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.

19/02/19 - A great political philosopher
The Times

Sir, The many reasons for venerating William (Comment, Feb.14, and letters, Feb.15,16, & 18) include his insights into interwar politics. In the short story, “William the Prime Minister” (1930), the outlaws hold a mock election. William sets out his philosophy. “There’s four sorts of people tryin’ to get to be rulers. They all want to make things better, but they want to make ‘em better in different ways. There’s Conservatives an’ they want to make things better by keeping ‘em jus’ like what they are now. An’ there’s Lib’rals an’ they want to make things better by alterin’ them jus’ a bit, but not so’s anyone’d notice, an’ there’s Socialists, an’ they want  to make things better by takin’ everyone’s money off ‘em, an’ there’s Communists an’ they want to make things better by killin’ everyone  but themselves.” 

William, the Conservative candidate, is elected unanimously.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

08/02/19 - The mistaken critics of independent schools
The Spectator

Sir: Those who write about independent education rarely manage to stray beyond the 200-odd establishments they love to pillory as public schools, an antiquated term long since abandoned by all save their critics. This is perhaps because they have usually been educated at such places, or have taught in them. Alex Renton, like the books he reviews, presents a caricature of independent schools as a whole by repeating well-worn charges against the well-publicised few with their ‘faux-Gothic spires’ (‘Old school ties can’t last forever’, 2 February).   

The Independent Schools Council has some 1,300 members, varying in size from 50 to 1,700 pupils. Few possess lavishly equipped theatres or vast playing-fields. Just 68 have top-class athletic tracks. Most of them stand at the heart of their local communities from which their students mainly come, and work closely with their neighbouring state schools which often share their (usually limited) facilities. Half of them are non-selective. Fees vary greatly, with an average gap of some £2,000 per term between schools in the north and south of the country. More than a third of families pay reduced fees. Parents are well aware that diversity and openness are the independent sector’s most striking characteristics today. Will commentators with their obsessions about exclusivity ever wake up to reality?

Alistair Lexden
General Secretary, Independent Schools Council 1997-2004
House of Lords

07/02/19 - Brexit and the Belfast Agreement
The Daily Telegraph

SIR -Theresa May constantly insists that she is determined to protect the 1998 Belfast Agreement as the foundation of peace and  prosperity in Northern Ireland.

But my friends Lord Trimble (“Architect of Good Friday Agreement backs legal action to defend it against May’s plan”, report, February 5) and Lord Bew, the leading Irish historian, have shown that a backstop for an unlimited period  will undermine that Agreement with potentially disastrous consequences for both Ulster and the Irish Republic.

This is because the backstop will transfer responsibility for key issues, such as cross-border co-operation on agriculture, from the power-sharing institutions set up under Agreement to new EU bodies.  

At the same time Mrs May has abandoned the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, another product of the 1998 settlement, where discussions between Dublin and London ought to take place on all aspects of the relationships between the two countries. Things would never have come to this pass if the Stormont Assembly had remained in being. At the 1979 election, when devolution was also in abeyance, the Conservative Party put forward a plan for a halfway house so that democratic control over the  major public services could be restored, with legislative powers to follow later.

Next month will mark the fortieth anniversary of the murder of Airey Neave, the architect of the plan, to whom I was political adviser from 1977. Is it too much to hope that Mrs May could learn from his inspiring example?

Lord Lexden
London SW1

29/01/19 - The truth about Stanley Baldwin and appeasement
The Times

Sir, Max Hastings (Comment,  Jan. 29) rightly pays tribute to “the calming influence” exercised by  Stanley Baldwin, the first Tory leader to speak of “one nation”, who was often invoked by Sir John Major as an inspiration for his achievements(letter, Jan.30). But Honest Stan ought not to be “viewed with contempt because of his identification with appeasement”.  He should be praised for launching an ambitious rearmament programme in the teeth of widespread political opposition in an attempt to bring Hitler to heel—a mission not helped by Churchill’s habit of exaggerating German capabilities. Forty-one new RAF squadrons were commissioned in 1934, and another 39 the next year. Professor Philip Williamson’s deeply researched Stanley Baldwin: Conservative leadership and national values (1999) concludes that Baldwin “chose to plan for a possible war in the medium term (1939 and later) and  in the short term to build a deterrent air force, while seeking to tie Hitler down to negotiated agreements. It cannot be assumed that if Churchill had been in his position his actions—rather than his words—would have been much different”.

In his years of glory after 1939, Churchill encouraged people to view Baldwin with contempt, but in 1935 he described the prime minister who had brought him out of the political wilderness by making him chancellor in 1924, as “a statesman who has gathered a greater volume of confidence and goodwill than any other man I recollect in my long public career”. Baldwin is now rightly commemorated by a fine statute in his native Bewdley, unveiled last year.

Lord Lexden
Conservative Party historian

24/01/19 - A gay landmark
TLS: The Times Literary Supplement

Sir, - F.W. Nunneley (Letters, January 18) regards Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963) as the film in which the hero of my boyhood, Dirk Bogarde, first showed what a remarkable actor he was. But surely it was the earlier Victim (1961) which marked his transition from matinee idol to a new, glorious seriousness. At the end of the film a rising barrister with strong gay leanings played by Bogarde is confronted by his beautiful wife (Sylvia Sims) who asks him why he stopped seeing a young man who had committed suicide under pressure from blackmailers. “Alright—alright, you want to know, I’ll tell you. You won’t be content until I tell you, will you—until you’ve ripped it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I wanted him. Can you understand—because I wanted him. Now what good has that done you?” The scriptwriter’s lines were embellished by Bogarde to increase their power and force. The scene, John Coldsteam writes in his magnificent biography (2004) of this complex, restless man, “was, and remains, the most important of his acting life”.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

18/01/19 - The biggest ever Tory rebellion
The Daily Telegraph

SIR--Tuesday’s rebellion by 118 Tory MPs was not “the biggest on record” (article, January 16).

On  February 28 1846, Benjamin Disraeli’s fierce defence of agricultural protection and his vicious jibes at his party leader led 231 Tories to vote against Sir Robert Peel’s Corn Laws Bill. An observer wrote that Disraeli “ hacked and mangled Peel with unsparing severity, and positively tortured his victim.”

Lord Lexden
London SW1

17/01/19 - Record Government defeats in Commons and Lords
The Times

Sir, The Commons has never defeated a government by a larger margin. The majority of 166 against Ramsay MacDonald on October 8, 1924, the worst government defeat of the 20th century (following its two earlier defeats of 140 and 161), exceeded those which occurred in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Tuesday did involve “the biggest parliamentary defeat of a government in more than a century” (leading article, Jan 16). As a result of its massive inbuilt Tory majority, the House of Lords threw out Lloyd George’s People’s Budget by 295 votes on November 30, 1909. The biggest parliamentary defeat in history occurred on September 8, 1893 when the Lords rejected Gladstone’s second home rule bill  by 419 votes to 41.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

07/01/19 - Churchill talks to his father's ghost
The Daily Telegraph

SIR- In briefing the ghost of his father about the state of the country’s great institutions in 1947 (Comment, January 1), Winston Churchill has faint praise for the House of Lords, referring only to its Bishops who “make a lot of speeches”.  His father asks: “Are they better than they used to be?”

Winston speaks much more enthusiastically about the strength of the monarchy, buttressed by the Labour Party. “They even go to the parties at Buckingham Palace. Those who have very extreme principles wear sweaters.” Lord Randolph finds that “very sensible. I am glad all that dressing up has been done away with”.

But what he really wants to know is whether the House of Commons is doing its job well. Winston is surprisingly restrained, saying that he is “very much in favour” of the elected House. His father replies, “You had better be, Winston, because the will of the people must prevail”. 

It is not hard to guess what he would have thought of Brexit.

Yours faithfully

Lord Lexden
London SW1

07/01/19 - A federal UK post-Brexit?
The Spectator

Sir, How astonishing that the historian Robert Tombs (‘ Beyond Brexit’, 15 December) should think that the Lords might ‘at last be seriously reformed’ after more than a century of schemes that foundered in the Commons. MPs have an unthreatening upper house; they will never agree on substantial changes that would increase its power. They will leave the Lords to implement its own sensible plans to cut its numbers to 600 by bringing party strengths into line with those in the Commons over the next few years.

Those interested in radical Lords reform should study the detailed proposals for a federal constitution drawn up by an all-party group chaired by the Marquess of Salisbury, the current custodian of  a long family tradition of creative constitutional thinking. A member of the group, the distinguished former Clerk of the Commons, Lord Lisvane, has introduced a Bill which would completely recast the role of the upper house. Those seriously interested in finding a constitution fit for the post-Brexit world should turn to the Lisvane Bill.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords