Letters

Letters

A selection of Lord Lexden's letters this year to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New Statesman and The Spectator.

22/09/17 - Chris Patten's Ulster errors
TLS: The Times Literary Supplement

Sir, -- In his short review of Chris Patten’s First Confession: A sort of memoir (In Brief, September 1), Simon Scott Plummer describes the distinguished liberal Tory as “the most attractive politician of his generation”. The chapter in the book on Irish affairs does not bear out this generous view. Patten is unremittingly hostile to Ulster’s Unionists amongst whom he seems to think that it is impossible to find a single person interested in helping to rebuild the Province’s political life on power-sharing lines. David Trimble, who sacrificed so much in search of a strong and stable government with John Hume’s SDLP, is dismissed in the book as an unreconstructed Loyalist for daring to question Patten’s proposals to put policing on an entirely new basis in 1999. At the time Patten made clear privately that he accepted that there was a limit to the concessions that Trimble could be expected to make in the face of Ian Paisley’s wrath. No hint of any understanding of the difficulties encountered by moderate Unionists appears in the book. He is cavalier too with the facts: 1923 is given as the year when Ireland was partitioned (it was 1921); a highly controversial speech by a Unionist leader is assigned to 1937(it was delivered in 1933); Northern Ireland is said to have had a governor-general under the Stormont Parliament (he was a mere governor). The famously sophisticated liberal descends to crude insults. Ulster Protestantism, he writes, is usually a matter of “telling the Bishop of Rome to p*** off”. Those who wish to retain a high opinion of Patten should probably skip his Irish chapter.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1.

18/09/17 - Our future King
The Times

Sir, In 1870 Gladstone doubted whether the monarchy would survive because “the Prince of Wales is not respected”, having decided to dedicate himself entirely to “the stimulants of pleasure”. Our Prince of Wales, by contrast, forfeits respect in some quarters by working extremely hard on behalf of the various causes he has taken up. It is feared that his accession could mark the start of a controversial “proactive monarchy”(Leading article, “King-in-Waiting”, Sep.16).

It is much more likely, as many who know him well attest, that a clear recognition of the neutrality incumbent on the monarch has led him to fashion a complementary role for the heir that combines service to the country with responsible advocacy of major reforms wholly outside the realm of party politics. This has never been attempted before. It will up to the Duke of Cambridge to decide whether to continue, or to amend, the new active princely role when his father becomes our constitutional monarch.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

17/09/17 - Stephen Ward - Scapegoat in the Profumo scandal?
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--Andrew Lloyd-Webber is doing a great service to the cause of justice in keeping up the pressure for the release of government papers relating to the Profumo affair (report, September 13).

The conviction of Dr Stephen Ward, a man of great talent, in 1963 will not cease to be an issue of intense controversy, causing his family continuing distress, until this happens. Andrew and I raised the overwhelming case for the disclosure of the relevant documents in the Lords in July 2013. The inquiry into the Profumo scandal, carried out by Lord Denning, amassed a wealth of material which could well show that Dr Ward’s conviction was improperly secured.

We were told that these crucial files would remain closed because they contained “some sensational personal items which would be embarrassing if released”. Some personal embarrassment is not an acceptable reason for concealing information that could throw fresh light on the Ward case.

An incomplete transcript of Dr Ward’s trial, which is held by the National Archives, should also be made available. When, in March 2014, I asked for it to be released, I was told that disclosure “would invite renewed and potentially unfair speculation” about the activities of people who are still alive.

A strong suspicion that a miscarriage of justice occurred 54 years ago surely makes that defence of continuing secrecy invalid. The government must think again.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

29/08/17 - How should Tory Party leaders be elected?
The Times

Sir, Exactly 40 years after we first met, Matthew Parris invites me to find fault with his summary of the procedures under which Tory leaders have been elected since 1965 (Comment, Aug.26).

He falters at just one point. No recent leader has been given significant added protection by the changes introduced over the years. The leader enjoyed protection under the initial formulation of the rules which provided that an election could only take place on the death or resignation of the incumbent.

A leader in whom confidence had fallen could not be challenged. Subsequent revisions enabled backbench MPs to force elections in circumstances where dissatisfaction with the existing leader had reached significant levels.

For more than 30 years the election procedures rested on a clear principle: “The predominant voice in the selection must be that of the House of Commons since the leader’s position ultimately depends more on his or her ability to command the support of the party in the Commons than on any other single factor”.

Arguably, the well-defined arrangements for consulting the rest of the party worked satisfactorily during that period, though Macmillan in 1963 was the first to order detailed soundings at every level outside Parliament (Matthew errs in saying that the old magician confined consultations to MPs).

Foolishly, the Party equipped itself with a written constitution in 1998 which handed the decision to the Party at large. That makes it much harder to establish a new form of electoral college in which the original founding principle can be reasserted. It must, however, be done.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

26/08/17 - Same-sex wedding of fake peers
The Spectator

Writing in The Spectator on 29 July, Charles Moore drew attention to an unusual marriage announced in The Times—between Lord Blackmore and Lord Hiscutt in the Palace of Westminster. Why had the first ever same-sex marriage of two peers not made a news story? Simple checking showed that the peers were fakes. Alistair Lexden looked into the curious tale, and reported the outcome of his inquiries in a letter published in The Spectator on 26 August.

Sir: The two bogus lords whose wedding announcement in The Times was spotted by Charles Moore (Notes, 29 July) did not fool the officials of the House of Commons where the marriage took place (the Lords is not available for this purpose). They tell me that passports are always carefully checked to ensure that the register is signed accurately: people cannot turn themselves into peers or MPs as the fancy takes them. In the old days, a bevy of ladies scrutinised every word in announcements submitted to The Times, but now apparently the paper tends to print whatever it is sent. I think I might give myself a dukedom if I marry.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

18/08/17 - The partition of India seventy years ago
The Times

Sir, Professor Ansari states that the partition of India 70 years ago “should never have been allowed to happen” (letter, Aug.16).

Both the main British political parties were committed to maintaining a single state. In 1935 Stanley Baldwin faced down opposition from Churchill and the right wing of the Conservative Party to pass a far-reaching Government of India Act that made provision for a new federal constitution.

In 1947 Attlee and his Cabinet colleagues were deeply conscious of their historic links to the Indian Congress Party. They saw it as their duty to bring India to independence undivided. It was only on May 27, 1947 that an anguished Cabinet reluctantly agreed to the partition. After exhaustive discussions, the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, had recorded formally in April that it was only when it became apparent that the retention of any form of united India would start a civil war that he had regretfully been obliged to give up this ideal.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

05/08/17 - Courts and quads
The Times

Sir, Iain Martin gives the fictional Porterhouse College, Cambridge, a quad (article, Aug.3). This Oxonian term has always been anathema to those fortunate to study beside the gentle river Cam, where the colleges provide courts for recreation and noisy demonstrations.

Yours faithfully

Lord Lexden
(Graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge)
London SW1

03/08/17 - Gay Arrival
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--British homosexuals started to be gay rather earlier than Michael Henderson realises (Notebook, July 31). All the famous post-war names he mentions might well have used the little word.

In his book Against the Law, published in 1955 and the basis of a recent television film, Peter Wildeblood, recounts a meeting immediately after the war with a naval officer who had served in Ceylon. “He said that most of the officers at the station had been gay, and looked at me as though this was some password to which he expected me to reply. I had not heard the expression before. He was of course gay himself, and took it for granted that I was too.”

The term began to be quite widely used, Wildeblood explains, in conscious rebuke of the “many people who had written about homosexuality in a spirit of self-pity and shame”.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

22/07/17 - Great Nineteenth Century sculptures
The Times

Sir, No particular importance should be attached to the bronze bust of Wellington that has been fished out of the Thames (News, July 19).

The Sardinian baron Carlo Marochetti turned out any number of them at his iron foundry with 20 employees behind his house in Onslow Square, west London.

But he took infinite pains over another sculpture, the duke’s hands, always a technically complex subject, and rightly regarded as among his most famous works. Three of these remarkable sculptures are known to exist---two are in the Royal Collection. They helped him win his most prized commission: the marble effigies of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the mausoleum at Frogmore House. Completed in 1862, the queen’s monument was stored in a cavity in the walls of Windsor Castle and forgotten; a prolonged search by desperate courtiers eventually located it when it was needed nearly forty years later.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

22/07/17 - Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland
The Spectator

Sir: ‘Why does the Conservative party not field candidates in Ulster constituencies?’, asks John Nugee (Letters 15 July). Something must have stopped him studying the Province’s electoral history over the last 25 years. Superseded by the Ulster Unionist party in 1886, official Tory candidates, approved by Conservative Central Office, reappeared at the 1992 general election. They stood in 11 of Northern Ireland’s (then) 17 seats, winning a total of 44,608 votes (including 14,371 in North Down where the Tory came second). Since then Conservative party HQ has pumped in money and advice, but to no avail. In June, Tory candidates standing in seven seats gained a mere 3,875 votes between them. Sinn Fein and the DUP have turned Ulster politics into an ugly sectarian duopoly.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

21/07/17 - Ireland and Brexit
TLS: Times Literary Supplement

Professor Roy Foster, a distinguished Irish historian, assessed the implications of Brexit for Ireland in an article in TLS: The Times Literary Supplement on July 14. Alistair Lexden commented on the article in the main letter in the next issue of the paper on July 21.

Sir,--Sadly Roy Foster’s powerful article (July 14) is unlikely to be read in Downing Street unless it falls into the hands of Mr May, who is reputed to have an interest in history. Mrs May knows next to nothing about her own country’s past, let alone Ireland’s. Such historical allusions as she has managed to make were supplied by her now discredited henchman, Nick Timothy, who worships Joseph Chamberlain.

While she might gain a little comfort from learning that Irish MPs “exacted a considerable price” from Asquith for their support after 1910, she is the first prime minister to allow the beneficiaries of a deal to flaunt their concessions so brazenly. There was something shocking about the unprecedented signing ceremony with the Democratic Unionist Party in No 10 at the end of last month; it was as if a treaty between equals had been concluded. James Callaghan had Enoch Powell and other Ulster Unionist MPs smuggled in by the back door when he promised them extra representation at Westminster and some additional public spending in return for their help in 1977. Gladstone, the pioneer of such deals, used the husband of Parnell’s mistress as his link to the great Nationalist leader in the 1880s.

A talent for constructive private intrigue seems wholly lacking in today’s Conservative Party. Brexit will not be brought to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion without it. Disraeli’s masterly manoeuvrings in 1867 to secure triumph for a minority government over parliamentary reform ought now be the subject of earnest Tory study. But Mrs May disdains such vital skills, insisting misguidedly that “politics is not a game”.

Professor Foster notes the current political deadlock in Northern Ireland, but offers no advice on how it should be dealt with. Eternal vigilance in both London and Dublin surely became essential when a ramshackle coalition of political incompatibles, smouldering with mutual hatreds, was established at Stormont under the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Mrs May needs to show that she is not the puppet of her new allies by bringing the DUP to its senses; Dublin has a similar duty to perform as regards Sinn Fein. Without some form of functioning (if rancorous) central authority at Stormont, the Irish dimensions of the numerous Brexit problems, which Roy Foster discusses so authoritatively, will be even harder to solve.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

10/07/17 - Keeping covered in the Lords
The Daily Telegraph

SIR-- No one visiting the chamber of the House of Lords need fear that an entirely naked neck is a possible hazard, though in other parts of the premises it can sometimes be spotted (Letters, July 5).

Wigs, now unknown in the Commons, continue to adorn the heads of our distinguished clerks. But for the first time in centuries, uniformity reigns. The new Clerk of the Parliaments has decided to retain the barrister’s wig worn by his junior colleagues and forgo the High Court judge’s wig that reposed on his predecessors.

Since the cost of holding fast to tradition is apparently £12,000, one sees his point. But should we begrudge the price of retaining the appurtenances of ancient offices?

Lord Lexden
London SW1

10/07/17 - Political parties working together
London Evening Standard

I suggested in the Lords last week that a cross-party administration should be formed in Kensington and Chelsea. Trust in the Conservative party has fallen so low, and the people of the borough need to see their elected representatives working together as a united team on the basis of a clear, published plan for the future. Then their faith in the council would begin to be restored.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

24/06/17 - Nick Timothy: the reckoning
The Spectator

Sir: Nick Timothy seeks sympathy by revealing that his ‘loved ones’ are upset by the personal attacks to which he is now subject (Diary, 17 June). They could have been spared distress if he had not invited retaliation by swearing at senior ministers and civil servants who crossed him. How could a prim vicar’s daughter have allowed endless profanities from this ill-mannered man and his ill-tempered associate, Fiona Hill? Perhaps Timothy’s most extraordinary claim is that ‘a return to traditional campaigning methods’ was planned but Lynton Crosby vetoed it. Traditionally the Tories did not contract out their campaign to consultants charging vast fees. The leader and party chairman took charge. The manifesto was carefully costed. Commitments in it were explained in detailed briefings for candidates from the Conservative Research Department.

Timothy fails to tell us what we most want to know. Did the statist manifesto reflect Mrs May’s convictions, or were he and ‘the brilliant Ben Gummer’ able to cook up the whole thing between them because she has no convictions of her own?

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

24/06/17 - Kings dress up
The Daily Telegraph

SIR-- The annual State Opening of Parliament by the monarch wearing robes and crown -- set aside by the Queen this week -- was devised by Edward VII and George V just over a century ago.

During the last 40 years of her life, Queen Victoria refused to dress up or even read her speech on the few occasions when she opened Parliament in person.

On his accession in 1901 Edward VII declared that he would observe “as grand State as possible”. What was to be a traditional carriage procession brought him down to the Lords where he donned a flowing crimson robe and read his speech (with his women friends seated in the gallery). 

Three years after his accession in 1910, George V decided to add the final touch. He wrote in his diary on March 10 1913: “I wore my Crown as many people wished it and had not been worn for opening of Parliament for over 60 years”.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

22/06/17 - Dress down Queen
The Times

Sir, Though this may be only the second time that the Queen has “scaled back” the state opening of parliament (News, June 21), her great-great grandmother did it constantly in the latter part of her reign. On the rare occasions that she opened parliament in person, Queen Victoria never put on robes or crown. An eye-witness recorded in January 1886 that she wore “deep black trimmed with ermine at the edges” with “the royal robes of crimson velvet and white silk embroidered in gold” being draped over the throne. The crown was carried on a cushion by one of the great officers of state. Should not our 91 year-old monarch consider making dress-down standard practice?

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

10/06/17 - The dangers of snap elections
The Times

Sir, Two previous Tory prime ministers called snap elections. Both Stanley Baldwin in December 1923 and Ted Heath in February 1974 lost, but both survived as Tory leaders.

Heath was well entrenched after nine years in firm command of his party. It took another election defeat to undermine his authority fatally.

Like Mrs May, Baldwin had only been in Downing Street for a few months. Like her, he had sought a clear mandate for a highly divisive policy, in his case the introduction of economic protection. Furious colleagues wanted to oust him as leader. He hung on because none of the party’s big beasts could mount an effective challenge after years in coalition with the discredited Lloyd George. Baldwin swiftly ditched the policy that had led to catastrophe, an option not open to Mrs May, who will have to persevere with Brexit. She may not remain long at the head of her ruthless party.

Lord Lexden
Official historian, Conservative Party

09/06/17 - Acquisition and destruction at Chartwell
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--The National Trust should give prominence at Chartwell to its recently acquired volume presented to Churchill on his 80th birthday in 1954 (report, June 6). The pleasure that it gave helped him cope with the deep distress caused by Graham Sutherland’s portrait which he received at the same time.

The book contains a moving tribute to his parliamentary service prefaced by a quotation from John Bunyan. He told his audience in Westminster Hall that “the care and thought which have been devoted to this beautiful volume and the fact that it bears the signatures of nearly all my fellow Members deeply touches my heart”.

His other gift, which he dismissed as a “remarkable example of modern art”, was stored briefly in the cellar at Chartwell before being burnt. A  copy, however, by Albrecht von Leyden, is in the possession of the Carlton Club.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

03/06/17 - Unusual manifesto accolade
The Spectator

Sir: D.J.Taylor (27 May) commends the Tory manifesto as ‘agreeably sonorous’. It must be the first to deserve such an accolade since Sir Robert Peel sent his well-turned phrases to the electors of Tamworth in 1834. A competition to establish the least sonorous would attract many entries. I would submit the rambling 30,000-word manifesto of 1997 which David Willetts recently admitted to drafting. It contains the following immortal passage: ‘we will continue to build on our record of improving safety on roll-on roll-off ferries and cargo ships through higher standards of survivability.’

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

16/05/17 - The most personalised Tory campaign
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--Fraser Nelson (Comment, May 12) states that “it’s hard to remember the last time that a Tory election campaign was so personalised”.

None of Mrs May’s predecessors put leader before party as she is doing. Even Churchill did not go quite so far. At the 1951 election, which was to restore him to power, he sought a mandate for “a stable government with several years before it, during which time national interests must be faithfully held far above party feuds or tactics”. Its work would not be “biased by privilege”.

The manifesto appeared above his personal signature. But the candidates did not fight as “Winston’s team”. They campaigned for a Conservative and Unionist victory.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

16/05/17 - Misrepresenting Thatcher
London Evening Standard

The proposed new statue of Margaret Thatcher for Parliament Square gives her the face of a sour 19th-century provincial businessman down on his luck, kitted out in mayoral robes (News, 12 May).

The sculptor should have a look at the superb bust of her by Oscar Nemon in the Carlton Club. It captures brilliantly her strong, determined features and penetrating eyes. Harold Macmillan unveiled the bust in 1979. In a mischievous stage whisper he said, “I must remember that I am unveiling a bust of Margaret Thatcher, not Margaret Thatcher’s bust”.

Alistair Lexden

09/05/17 - Nazis and Royals
The Times

Sir, Speculation about the extent of the royal family’s links with German relatives who supported the Nazis is damaging to the interests of the monarchy. This underlines the importance of the continuing campaign, widely supported by historians, to establish firm, transparent procedures under which scholars can have access to the royal archives, ending the existing secrecy.

The royal family has much to gain by opening up the relevant papers for proper historical study. The Duke of Coburg, described by Ben Macintyre as “the key figure in the saga” (“Hidden truth about royals’ Nazi links”, May 6), was the recipient of banal information, as the surviving German sources show. He made ludicrous mistakes, on one occasion referring to Rugby-educated Neville Chamberlain as a fellow Etonian. Like most people in Britain before 1939, the royal family wanted an understanding with Germany and used their family connections to try and help achieve it.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

05/05/17 - Speaking to the whole UK
The Spectator

Sir: Since, as your excellent leading article (29 April) recounts, the Tory party is once again ‘speaking to the whole of the UK’, it must rediscover its authentic Unionist voice in Northern Ireland. Nowhere is the need for Mrs May’s much vaunted strong leadership more obvious than in this part of the Union which she has said is ‘precious’ to her. Despite interminable hours of talking, there is no possibility of resurrecting a devolved executive. The Assembly, elected in March, should be given the task of scrutinising public services and the large Northern Ireland civil service which delivers them. More responsibility for legislation will inevitably pass to Westminster, a prospect which British politicians have customarily viewed with dread. A Tory party determined to do its duty to the whole UK should not shrink from engaging more fully with the affairs of the Province. In the process it should do everything possible to foster a renaissance of moderate, inclusive unionism, in eclipse since the tragic triumph of Ian Paisley over David Trimble more than a decade ago. The Tory party manifesto at the last election claimed that ‘we will always do our utmost to keep our family of nations together’. Mrs May must now give Northern Ireland a stronger place within the family in order to ensure its survival.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

28/04/17 - Cromwell: King in all but name
The Times Literary Supplement

Sir,-- “Why”, asks Diane Purkiss in her review of David Horspool’s Oliver Cromwell: The Protector, “does Oliver Cromwell deserve to count as royalty?” (April 14). As Lord Protector he possessed more power than the Stuarts and lacked only the formal title. “He could not”, he said in 1657, “with a good conscience accept the title of king” which was readily offered to him. But His Highness accepted the monarch’s hereditary status; on his death in 1658 the de facto uncrowned kingship passed to his son Richard who resembled many in the legitimate royal line by being utterly unfitted for it. After the Stuart restoration in 1660, this inoffensive man settled in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, under the name of Clark, dying peacefully in his bed in 1712 at the age of eighty-six.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

28/04/17 - Corbyn's extra Bank Holidays mocked in 250th Telegraph letter
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--Sir John Lubbock, the 19th-century Liberal MP whose legislation invented bank holidays, thought there should be quite a few of them.

He was very pleased that “not a single tipsy or ill-conducted person” marred the introduction of his scheme for “ameliorating the lot of the working people” on the first Monday in August 1871.

If, however, the days of leisure were to be increased significantly, absorbing diversions would be needed to preserve good behaviour. Lubbock himself spent hours trying to teach his poodle to read and endeavouring to prove that bees and wasps could distinguish between different colours.   

He also promoted discussion of ways to “quicken repayment of the national debt”. Imaginative ideas of this kind would assist Mr Corbyn in raising interest in the extra bank holidays that he favours(report, 24 April).

Lord Lexden
London SW1

19/04/17 - An unpromising precedent
The Times

Sir, The last time a general election came out of the blue in an attempt to secure a firm parliamentary majority for a highly controversial policy was in November 1923. After a few months in power with a comfortable position in the Commons thanks to his predecessor’s victory a year earlier, Stanley Baldwin sought a personal mandate for economic protectionism. Unemployment “on a scale unparalleled in our history” and “the disorganisation and poverty of Europe” demanded the imposition of duties on imported manufactured goods, he told the country, adding that Britain must work for “real free trade” with the Commonwealth.

The gamble did not pay off. The Liberals, divided and demoralised at the 1922 election, staged a remarkable recovery. Holding the balance of power in the new parliament, they put Ramsay MacDonald with 191 Labour MPs into office. He had no clearer programme than the present Labour leader. Will history repeat itself?

Yours faithfully
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

15/04/17 - An unlikely Thatcher favourite
The Spectator

Sir: Grey Gowrie may be ‘the most undervalued poet of our time’ (Books, 8 April), but he was certainly not undervalued by Mrs Thatcher, even though they were poles apart on many issues. This close associate of Jim Prior spent a year in her cabinet as arts minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; in her memoirs she upgraded him to Leader of the Lords. He left her in September 1985, turning down the Department of Education which has been held  only once by a peer since the war (and then for no more than eight months). He was, she said, ‘the greatest loss’; she had beencaptivated by his ‘excellent mind’.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

08/04/17 - A King's mistress in Italy
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--The Duchess of Cornwall (report, 8 April) should not grieve unduly that the Villa dell’ Ombrellino in Florence, acquired by her great-grandmother Alice Keppel in 1925 with Edward VII’s legacy, was sold after the death in 1972 of her great-aunt, Violet Trefusis (the lover of Vita Sackville-West, among others), who diminished the family’s resources by leaving five million lire to the poor and another million to the local Anglican church.

In his Tuscan Villas (1973), Harold Acton described the property as “a pretentious pastiche”. Though Mrs Keppel got rid of the “tawdry Victorian palm” that disfigured the house for years, she took great pride in a hideous Union Jack garden designed on her instructions. She would poke it with her umbrella and tell the bemused gardeners, in her shaky Italian, “Bisogna begonia”, though that flower disliked the local soil. Her proudest moment came when Winston Churchill arrived with his paint box. 

As regards the villa, a curious misunderstanding took root. For years after her death tour guides would point out the villa to visitors, explaining “There lived Mr Keppel, the last lover of Queen Victoria”.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

23/03/17 - Martin McGuinness and our biased BBC
The Daily Telegraph

SIR-- Martin McGuinness’s death produced long tributes on the BBC to his role as a peacemaker. There was no attempt to balance them with an account of his career as a terrorist. 

The toll of death and destruction is recorded dispassionately in Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government by Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, published in 2001.  In 1972 nine innocent people were killed in the village of Claudy by one of his close associates. In 1985 he authorised the murder of a Catholic couple who were alleged to have informed on the 1RA; they left an orphaned daughter.

In 1998 the father of one of the youngest victims of the Omagh bombings asked him to make an appeal ask for information to be passed by the police; he rejected the call. 

Worst of all, the BBC omitted all reference to his failure to utter a single word of regret or remorse. Without penitence there can be no forgiveness.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

21/03/17 - Osborne the editor
London Evening Standard

Sir, Lloyd George would not have thought much of George Osborne becoming editor of the Evening Standard. The Welsh wizard’s view was that if a leading politician went into journalism his place was at the very top. In the last phase of his premiership in 1922, he told his mistress, Frances Stevenson, that he would not mind resigning if he could become editor of The Times at a decent salary. Shortly afterwards,when the paper was put up for sale, he got a group of rich friends to bid for it so that he could have the editorship, but they were pipped by the Astors.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

08/03/17 - Black mark for the Lords
The Telegraph

SIR-- Lord Sewel, who left the Lords in 2015, belonged to Labour, not the Conservatives (“Peers block misconduct rules”, report, March 3). It is astonishing that a Lords committee should plead that the lack of “consensus” should prevent the introduction of tough sanctions against future miscreants. The House as a whole should vote on the matter.

It is even more remarkable that a parliamentary convention bearing the Sewel name, established when he was a Scottish Office minister under Tony Blair, was enshrined in law in the Scotland Act 2016, passed months after his downfall. Under it, Parliament will not normally legislate on matters that have been devolved to subordinate assemblies. My protests were disregarded. The Sewel convention conferred constitutional immortality on a discredited man.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

07/03/17 - Access to the Royal Archives: renewed concern
The Times

Sir, Royal archivists are expecting a request from the Jay inquiry for access to papers bearing on royal support for a charity which condoned the abuse of children sent to Australia after the war (article and leader, Mar.4). The archivists’ contention that all the documents in their care are purely private property cannot be sustained. Nor should they retain unfettered discretion as to who should be allowed to consult them. Well-defined and transparent provision for access must be established. As I have discovered, the swift intervention of parliament cannot be readily secured. Diplomacy by the British Academy recently produced a set of terms under which reams of Foreign Office documents will be opened in a consistent fashion. The academy should now make a visit to Windsor Castle, where the royal archives are stored.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

25/02/17 - Bercow
The Spectator

Sir: If senior Tories in Buckingham had had their way, John Bercow’s career as Speaker could have been over long before he had a chance to make any   ‘spectacularly ill-judged’ remarks(Politics, 18 February).At the 2010 election an impressive local Tory was keen to prevent the new Labour-supported Speaker retaining the seat where the party had had an 18,000 majority in 2005. Conservative headquarters insisted that Buckingham must abide by the long-standing convention that the Speaker is returned unopposed. The local Tories should have gone ahead; there is no such convention. All ten Speakers since the war have faced opposition. Six, including Bercow, have faced independents or minor parties. Four, all from the Tory ranks, had official Labour and/or Liberal candidates against them. If the Conservatives had taken a leaf out of their opponents’ book, they could have dislodged a Speaker who had moved sharply to the left in order to get his high office.

Yours faithfully
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

15/02/17 - The Commons Speaker and contested elections
London Evening Standard

Dear Sir

When John Bercow last stood as a Tory in his Buckingham constituency in 2005, he had a majority of over 18,000. Prominent local Tories wanted to put up a candidate against him at the 2010 election after he had become Speaker thanks to the support of Labour MPs. Conservative headquarters told them to respect the convention that the Speaker is always returned unopposed. The convention is a myth. All ten serving Speakers since the Second World War have faced contests. In Buckingham Bercow has been opposed by UKIP and independents. Four of his predecessors from the Tory benches had candidates from the other main parties against them. If the Buckingham Conservatives had followed these precedents, the historic office of Speaker would not have been demeaned by a vain attention-seeker.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

03/02/17 - Reclaiming lost titles
The Telegraph

SIR---Maurice Logan-Salton (Letter, January 30) makes a futile plea for the repeal of the Titles Deprivation Act 1917.  

Parliament will never make time for such a superfluous measure. The heirs of the two dukes who sided with the Kaiser can petition the Privy Council for the restoration of the forfeited titles if they want them back. 

A speedy decision is assured since so little work is available for the Privy Council, which is now larger than the House of Commons, David Cameron’s profligate creations having added 179 to the total membership.

They might well be sympathetic to a request from Prince Hubert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to become Duke of Albany; the poor man cannot have his German ducal title because he is the product of a morganatic marriage.

But would they find in favour of Prince Ernst August of Hanover if he asked to become Duke of Cumberland? The widely publicised photographs of him urinating in public would not help his cause. There might also be a reluctance to revive a title blackened by Highland butchery and the scandalous life of a later Duke who was widely suspected of incest and murder in the early nineteenth century.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

25/01/17 - Parliament and Article 50
London Evening Standard

It is essential that the legislation enabling the Government to invoke Article 50 goes through both the House of Commons and House of Lords quickly and without amendment.

We now know the Government’s Brexit objectives; the Prime Minister spelled them clearly last week. The Conservative Party has a manifesto commitment to give effect to the wishes of the people expressed in the referendum. We will have much work to do in Parliament as the results of the negotiations emerge.

It will be our constitutional duty to scrutinise them in detail. It may be that, at that stage, we can help the Government to get the best possible terms for the country as a whole. But any attempt to bind theGovernment’s hands in the negotiations themselves would be wholly improper. The Liberal Democrats and others in the Lords who take a different view are making a grave error.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

20/01/17 - Slimming down The Lords
The Times

Sir, MPs rather enjoyed their war-time evacuation to the plush red benches, though Churchill --who had called for the abolition of the Lords as a young radical firebrand-- never felt entirely at ease. The Speaker’s procession through Central Lobby was introduced for the first time. Where would modern tourism be without it? Peers were far from keen on the Royal Robing Room into which they were pitched. They were reminded of past misdeeds. It is next to the Royal Gallery where a peer had been tried for manslaughter as recently as 1935. The temperature was freezing. They could, however, fit into the space with comfort. Average daily attendance was around a hundred; now it is nearly five hundred. Discussions, chaired by the Lord Speaker, have just started to find a way of slimming down in response to widespread criticism of our current size. Could a return to our war-time home be just what is needed to get a speedy conclusion?

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

13/01/17 - The Duchess of windsor's lover
TLS: The Times Literary Supplement

Sir, In her unrelentingly venomous review of Mary Lovell’s The Riviera Set (January 6), Lisa Hilton professes disdainful indifference “to the question of whether or not the Duchess [of Windsor] had an affair with a certain Jimmy Donohue”( Donahue is the correct spelling). There is no question about it. The former king’s adored wife had a four-year sexual relationship with this gay wastrel scion of the Woolworth family. The full story is told in Christopher Wilson’s book, Dancing with the Devil: The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue (2000). The worthless Donahue did one fine thing in his life: he pissed profusely from a hotel balcony in Rome on a fascist crowd celebrating Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia in 1935.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

06/01/17 - New Royal Yacht - a 30 year old pledge
The Times

SIR--It is now exactly 20 years since John Major’s government, having foolishly decided two years earlier to decommission Britanniaannounced that a new royal yacht would be built and presented to the Queen in 2002 as a gift from the nation on her Golden Jubilee. In January 1997, it declared proudly that the vessel would be built in Britain, with the £ 60 million cost being met from public funds. “It will be a symbol of the Crown, the Kingdom and its maritime traditions”.

History and tradition meant nothing to New Labour, and Tony Blair scrapped the plans. Is this not a fitting moment for Mrs May to redeem that firm Tory pledge? Surely we have not declined so far in the intervening period that public funds are inadequate to meet the cost.  There is overwhelming support for the original plan of making a new yacht a gift from us all to a beloved sovereign.

Brexit makes an initiative by Mrs May even more appropriate. There is at the moment a deep longing for decisive, practical action which shows that we are confident about our capacity to shape a new national destiny. It is hard to think of anything that would hearten our country more than the revival of our neglected maritime traditions which a new royal yacht would symbolise.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

05/01/17 - Royal Archives - Fairness for historians
The Times

Sir, Jack Malvern’s article (“Saucy royal quip they tried to censor”, Jan.4) will strike a chord with many historians. Favoured authors likely  to deal indulgently with royal reputations can expect to be treated with great kindness by the archivists at Windsor. For the rest of us it is often a different story. Years ago I was refused access to Queen Victoria’s journal in the course of research on the first Home Rule crisis of 1886. I am not inclined to be sweet-natured in assessing reputations.

Are these archives purely private property to be inspected on terms that their owners decree? They should surely be regarded in the same way as the royal palaces or pictures, things of vital national significance held in trust for the country as a whole. The public has access to them on terms that are the same for everyone. We must have clear, objective criteria for access to the Royal Archives without any attempt to censor publication of material that illuminates history.   I shall be pressing in the Lords for the introduction of clear protocols to achieve just that.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

05/01/17 - Down with Section 40
London Evening Standard

Melanie McDonagh is right to castigate the enemies of press freedom in the House of Lords(“Karen Bradley needs to stand up to the threat to the press”, Comment, January 3). Our great newspapers must not be put under pressure to join a state-approved regulatory body which the overwhelming majority of them oppose. The alternative to it, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), chaired without fear or favour by the former appeal court judge Sir Alan Moses, deserves our full confidence. A recent independent review by Sir Joseph Pilling found that it is working effectively .When we debated press regulation recently a number of speakers—of whom I was one—condemned the proposals designed to subvert IPSO by forcing nearly all our papers which have signed up with it to pay the costs of the losing side in a libel action.  Do not think just of national titles, I said, but of regional and local newspapers which would suffer severely at a time when many are already struggling financially to survive. In Northern Ireland things would be different. What is now being proposed would not apply there. One country, two different laws for the press: how could that be right?

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords