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.

19/02/18 - 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)