too?
London Evening Standard

Legislation to give votes to 16-year-olds will not run into any problems in the House of Lords [“Voting age could be cut to 16 before the next general election, says senior Tory”, February 15].

Labour and Liberal Democrats, who have a majority in the second chamber, will speed its passage enthusiastically.

If they had had their way, the voting age would have been lowered for the EU referendum. An amendment to include 16-year-olds passed the Lords, but was overturned in the House of Commons.

It is obviously unsatisfactory to have a lower voting age for the Scottish Parliament (with the Welsh Assembly expected to follow suit) and a higher one for Westminster.

Indeed, maybe 16 should become the new age of majority for everything -- including buying cigarettes, jury service, and fighting on the front line which currently start at 18?

Can different rights at different ages be justified any longer?

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

15/02/18 - The true heroine of the women's suffrage campaign
The Spectator

Sir: Jane Ridley (‘Women on the warpath’, Books, 10 February) claims that Millicent Fawcett and her suffragists had ‘got nowhere’ by the time the militant suffragettes came on the scene in 1903. In fact Fawcett’s law-abiding movement with a membership of some 50,000 (far more than the quarrelling Pankhursts ever managed) had won round the majority of MPs by 1897. Between that date and final victory 20 years later, there were always more MPs in favour of women’s suffrage than against it, though the gap between them shrank during the years of the suffragette campaign. Its violence has to be high on the list of factors that delayed victory.

Ridley repeats the claim that Emily Davison ‘jumped out in front of the King’s horse at the Derby’. The coroner at her inquest concluded that ‘it was evident that Miss Davison did not make specifically for the King’s horse, but her intention was merely to disturb or upset the race’. She had positioned herself on a bend where she could hear, but not see, the horses approaching.

Ridley feels that Dame Millicent should not be alone in having a statue; Mrs Pankhurst should have one too. She already does. It stands, much admired, just beyond Parliament’s Victoria Tower where it was unveiled by Stanley Baldwin in 1930, two years after he had faced down intense opposition from Churchill and the Tory right to give women the vote on the same terms as men. Mrs Pankhurst died just after the legislation had passed, as the proud Tory candidate for Whitechapel.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

09/02/18 - Votes at 16?
The Times

Sir, It took a succession of bravura Commons performances by Disraeli to gain the support of his deeply suspicious MPs for his “major reform expanding the franchise” to include urban male householders in 1867 (“The Tories could profit from votes at 16”, Daniel Finkelstein, Comment, Feb.7). How on earth could timid, tongue-tied Mrs May educate her party, in Dizzy’s famous phrase, to accept another bold expansion of the electorate?

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

05/02/18 - Advice for the Archbishop on the Bell case
The Spectator

Sir: Unfortunately the Archbishop of Canterbury was not in the House of Lords on 22 January when I called on the Church to accept the Carlile Report’s central conclusion that, in the absence of convincing evidence against the great Bishop Bell, his name should never have been publicly besmirched (The Spectator’s Notes, 27 Jan.). Lambeth should heed the wise words of the Bishop of Peterborough who said that ‘where the complainant has a right to be anonymous, there seems to be a case for the respondent also to be anonymous… until there is overwhelming evidence to suggest guilt’.

If the Archbishop expressed belated remorse for not adopting such a course, which is in accordance with official police advice, he might begin to calm the furore that he has aroused.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

02/02/18 - Slashing suffragette
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--It was on July 17 1914 that the picture of Thomas Carlyle in the National Portrait Gallery was attacked (“Portrait slashed by suffragette ‘Hatchet Fiend’ goes on show”, 30 January).

The 31-year-old assailant, who gave her name as Ann Hunt, was Margaret Gibb from Glasgow. She and her sister Ellison, well-known in their native city as chess-players, had been breaking windows in Dundee and then in London.

In March 1914, Margaret had been sentenced to two months in Holloway for attacking a policeman with a dog whip. Her next target was unfortunate, for Thomas Carlyle was a great hero to Emmeline Pankhurst, who was extremely displeased by the severe damage to his portrait.

The Gibb sisters returned in some disgrace to chess-playing in Glasgow, where their only recorded sources of excitement in later years were long, happy holidays together in Japan.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

27/01/18 - Ulster-Scotland link
The Times

Sir, Ulster Unionists might well have got a rail tunnel to Stranraer in 1890 if the then Tory prime minister, Lord Salisbury, had been dependent on their votes (“Now the Northern Irish want a bridge built from Scotland”, Jan.24). Plans were drawn by an enterprising engineer, but a hefty government subsidy was needed to tempt investors. Salisbury, with a majority of more than 100, said, “take away that Ulster begging bowl”.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

26/01/18 - That statue again
London Evening Standard

There are several reasons for applauding Westminster council’s decision to turn down the proposed statue of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher [“Architect handbags council for rejecting Thatcher statue”, January 24].

It is far too soon after her death, in April 2013, and her family do not like the design. But above all, it is not worthy of her.

A peer’s robes cascade impressively around the person (as they do in Benjamin Disraeli’s statue to which the plinth designer refers). However, Thatcher is depicted in what looks like a non-conformist minister’s gown with frills and a chain added. Where is the strength of character for which she will always be remembered?

She has been given the tired, mournful expression of a person whose life has been a failure, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This statue must be junked.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords (Con)

19/01/18 - An insult to Margaret Thatcher
The Times

Sir, The proposed Thatcher statue must be vetoed (report, Jan.18). It makes her look like a rather dowdy and unhappy provincial lady mayoress. The sculptor has put her in a terrible, simplified version of her peer’s robes without her Garter regalia. The face lacks any trace of the strength and determination brilliantly captured by Oscar Nemon in a 1979 bust at the Carlton Club. This statue insults her memory.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

08/01/18 - Prince Charles at Gordonstoun
The Daily Telegraph

SIR-- The portrayal on Netflix of Prince Charles’s misery at Gordonstoun has been contested by one of his contemporaries who claims that it does not “remotely resemble” the truth (“Gordonstoun ‘nothing like in The Crown’”, report, January 4).

When researching his biography of the Prince published in 1994, Jonathan Dimbleby had access to letters which he sent to his parents and others from Gordonstoun. They record a life of deep unhappiness.

“I hate coming back here,” he wrote in his third term. “I hardly get any sleep because I snore and I get hit on the head the whole time. It’s absolute hell.”

Things had not improved at the end of two years. “The people in my dormitory are foul. Goodness they are horrid, I don’t know how anyone could be so foul… I still wish I could come home. It’s such a hole this place.”

It was only in music, painting and acting that he found relief, giving a notable performance as Macbeth in his last term.

Netflix has been justly criticised for making some serious errors, but its depiction of Prince Charles’s time at Gordonstoun is not among them.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

02/01/18 - Airey Neave remembered
The Times

Sir, Kemi Badenoch, MP, a rising Tory star, must read the well-crafted books written by her hero Airey Neave (“Tory’s love for great escaper”, Diary, Dec.28). One of the best, They Have Their Exits, first published in 1953 and still in print, describes his escape from Colditz -- characteristically, he gave pride of place to the ingenuity and bravery of others rather than his own.

He never gave much thought to his own safety, a habit which remained unchanged during his involvement with Northern Ireland after 1975. He was murdered, not by the IRA, but by the so-called Irish National Liberation Army, a splinter group, whose bombers remained at large and briefed the journalist Paul Routledge for his unsympathetic biography of Neave published in 2002.

It is a pity that the policy that Neave devised for Northern Ireland is not better known. When I saw him for the last time the morning before his murder, he gave final approval to the words which were to appear in the 1979 Conservative election manifesto: “in the absence of devolution, we will seek to establish one or more regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services.”

Devolution has been absent from Northern Ireland for almost a year. The suspended Assembly at Stormont could be reconstituted along the lines Neave proposed.

Lord Lexden
(Political adviser to Airey Neave, 1977-79)