There are some opinionated politicians across party lines from previous eras who would have relished the combativeness of today’s social media world. Residing near the top of this list must be Quintin Hogg MP or more commonly known as Lord Hailsham. For decades he commandeered press headlines and various programming schedules relaying his strident outspoken views on all manner of subjects with seemingly nothing off limits. A larger-than-life character in size and personality the likes of whom are becoming a rarity in contemporary Parliamentary circles.
This blog examines a career in politics celebrated in the mainstream and the fringe.
Childhood party pieces tend to involve the performance of a song or poem not reciting philosopher Edmund Burke’s Letter to a Noble Friend. Then again Lord Hailsham was not your average precocious kid demonstrated when he jokingly reminisced on Desert Island Discs of being ‘the cleverest boy ever to go to Eton’. A self-confessed academic pothunter hungry for the next prize whether this be Greek translation or triumphing in the traditional ‘Wall Game’. Born in 1907 into a family of high achievers his father Douglas from Scots Ulster stock was a hugely successful lawyer who’d eventually be made Attorney General.
Entering Oxford University in a gilded age famously depicted in Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things Hailsham abstained from a fashionably debauched student lifestyle to pursue somewhat nobler activities such as mountain climbing. Wholly committed to an intense four-year Honour Moderations Course aka ‘Mods and Greats’ which enabled him to increase upon an already vast knowledge of the classics. Even the sleepy spires of Christ Church College couldn’t escape from the 1926 General Strike’s subsequent state of emergency. The young scholar fully supportive of Stanley Baldwin’s beleaguered Conservative Government cancelled a Mediterranean sailing expedition to volunteer as a relief motor mechanic.
ON HIS SOAPBOX
As the thirties began Hailsham was studying for his Bar examinations. On qualifying he frequently advocated at Deptford Assizes dealing with low-level crime cases. Apart from the ‘dock briefs’ he started to build a reputation as a forthright speaker and was approached by the BBC to contribute to their Wither Britain radio series. A Times Newspaper profile complimentarily described Hailsham as a ‘blue eyed boy with a cupid bow of a mouth’ and the Conservatives nominated him for a tricky Oxford by-election. In a campaign dominated by the 1938 Munich Crisis he was elected with an impressive three thousand majority.
On the outbreak of war Hailsham enlisted with the East London based Tower Hamlets Rifles allowing him to attend Parliament including the seismic May 1940 Norway debates . At the year’s end, he received a commission to serve overseas. While enjoying a farewell dinner at the Carlton Club the building was bombed forcing him to carry out his father from the blast. Despite certain food deprivations he enjoyed his Middle East tours, especially visiting local ancient ruins. Hepatitis brought a halt to Hailsham’s service and returning to London he found his wife had left him for a Free France attaché.
Amid an emotional crisis Hailsham threw himself into work setting up the Tory Reform Group. Joining a freethinking set for Connaught Hotel get togethers to discuss post-war social policy fuelled by a supply of black-market rum. Though appreciative of the Beveridge Report’s merits this didn’t stop him launching attacks on Clement Atlee’s Labour Government resulting in the accumulation of top marks in The Spectator’s weekly Hansard scorecard. A backbencher with star quality Hailsham’s steady progress took a hit in 1950 on his father’s death. He was now constitutionally obliged to take the family peerage and join the House of Lords.
Determined not to be disheartened by this turn of events Hailsham hoped he wouldn’t be forgotten by former colleagues. Prime Minister Anthony Eden came to his aid rescuing him from the margins to head the Admiralty. The Suez Crisis ended Eden’s short-lived tenure but Harold Macmillan on taking office entrusted Hailsham as Party Chairman and he was a guiding force in steering the Conservative’s to victory in the 1959 General Election. Ministerial positions in science and sport followed dovetailing with his duties as Leader of the Lords featuring a master of ceremonies role at the Victoria Tower Record Repository re-opening.
SHOUT TO THE TOP
Mainly due to Tony Benn's efforts the passing of the 1963 Peerage Act broke the centuries-old hereditary binds and for Lord Hailsham the timing was perfect. The Profumo Affair repercussions had weakened Harold Macmillan’s governance coupled with a prostate illness he’d decided to leave 10 Downing Street. As no obvious replacement was in the frame all roads led to Blackpool where the annual Party Conference was to be staged. Cabinet stalwart Rab Butler held the initiative however Hailsham was prepared to throw his hat into the ring or as the Daily Express put it ‘throw his coronet over the Tower’.
Sometimes you play the game and not the occasion. A sporting analogy befitting Hailsham’s actions in this fateful week. Maybe it was the photo-call feeding his baby daughter or the personalised American Presidential style badges distributed on his behalf by cohort Randolph Churchill that turned the party hierarchy against him. Delegates lapped up Hailsham’s boisterous crowd-pleasing antics as the Westminster diarists received insider information on his loss of favour. From the outside another peer of the realm emerged as the all-important ‘unity candidate’. Quiet and unassuming Lord Douglas Home was recognised as the ‘anti-Hailsham’ and ultimately seized the golden ticket.
RENT A QUOTE
British society experienced a counter-cultural revolution in the sixties. A generational divide became apparent, and Lord Hailsham was the spokesperson for those exasperated by the changing times. If a TV discussion show needed someone to be the token reactionary, he was willing to take the bait and bat a memorable quote out the park. This scenario was represented legislatively by the 1969 Representation of the People Bill seeking to extend the electoral franchise to eighteen-year-olds. Openly opposed to the idea Hailsham’s critical pronouncements were the focus of several editorials nonetheless he was powerless in stopping the statute gaining Royal Assent.
Edward Heath appointed Hailsham as Shadow Home Secretary in this period, and he resolutely attempted to tackle the most contentious issues of the day. Dismissing Enoch Powell’s racially divisive rhetoric expressed in the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by giving his complete backing to the 1968 Race Relations Act. As the Troubles suddenly erupted in Northern Ireland, he ignored security warnings and visited Derry’s barricaded Bogside estate listening to the local resident’s numerous concerns over cups of tea and chicken sandwiches. On leaving the Ulster province Hailsham called for both sides to extol the biblical virtue of ‘faith, hope and charity’.
Turbulence defined the seventies from domestic industrial relations to discordant international affairs. Hailsham stressed a broad philosophical approach to find a way forward and put this theory down on paper in his 1975 best-selling book The Door Wherein I Went. That same year Margaret Thatcher was chosen to be the new Conservative leader with Hailsham’s blessing. The feeling was mutual as she admiringly stated, ‘he always gets the big questions right’. Unsurprisingly once in power she granted him the Lord Chancellorship. He liked to mischievously point out he was following in the historical footsteps of ‘Becket, Wosley and More’.
Deliberations concerning Europe stretched along the timeline of Hailsham’s varied public life. From the 1950 Schuman Plan via Heath’s European Communities Act up to the early nineties Maastricht Treaty he was in the conversation eager to put forth his two penn’orth on whatever available platform. An original Winston Churchill endorsed Europhile by Maastricht he was increasingly frustrated by the sheer volume of EU bureaucratic red tape. Asked to reveal the secret behind his Parliamentarian longevity Hailsham noted to be reluctantly taken away from the political fray was akin to ‘withdrawing from addictive drugs’. In October 2001 he died aged ninety-four.
Lord Hailsham – A Life by Geoffrey Lewis
A Sparrows Flight – The Memoirs of Lord Hailsham
The Door Wherein I Went by Lord Hailsham