Letters

Letters

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

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