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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Lloyd George"

We still do not understand Spanish flu – so no wonder the danger posed by the coronavirus is unquantifiable

Spanish flu was treated at first as a bit of a joke. Nobody in May 1918 had the faintest idea it would end up killing more people than any other pandemic in human history.

As a recent survey of the literature says,

“Because of the initial perceived lack of severity of the illness and because of the Spanish sense of humour, the influenza was known popularly in Madrid as the ‘Soldado de Napoles’ (‘Naples Soldier’), which was the name of a popular song from a highly successful musical, La canción del olvido, which was playing at the same time at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela. The song was so popular that it was deemed to be ‘highly contagious’, like influenza.”

The authors of the survey end by urging the world to “never forget the warning” posed by Spanish flu. But one lesson of this earlier pandemic is that it can be strangely difficult, either while the disease is taking hold or even with the benefit of hindsight, to establish what is going on.

Nobody knows how many people were killed by Spanish flu. The estimates range from 50 million to 100 million. In Britain about 250,000 people died, in France 400,000, in the United States over 500,000, in Iran between 900,000 and 2,400,000, in China between one and nine million, in India perhaps 17 million.

One’s senses are soon numbed by such statistics. From August 1918, the disease took on a new, more lethal form, but none of the powers fighting the First World War, which continued until 11th November, wished to admit being weakened by it.

The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, went down with Spanish flu on 12th September 1918, the day he received the freedom of the city of Manchester, where he had been born.

He was too ill to be moved, so for ten days was treated in a committee room in Manchester Town Hall, breathing with the help of a respirator, which he also required on the journey back to London. The severity of his condition, which was “touch and go” according to his valet, was concealed from the public, and in due course he made a full recovery.

We are inclined to expect medical science to be exact. The doctor will tell us what the matter is. But very often, no clear answer is forthcoming.

And this is true on a colossal scale with Spanish flu. To this day, it is not clear where the disease started, but it was certainly not in Spain.

As a neutral power, Spain had no need to hush up the epidemic, especially as it seemed at first, though highly contagious, not very dangerous. The case of the Spanish King, Alfonso XIII, was widely reported in the foreign press. He recovered, but the illness became known as Spanish flu.

According to The National Geographic, Spanish flu may have originated in China:

“Historian Mark Humphries of Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland says that newly unearthed records confirm that one of the side stories of the war—the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese labourers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I’s Western Front—may have been the source of the pandemic.”

American scientists are inclined to trace the outbreak to Camp Funston, at Fort Riley in Kansas, where large drafts of troops assembled prior to departure for Europe, and where there was certainly an outbreak in March 1918 of a disease that was at least similar to Spanish flu,

But as Mark Honigsbaum, author of Living With Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918, wrote in a hundredth anniversary piece for The Guardian:

“A rival theory, favoured by the British virologist John Oxford, is that the pandemic began at Etaples, a huge British military camp an hour south-west of Boulogne. With accommodation for up to 100,000 soldiers, Etaples lay on a migratory bird flyway close to the Somme estuary and had all the necessary conditions for a spillover event: wild waterfowl, plus chickens and pigs, living in close proximity to men packed into airless barracks. Etaples also had several hospitals where soldiers whose lungs had been compromised by mutagenic gases deployed on the battlefield were evacuated for treatment.

“In the winter of 1917, several hundred British soldiers collapsed with influenza-like symptoms and medics at Etaples recorded 156 deaths. At the time, the epidemic was labelled ‘purulent bronchitis’ because of the yellow pus that oozed from the larger airways of the lungs at autopsy (some medics thought it resembled the lung damage from phosgene gas).

“Another prominent feature was cyanosis, a distinctive purple-blue discolouration of the lips, ears and cheeks, caused by the loss of oxygen to the heart. Cyanosis was also a hallmark of the pneumonias associated with the Spanish flu – an observation that persuaded doctors writing in the Lancet in 1919 that it and purulent bronchitis had been ‘fundamentally the same condition’.”

My great-grandfather, Alexander Ogilvie, was gassed on the Western Front shortly before the end of the First World War, and evacuated, most likely via Etaples, blinded and unconscious to England, where he died of pneumonia on 30th October 1918.

A curious feature of Spanish flu was that unlike other versions of the disease, which are most deadly for the old and for small children, it posed the greatest threat to healthy adults aged between 20 and 40.

It is possible that older people had acquired a degree of immunity thanks to having caught earlier versions of flu. It is also possible that Spanish flu provoked an over-reaction of the immune system, known as a cytokine storm, so the stronger your immune system was, the worse the effects.

Yet another curiosity of Spanish flu is that it was at its most deadly in late summer and autumn, whereas winter is usually the worst time for flu.

The head reels at so much uncertainty. Spanish flu defies understanding, and came to be seen as a sad but indistinct event about which not much needed to be said, compared to the endless studies of the actual fighting.

No wonder the experts cannot tell us what will happen with the coronavirus, but are profoundly worried about what could happen. The NHS issues studiously calm advice about avoiding contact with other people if you have returned from Wuhan or Hubai Province in China in the last 14 days, and  we wait to see how well the condition can be contained.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Strife between Johnson and the press is a good thing

“I’m a journalist, I love journalism,” Boris Johnson told the Commons on Wednesday, after Jeremy Corbyn had accused him of “shutting newspapers out of Number Ten”.

Corbyn was referring to a cack-handed attempt on Monday by Downing Street to bar some media organisations from a Brexit briefing.

The reporters who were going to be admitted quite rightly refused to attend the briefing, and instead showed solidarity with their excluded colleagues.

This and other skirmishes indicate that some in Number Ten, far from loving journalism, hold it in contempt, and wish to see what they can get away with.

They reckon they do not need the parliamentary lobby, or the traditional broadcasters, and can communicate direct with the public via social media.

In some ways, their hostility is to be welcomed. The iconoclasts in Number Ten who take their cue from Dominic Cummings, and admire their own boldness in defying the established media, are actually expressing the traditional hostility of those in power towards those who seek to hold them to account.

It is normal for Prime Ministers and their staff to consider themselves misrepresented and persecuted by the press: a story told by Lance Price in his account of the battles between Downing Street and the media since Lloyd George came to power in 1916.

Stanley Baldwin loathed the press barons, Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, of whom he said in an interview in 1924, in words he did not intend to see quoted: “They are both men I would not have in my house.”

Baldwin gave no more interviews after that indiscretion, and refused to speak to the parliamentary lobby journalists as a group either on or off the record, though he did have certain favoured individuals through whom he got his story out.

And he became a master of a new medium, radio, by which he could talk in a reasonable and affable tone directly to millions of people.

So too Johnson, with his mastery of social media, by which he speaks directly to millions of people without the press getting in the way.

Just now, Johnson is in the ascendant. He has confounded his critics and won a solid majority. At Prime Minister’s Questions, one sees him relaxing into his role and proclaiming his love of every good cause, even journalism.

This could all become too cosy. The public interest requires a press prepared to speak out in ways which infuriate those in authority.

No Prime Minister should take what the press says too much to heart, but all should treat it is a valuable early warning system, directing attention to grievances which if ignored and allowed to fester will do mortal damage.

As Churchill remarked: “Criticism in the body politic is like pain in the human body. It is not pleasant, but where would the body be without it?”

Parliamentary journalists are right to protest when jacks in office try to block or restrict useful channels of communication.

But some of the best journalists make scant use of those channels anyhow. One thinks of the late Tony Bevins, first political editor of The Independent, who turned his back on the lobby system.

Johnson benefited, during his rise to power, from the exaggerated criticism he received from parts of the press. This struck many voters as unfair, concealed from his opponents the threat he posed, and encouraged low expectations which he was able to exceed.

But now that he is ensconced in Number Ten, he deserves as fierce (though also, in its way, admiring) a scrutiny as he himself directed 30 years ago at Jacques Delors while working as a correspondent in Brussels.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sheila Lawlor: Ultimately, as the EU’s leaders recognise, the momentum is with Johnson.

Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia and the author of Now or Never: Countering the Coup Against Britain’s Democracy, from which the article below draws.

Boris Johnson, no novice to the craft of politics, kept his friends for the most part on side and his enemies guessing. He extracted a new deal from the EU that dropped the backstop and the UK’s subjugation to EU customs union law; sent, but did not sign, Parliament’s delay letter, and dealt with the duplicitous Letwin amendment to stop Brexit by his firm resolution to see the deal through into to law. MPs who refused to back it still don’t know whether that will lead to no deal or delay.

Much depends on the EU and its leaders, who have committed to Johnson’s vision. Fewer than 90 days after assuming office, he convinced enough of them that their way and his lay side by side, on – and even more important – beyond Brexit, turning enemy fortresses across Europe’s capitals into friendly citadels.

Previously, for the EU the Leave vote was a decision to be ignored, a problem to be circumvented by keeping the UK in and under the EU system. It had reasons of realpolitik – to show rebellious member states that  the UK could not really leave, and that it would be punished for trying.

It also had pragmatic economic reasons: the UK economy must be bound and gagged, into and under EU law, its future path aligned to that law made in Brussels, to prevent a rival competitor on its shores. For France, particularly, Britain’s ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or competitive free market system is an upstart and potential rival to the Brussels (and French) model, of  a protected, centrally planned and controlled, system that had gradually evolved in France from the time of Louis XIV and had been adapted for the EU project.

Johnson realised that Brussels, with its Franco-German axis, needed a political ‘win’, accepting such punitive elements in the May deal as: dispute resolution (e.g: citizens’ rights to be under ECJ jurisdiction), the UK divorce payment to the EU, the 13 months of transition under EU law with no UK vote or voice, all as the price of a new deal. But this deal is finite, a tidying-up exercise for exit – one that will, after the transition, leave the UK and  its economy free.

The big prize will be that the UK’s economic and trade freedom will be restored, something May’s backstop would have prevented, potentially indefinitely. Instead, the UK economy will be under laws made by the UK, not EU law – ]Johnson’s ‘must’, set out in his first official letter as Prime Minister to Donald Tusk: when the UK left the EU, it would leave its single market and customs union,but remain committed to “world-class environment, product and labour standards, though UK laws would potentially diverge from the EU: That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy”.

The ball is now in the EU’s court. It can refuse an extension and focus on the future, to draw a line under the problem they have resolved with Johnson, as Emmanuel Macron, Leo Varadkar and others may be minded to do by vetoing delay. Or it may grant a delay, potentially linked to the dissolution of parliament for a general election.  Either way, the ratification process has now been launched on the EU side.

Ultimately, as the EU’s leaders recognise, the momentum is with Johnson. It has been since he led the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, breaking with his Party’s leadership, to seize the opportunity to shape his and his country’s destiny, as the outsider, a leader in waiting.

He recognises that in this country the authority to make laws derives from the people under the UK’s constitution, the unwritten law that obliged monarchs and prime ministers over centuries, to respect people’s wishes or face the consequences and lose their hold on power.  The MPs who have used the power, with which they were entrusted by the people to execute the referendum decision, in order to try to thwart it have broken that constitutional settlement.

Johnson understands, as Lloyd George, was reported to remark, that ‘at the top there are no friends’. That has helped him make his own way, use his own judgement, cautious, reflective, shrewd. Having taken with him some of the EU leaders who call the shots – Macron, Jean Claude Juncker, Michel Barnier and to some extent, Angela Merkel – he has found a Brexit that works for everyone, or almost everyone.

The DUP, unhappy with the à la carte proposals designed to satisfy the different parties on customs, VAT and consent, should take comfort in the  constitutional reality: Northern Ireland is part of the UK and part of its customs union, a fact reflected in the deal. The practical arrangements to facilitate the smooth running of the all-island economy are just that, and will be subject to consent.

The Prime Minister has yet to deploy the armoury of tools in the executive cupboard in this see-saw for power between the executive and a legislature dominated by MPs determined to stop Brexit. He can choose from a plentiful stock of UK precedents, not to mention the provisions of international law. The country waits to see Brexit’s parliamentary opponents despatched. The EU has agreed to a deal that sets Britain free in December 2020. Labour’s leader may want to make a last ditch try to turn the deal’s economic freedom to servitude by championing a customs union at the eleventh hour.

But he may find  less appetite for that in the EU than before, and less than unanimity for the  hurdles a  long delay could bring. Its leaders, like Johnson,  belong to the school of politics in which there are neither eternal enmities nor friendships, only interests.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

From magic circle to one member one vote: a short history of Tory leadership contests

The choice of the next Conservative leader, and Prime Minister, must be seen to be fair. Only an open and democratic contest, conducted according to equitable rules, will confer legitimacy on the victor.

But what does the word “democratic” mean in this context? A Conservative leader needs the support of three electorates whose priorities often conflict: the Party’s MPs, its members, and the wider voting public.

In 1963, Humphry Berkeley, a young Conservative MP, described the party’s then method of choosing its leader as “more appropriate for the enstoolment of an African chief”.

At that time, the new leader “emerged” following  “the customary processes of consultation” within the Tory tribe, an opaque process conducted by senior figures.

In 1957, when Sir Anthony Eden, his reputation shattered by Suez, resigned citing ill-health, Lord Salisbury (known as Bobbety, and unable to pronounce the letter “R”) and Lord Kilmuir interviewed members of the Cabinet to see whether their preferred successor was  Rab Butler, whom the press expected to win, or Harold Macmillan.

Kilmuir described in his memoirs how this was done:

“Bobbety and I asked our colleagues to see us one by one in Bobbety’s room in the Privy Council Offices, which could be reached without leaving the building. There were two light reliefs. Practically each one began by saying: ‘This is like coming to the Headmaster’s study.’ To each Bobbety said: ‘Well, which is it, Wab or Hawold?’”

It was by a large margin Harold Macmillan. In 1963, when he in turn, his reputation impaired by the Profumo affair, resigned citing ill-health, Rab Butler was again regarded as the favourite, and was again beaten, this time by someone not even thought to be in the race.

The victory of the 14th Earl of Home took almost everyone by surprise. He was able to disclaim his hereditary peerage thanks to recent legislation passed as a result of a campaign by a Labour MP, Antony Wedgwood Benn, who had become Viscount Stansgate on the death of his father but wanted to stay in the Commons.

Home, who had left the Commons in 1951 on inheriting his peerage, re-entered the House at a by-election as Sir Alec Douglas-Home. But some of Butler’s supporters were deeply upset by his defeat, and Iain Macleod wrote a celebrated and profoundly damaging article for The Spectator in which he suggested the leadership race had been fixed by “the magic circle” of senior Conservatives, eight out of nine of whom had been to Eton.

This was by no means the first time the Conservatives had felt a need to show themselves more democratic in their leadership procedures. As early as 1922, Bonar Law had refused, after the famous Carlton Club meeting at which Tory MPs voted to break up the coalition with Lloyd George, to accept the King’s invitation to form a Government until he had himself been re-elected as Conservative leader.

As Robin Harris writes, in The Conservatives: A History,

“The Conservative Party was not yet democratic in its procedures. But without adumbrating any new doctrine, the Carlton Club meeting had imposed a new quasi-democratic reality, one which no leader would be able to overlook. At a further party meeting held on Monday, 23rd October [four days after the Carlton Club meeting] at the Hotel Cecil, Law was proposed by Curzon, seconded by Baldwin, and duly elected by unanimity. Later that day he took office as Prime Minister.”

Law’s main need was to try to hold together a badly divided party, in part by showing it was united in accepting his leadership.

Home’s main need, four decades later, was to show that the Conservatives were adapting to the more democratic and classless atmosphere of the 1960s, when it was no longer tolerable for politicians educated at Eton (as Eden, Macmillan and Home all were) to appear to be sharing out the prime ministership among themselves, especially from January 1963, when Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour leader and a Wykehamist, unexpectedly died, and was succeeded by Harold Wilson, known already for his plain man act:

“The Right-wing Establishment has never tried to embrace me or buy me off. That’s probably a compliment. Lady Whatsit or Lord So-and-So haven’t plied me with invitations. I don’t do much socialising and my tastes are simple. If I had the choice between smoked salmon and tinned salmon I’d have it tinned. With vinegar. I prefer beer to champagne and if I get the chance to go home I have a North Country tea – without wine.”

After leading the Conservatives to a narrow defeat in the 1964 general election, which he reckoned he might have won if Macleod and another Butler supporter, Enoch Powell, had “pulled their weight”, Home set about the necessary process of democratisation. In his autobiography, The Way The Wind Blows, he wrote:

“After the widespread criticism of the methods which had been used in my own selection as Leader, I decided that for the sake of any future holder of the post, the processes of change must be reviewed.

“The ‘Magic Circle’ of selectors had almost everything to be said for it. The Whips and the experienced Conservative Parliamentarians knew the form of every runner in the field; they knew the Members of Parliament who had to work and live with the chosen Leader; and they could operate quickly and quietly in collecting views. It was the latter ‘advantage’ which caused the trouble. Some felt that candidates favourable to the establishment had the edge over anyone who might at any time have been rebellious, and there were always those who, stirred up by the media, were ready to charge the ‘Magic Circle’ with rigging the result.

“I was not particularly worried about such happenings until the accusation that the last result had been jobbed began to reverberate through the Constituencies and to affect Party morale outside Parliament. I then came to the conclusion that, with all its disadvantages, it was necessary to adopt a system of election of a leader, where from start to finish everything was seen to be open and above board. I was in the best position to see that business through.”

The rules decided upon by Home, with the help of Lord Blakenham, the Party Chairman, William Whitelaw, the Chief Whip, and Berkeley, who submitted a memorandum, were as follows.

The leader would be elected by Conservative MPs, with the process presided over by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee. Candidates needed a proposer and a seconder. If on the first ballot, a candidate received both an overall majority and 15 per cent more of the total number of votes cast than any other candidate, he would be elected.

If not, a second ballot would be held, with an overall majority sufficient for victory. If there was still no winner, the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes would go forward to the third and final ballot, in which each voter had to indicate two preferences, marking his paper “1” and “2”.

No provision was made for annual re-election. Home later said that “once a party had elected a leader that was that, and it had better stay with him”. He may also have assumed that any leader who became deeply unpopular with his own MPs would have the decency to step down.

These details are taken from A Conservative Coup: the Fall of Margaret Thatcher  by Alan Watkins. Soon after setting up the system, Home himself stepped down, and in 1965 the Conservatives held their first leadership election.

Reginald Maudling was the favourite, Edward Heath a strong challenger, and Powell ran as an outsider. The result of the first ballot was: Heath, 150; Maudling, 133; Powell, 15.

As Watkins observes, to satisfy the 15 per cent rule, Heath needed a majority of 45, whereas he only got one of 17. But Maudling and Powell now withdrew, leaving Heath the only candidate nominated for the second round, whereupon Sir William Anstruther-Gray, Chairman of the ’22, declared him the winner, a result confirmed at the ceremonial party meeting held six days later.

Heath was the Tory answer to Wilson, but here was an early sign that the rules could not cover all eventualities, including the resignation of candidates who saw they had no chance of winning. And Watkins makes another crucial point:

“The rules were not properly understood by many Conservative MPs, either in 1965 or on the three subsequent occasions on which a modified procedure was used. It was not merely that they tended to become glassy-eyed whenever percentages were mentioned: they were also what Anthony Crosland would have called ‘frivolous’ in their attitude to elections. They failed to understand that elections were a serious business which produced important results. They regarded them much as dissatisfied Conservative voters looked upon by-elections, as an opportunity to register a protest. Thus several Conservatives voted for Mr Heath, not because they wanted – still less because they expected – him to win, but because they wanted to administer a shock to ‘the old gang’ as represented by Maudling.”

By the end of 1974, when he led the party to two general election defeats, Heath was unpopular with many of his own MPs, whom he treated with quite remarkable rudeness. He was on very bad terms with Edward du Cann, the Chairman of the ’22, but in November acceded to his suggestion that there should be a review of the leadership rules.

Heath asked Home, who was by now once more a peer, to carry this out. In December, Home’s committee recommended that an annual election should, if requested, take place, and that the 15 per cent “surcharge” should be of all Tory MPs, not just of those who voted – a provision which made victory on the first ballot more difficult.

After much indecision among Heath’s opponents, Margaret Thatcher declared her willingness to stand. The assumption was that she would not win. On the first ballot she got 130; Heath, 119; Hugh Fraser, 16.

That was a tremendous shock. New candidates entered the second ballot, and the result was even more shocking: Thatcher, 146; Whitelaw, 79; Sir Geoffrey Howe, 19; Jim Prior, 19; John Peyton, 11. She had won an absolute majority of 18, and would remain leader for 15 years.

By 1989, she was unpopular, and Sir Anthony Meyer ran against her as a stalking horse. She got 314 votes to his 33, but 24 more MPs had spoiled their ballots, and three had abstained, so the total opposition to her was 60.

In November 1990, Michael Heseltine mounted his challenge. On the first ballot she obtained 204 votes to his 152, with 16 abstentions. She was four short of the 15 per cent “surcharge” of those entitled to vote.

This was a failure for Thatcher, who was quite soon persuaded that she would have to step down. But as soon as she had done that, things became very difficult for Heseltine, whose guns were trained on her, his whole campaign predicated on the assertion that he could save Tory MPs’ seats and she could not.

Nick Budgen, the MP for Wolverhampton South West, was keeping me in touch during this tumultuous period with the attitude to Heseltine of Thatcher’s supporters in the constituencies, and reported: “Their main feeling is stop that long-haired bastard. They don’t much care what animal they use to stop him.”

John Major and Douglas Hurd entered the second ballot, so there were two animals to choose from, of whom Major soon looked the better bet, though Budgen, with characteristic perversity, said he was supporting Hurd, as he would like to be betrayed in style.

The voting in the second ballot was Major, 185; Heseltine, 131; Hurd, 56. That left Major two short of outright victory, but Heseltine and Hurd at once conceded defeat.

Major led the party to victory in the 1992 general election, but his credibility never recovered from the debacle of Black Wednesday, in September of that year, when the pound was forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

By the summer of 1995, he was so fed up with the attacks on him by the Eurosceptics in his own ranks that he resigned and told them to “put up or shut up”. Michael Portillo’s supporters installed some telephone lines, but Portillo declined to put up. John Redwood did put up, but got only 89 votes to the Prime Minister’s 218.

The final leadership contest under these rules took place following Major’s immediate resignation after the 1997 general election, in which the Tories lost 171 seats, leaving an electorate of only 165 MPs.

In the first round of voting, Kenneth Clarke got 49 votes, William Hague 41, Redwood 27, Peter Lilley 24 and Michael Howard 23. Howard was eliminated and Lilley stood down.

In the second round, Clarke got 64, Hague 62 and Redwood 38. The latter now tried and failed to transfer his support en bloc to Clarke, and Hague won the third round by 90 to 72 votes.

As party leader, Hague introduced reforms to the election rules to make them more democratic. From now on, MPs would whittle the contenders down to the last two, between whom party members would choose.

These rules, and the elections held under them, have recently been outlined in a briefing by the House of Commons Library. Even if one has lived through this period and taken a close or even morbid interest in the successive contests for the Tory leadership, it can be difficult to remember what happened, so here is a summary.

In the first round of voting in 2001, Portillo got 49 votes from MPs, Iain Duncan Smith 39, Clarke 36, Michael Ancram 21 and David Davis 21.

By the third round, Clarke was on 59, Duncan Smith on 54 and Portillo had 53, so was eliminated.

The members proceeded to give Duncan Smith victory by 155,933 to Clarke’s 100,864 votes.

In 2003, 25 MPs requested a vote of confidence in Duncan Smith’s leadership, which he lost by 75 to 90. In the subsequent leadership election, only Michael Howard was nominated, so he was elected unopposed.

In 2005, Howard made an outrageous attempt to exclude Tory members from their decisive role in the electoral process, by changing the rules in order to return the final decision to MPs. This was beaten off by determined opposition led by Tim Montgomerie, founder in that year of ConservativeHome.

In the first round of the 2005 leadership contest, Davis received 62 votes, David Cameron 56, Liam Fox 42 and Clarke 38.

In the second round Cameron got 90, Davis 57 and Fox 51.

The members gave Cameron victory by 134,446 to Davis’s 64,398 votes.

There was no further contest until 2016, when in the first round Theresa May got 165 votes, Andrea Leadsom 66, Michael Gove 48, Stephen Crabb 34 and Fox 16. Fox was eliminated and Crabb dropped out.

In the second round, May polled 199, Leadsom 84 and Gove 46. Gove was eliminated and Leadsom dropped out, so the members never got to vote.

While writing this article, I needed to check a quotation, and happened on a piece by Ferdinand Mount, written just after Cameron had overtaken the favourite, Davis, in the 2005 race:

“what is different about this startling result is that Cameron looks like being the first Tory leader to be chosen, primarily and deliberately, because his electors – both Tory MPs and party activists – think he is the man that the public at large would prefer. So far at least, they are putting popularity before ideological soundness.

“Sounds obvious, especially after three thumping defeats. But look back over the past half-century. If popularity with the public had been the criterion, not a single one of the party’s leaders would have made it. Instead, the Conservatives would have been led successively by Rab Butler, Reggie Maudling, Willie Whitelaw, Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke.”

In the present race, as on previous occasions, MPs and activists will have to decide whether to put popularity before ideological soundness. The result will probably turn on which of those qualities they regard as more important.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Establishment hated Beaverbrook, Churchill needed him

Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman by Charles Williams

Max Beaverbrook is one of the most entertaining figures ever to have sat in a British Cabinet. He did so twice, during both the First and the Second World Wars, despite being detested and distrusted by a large part of the Establishment.

And yet the Beaver, as he was known, has slipped almost into oblivion, a name but not much more to most people under the age of 70. This book performs the valuable task of bringing a strange and gifted figure once more before the public.

Charles Williams provides, at the start of this biography, a useful list of some of the people who loathed Beaverbrook. They included Kings George V and VI, Stanley Baldwin, Clement Attlee, Lords Alanbrooke and Curzon, Hugh Dalton, Ernest Bevin and “a large segment of the Canadian political and industrial establishments”.

But Winston Churchill decided he was just the man to put in charge of aircraft production in May 1940, and David Lloyd George entrusted propaganda to him in early 1918, when the Germans were gathering themselves for a last attempt at a knockout blow in the west.

Beaverbrook was an adventurer who spotted opportunities where others could only see problems; a businessman of genius whose early fortune was founded on attaining, by devious manoeuvres to which this author devotes too much attention, a near monopoly in Canadian cement.

He was born Max Aitken in 1879, the third son of the Reverend William Aitken, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who had emigrated to New Brunswick, in Canada, as there were no jobs going in Scotland. Max was a rebel who started out with nothing except a knowledge of the Bible, but who soon displayed astonishing gifts as a financier.

Having made large sums and a reputation for sharp practice in Canada, he moved to Britain, where in December 1910 he was elected Conservative MP for Ashton-under-Lyne. At the same time he made friends with Bonar Law, like him the son of a minister in New Brunswick, who the following year became Conservative Party leader.

Aitken was at the heart of the manoeuvres which at the end of 1916 saw Asquith supplanted as Prime Minister by Lloyd George, after which Aitken was raised to the peerage as the first Lord Beaverbrook.

The King was not pleased, nor were the upper reaches of the aristocracy. But Beaverbrook had taken control of The Daily Express, and was turning it into an enormous success, the greatest mid-market newspaper of its time, smart and popular and a source for its proprietor of great influence, for there could be no doubt who decided the editorial line.

Beaverbrook sent jolts of electricity through any outfit where he took control. He was a malicious bully who was also capable of great generosity, and who stood by friends when they got into trouble. He had a brilliant eye for talented subordinates.

He despised Stanley Baldwin, who dominated the Conservative Party for the 14 years after Bonar Law’s death in 1923. Baldwin tempted Beaverbrook into overplaying his hand, and gave him and his fellow press baron Lord Rothermere a bloody nose by accusing them of exercising “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.

It seemed as though Beaverbrook’s career, except as a newspaper proprietor and a writer of vivid and perceptive books about Lloyd George and other men of power he had known, might well be over. Then the nation turned to Churchill, an outsider in Conservative Party terms, and Churchill needed to recruit other outsiders who could help him to grip and dynamise Whitehall.

This is the most exciting part of Williams’s account. The pace quickens as Beaverbrook seeks to ensure that the RAF gets the planes it needs. He picks tremendous battles within the bureaucracy, threatens at frequent intervals to resign, but is told by the Prime Minister that he is indispensable.

For Churchill, Beaverbrook is a boon companion, a friend with whom in the darkest days of the war he can find relief from the almost intolerable burden of leadership, an ally who can be sent to negotiate with Stalin and Roosevelt, and who charms them too. Clementine Churchill, by contrast, regarded him with “lifelong distrust”.

The first sentence of this book reads:

“Lady Diana Cooper, in her day one of London’s leading society lionesses, described Max Beaverbrook as ‘this strange attractive gnome with an odour of genius about him’.”

The word “lionesses” will not do as a category in which to place Lady Diana. Nor is there any need for “in her day”. But the quotation which follows is wonderful.

This mixture runs through the book. Williams can be cloth-eared, but has a keen eye for good material. The dust jacket notes that he is 86. His industry puts many younger biographers to shame.

At times, however, it is excessive. He sketches more of the background to various early transactions than we really need, and this thoroughness is accompanied by a sense of responsibility which sometimes gets in the way of conveying his subject’s utter irresponsibility.

He is not unscrupulous enough to revel in Beaverbrook’s exploits. The author remarks that his own wife, Jane Portal, who got to know Beaverbrook in her capacity as Churchill’s secretary, “still describes him as ‘somebody you would instinctively walk away from’.”

Her instinctive reaction was right. Beaverbrook usually treated the women in his life, who were numerous, with cruel neglect once his eye had been attracted by new conquests.

To get an idea of how intolerable but also invigorating Beaverbrook was, the short sketch of him in old age by his great-nephew, Jonathan Aitken, published as the first essay in Heroes and Contemporaries (2006), is in some ways a better place to start.

Williams quotes an admirable description of Beaverbrook by Peter Masefield, who worked for him during the war:

“He was unlike any other man I ever knew. For all his foibles and tough exterior, he was at heart deeply sensitive and often lonely. Critical, thrusting, demanding, self-centred and intolerant, he could be kind and even generous, just as he could be hasty and vindictive. He could reverse passionate feelings within hours. He perpetually maintained a hard front, even when the man inside had softened. I often thought of the frightened little boy in Canada, whose Presbyterian father had drunk away the family’s slender funds.”

The religion mattered. Beaverbrook was steeped in it, and said it was better to be an evangelist than a cabinet minister or a millionaire. As a lapsed Calvinist, he suffered from deep feelings of guilt, and was profoundly hurt by the scathing reviews given to one of his last books, The Divine Propagandist, which attempted “to present the life of Jesus as it appears to worldly men of my generation”.

Williams touches on the religion, but does not convey how important it was. Perhaps that is an impossible task. Beaverbrook was good at covering his tracks, and in 1964, shortly before his death, had a lot of his personal papers burned.

He liked buying up other men’s papers, and controlling access to them during his lifetime, but there were strict limits to how mischievous the great mischief maker wanted anyone else to be at his own expense.

It is a pity he is not better known today, for among many other qualities, he was a remarkable journalist, who for over 60 years cultivated at his various houses a range of contacts of which most people could only dream, and was ruthless and vulgar enough to publish what they told him, except when he was covering up Churchill’s stroke or Tom Driberg’s trial for indecent assault.

Beaverbrook’s  refusal to treat the Establishment with the respect it believed it deserved was attractive to men of the Left such as Driberg, Michael Foot and A.J.P.Taylor.

But it was not attractive to Attlee. When Churchill said during the 1945 general election that a Labour government “would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo” – an accusation against his wartime coalition partner which was generally reckoned to have gone much too far – Attlee was quick to counter-attack, while at the same time exculpating Churchill, whom he liked and admired:

“The voice we heard last night was that of Mr Churchill, but the mind was that of Lord Beaverbrook.”

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