Airey Neave remembered

In a recent interview, one of the new Tory MPs elected last year, Kemi Badenoch, who is already making her mark, revealed that her political hero is Airey Neave, for whom Alistair Lexden worked as political adviser in the two years up until his murder in March 1979. The following letter was published in The Times on January 1.

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)