A selection of Lord Lexden's letters this year to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New Statesman, The Spectator and others. You can read letters from previous years in the menu to the left.
10/05/22 - A Lord in No 10 again? Or the First Baroness?
The Daily Telegraph
SIR - The last peer to be prime minister was the great Lord Salisbury, the fourth longest-serving in our history, who retired 120 years ago in 1902. It is often said that there will never be another. But there could be—sitting in the House of Commons.
Hereditary peers who were thrown out of the Lords by Tony Blair in 1999 are eligible for seats in the Commons. Since 2014, serving members of the House of Lords, including all those appointed for life, have been able to retire from it permanently at any age. Those who depart remain peers; their titles cannot be relinquished . Like the expelled hereditaries, such peers can become members of the Commons.
Lord Frost clearly hopes to be an MP (report, May 4), and probably more than a backbencher. A lord in No. 10 again is far from inconceivable. The way is also open for the first baroness to become prime minister. Lord Salisbury would have been amazed.
20/04/22 - A great asset to the Lords
The Daily Telegraph
SIR - It is suggested that Lord Wolfson of Tredegar QC should hand back his peerage after resigning from the Government (Letters, April 15).
He won admiration and respect on all sides of the House for his mastery of all the issues within his brief. That can be said of few ministers. Hour after hour he patiently and courteously answered innumerable criticisms of the Government’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill.
He is a great asset to the Lords, which cannot be said of all Boris Johnson’s appointments.
A Deputy Speaker, House of Lords
18/03/22 - A disgraced Commons Speaker and a jailed Peer
The Daily Telegraph
SIR - The most appropriate way of registering strong disapproval of people in public life who betray their trust is to strip them of the honours bestowed upon them.
Now that John Bercow has been shown to be a “serial bully” and a “serial liar” (report, March 9) should he not join the short list of serious offenders, which includes Jonathan Aitken and Chris Huhne, who have been removed from the Privy Council? This could be done easily by striking off his name.
Infinitely more difficult is the withdrawal of a peerage. Though conferred by the Queen, an Act of Parliament is needed to rescind it. So Lord Ahmed, a former Labour peer who was jailed for five years last month for child sex offences, keeps his title.
The Government informed me a few days ago that they have “no plans” to introduce legislation to remove it. This is a mistake. A Bill would pass rapidly through Parliament and could provide the powers to deal with other peers who may commit grave crimes in the future.
Someone who is sent to prison can be expelled from the House of Lords. A title should not be retained in such circumstances
09/03/22 - The colonel who became a Tory fundraiser
Colonel Aylmer—I would never have dreamt of using his first name—would not have been pleased to have been numbered among those who worked at Conservative Central Office.
He would descend upon us occasionally with his genial colleagues, a general and a brigadier, who comprised the Conservative Board of Finance. Most of their work was done in grand restaurants with a wide variety of businessmen, rustling up useful sums for Tory funds.
“Dear boy”, the Colonel would say, “I think I would have got a bigger donation today if my guest had not been so browned off about the poll tax. Could you draft a nice letter about it for me to send him?” The reward was an invitation to the Board’s lavish champagne parties at Christmas.
I doubt many honours were promised. “I really think we should do something special for our most generous friends” , he said one day. He seemed delighted when I arranged for some copies of a small book on the history of the Conservative Party to be bound in half leather for them. I often wondered how they went down with his generous friends.
18/02/22 - Calming things down at No. 10
The Daily Telegraph
SIR - Mary Biggs, whose father, Sir Freddie Bishop, was Harold Macmillan’s favourite private secretary, mentions that great Tory leader’s love of the Gilbert and Sullivan line from The Gondoliers: “Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot” (Letter, February 11).
At the start of his premiership Macmillan wrote out the words on a sheet of No 10 paper, which he pinned on the door of the Cabinet Room. After a time, Bishop recalled: “he took it down and gave it to me.”
Later it reached the offices of The Spectator; when Alexander Chancellor became its editor in 1975, he found it “pinned to my office mantelpiece”, having been “purloined from the prime minister’s office.”
If it was still there when Boris Johnson became the magazine’s editor in 1999, it did not do him much good. But it would be worth a second try. If the sheet of paper survives, it should be returned to No 10 at once, and pinned on the Cabinet Room door once again. Mr and Mrs Johnson could burst into merry song: “Let us grasp the situation /Solve the complicated plot/Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot.”
14/02/22 - In defence of Anthony Eden
Sir, I doubt that at on November 4, 1956, Anthony Eden “broke down in tears as he accused his colleagues of deserting him before departing upstairs to compose himself” (leading article, Feb. 5). A cabinet meeting was held on that day. Several ministers voiced doubts about the imminent British military landings at Suez .
The prime minister took Lord Salisbury, Harold Macmillan and Rab Butler aside, telling them that “if they wouldn’t go on [supporting him] he would have to resign. Rab said if he did resign no one else could form a government”, as Clarissa Eden recorded in her diary. After that, Eden was given overwhelming backing.
Melodrama (though without the tears) was injected into these events by Rab Butler in his 1971 memoirs. He stated that Eden adjourned the meeting “to go upstairs and consider his position.” Eden challenged Butler’s version, which was not supported by any of the others present.
Conservative Party historian
05/02/22 - "Disreputable old gentlemen": Churchill on the Lords
Sir: Shortly after expressing wistful envy of the manner of George VI’s death on 6 February 1952 (Notes, 29 January), Churchill received a sharp intimation of his own mortality. On 21 February he lost the power of coherent speech for a few minutes.
Friends and colleagues thought he should be persuaded to see out his premiership in the Lords where he could make the occasional great speech (‘in 1952 no one but Winston could be Prime Minister in the Lords’, they said).
Churchill scoffed: ‘I should have to be the Duke of Chartwell and Randolph would be the Marquis of Toodledo.’ Lord Salisbury, who had come up with the idea, backtracked: ‘I am afraid he regards us in the Lords as a rather disreputable collection of old gentlemen.’
House of Lords, London SW1
28/01/22 - Chamberlain and Munich
The New Statesman
Richard J Evans (Critic at Large, 21 January) appears to endorse the well-worn charge that Neville Chamberlain was “weak and unintelligent”, though Jock Colville, his private secretary in 1938, described his “brilliant” mind as “ unbelievably quick, clear and incisive.” Evans goes on to deny the existence of any evidence that Chamberlain privately distrusted Hitler, but he told Joe Kennedy, the American ambassador, that the Fuhrer was “cruel, overbearing” and “completely ruthless in any of his aims and methods”.
Chamberlain is also condemned for regarding Hitler as “a conventional European statesman” when he actually felt that if he and his cabinet “were doing business with a normal man they would have some idea of what might happen, but they were doing business with a madman.”
Most seriously, Evans dodges the central question: should Chamberlain have overruled all his military advisers and declared war in September 1938 with the country deeply divided and the Dominions unwilling to commit their forces? He would have plunged Britain into a long, devastatingly costly struggle on behalf of a state to which it had no treaty obligation, which it could not save and which would probably never be resurrected in its existing form, even if victory was eventually achieved.
Chamberlain kept firmly to the course he had set a year earlier when he told Lord Weir, his principal adviser on aviation matters: “The Air Force must go on building itself up as rapidly as possible. I hope my efforts with Germany and Italy will give us the necessary time.”
Author, Neville Chamberlain: Redressing the Balance (2018)
House of Lords
12/01/22 - A Lady of discernment
I often sat beside Diana Farnham during services at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, turning the pages of The Book of Common Prayer for her when her eyesight began to fade. “I really ought not to leave the car so far from the pavement,” she would say during our little Sunday confabulations, “but the police are very understanding.” We conducted a joint campaign to get our favourite young priest to pronounce the syllables of the word adversary correctly, achieving only partial success.
When she asked me how old I was, I docked several years from my true age, as is my custom. She looked at me incredulously. She was not a woman who could be deceived.
07/01/22 - The Prime Minister who turned down the highest order of chivalry
The Daily Telegraph
SIR - Harold Macmillan’s refusal of the Garter caused much surprise, as Charles Moore indicates (Notebook, January 4). Macmillan loved dispensing honours on a generous scale, explaining: “I take a lot of trouble over it. At least it makes all those years reading Trollope worthwhile.”
There was just one that he wanted on his resignation in 1963: “the only honour that appealed to me was the Order of Merit, which remains the sovereign’s personal gift.” In part, that was because it was the one honour held by both Lloyd George and Churchill, his greatest 20th-century predecessors .
He held out for it, turning down both an earldom and the Garter in 1964, to the Queen’s displeasure. She made him wait 12 years before giving him his heart’s desire. “Thank you, ma’am, for making an old man happy,” he told her when he finally received it in April 1976.
As to the earldom, he set that aside in 1964 with a gentle swipe at the House of Lords: “A lot of people go into a mausoleum, but there’s no need to go in prematurely”. He finally entered the “mausoleum” as Earl of Stockton in 1984 at the age of 90.