Sunday, 29 August 2010
Alec Douglas Home (1903-1995) became Conservative Prime Minister by default. Harold Macmillan resigned, in the mistaken belief that he was gravely ill, and advised the Queen to appoint Home as a caretaker in October 1963. In fact, he felt that he needed to be a member of the House of Commons so he disclaimed his peerage under a statute that Tony Benn had introduced and fought and won a by-election and entered the House of Commons. But for some days, the UK had a Prime Minister who was not a member of either of the Houses of Parliament. He was also the first Prime Minister, since Lord Salisbury (1830-1903), to be chosen from the House of Lords - and the last. In fact, Cameron is the first patrician choice of the people since Home. The fact that a toff is back at the helm might presage a new age. Let's hope so.
Harold Wilson taunted him with the suggestion that, as the 14th Earl of Home, he was not a man of the people and Home famously replied that "Mr Wilson, when you come to think of it, is the 14th Mr Wilson". According to Lord Hailsham's diaries, Home was nearly kidnapped in April 1964 by a group of left wing students in Scotland who found him left alone at the house of friends. He joked with them that, if they did kidnap him, there was a risk that the Labour party would not win the next election. After plying them with beer and signing a £1 pledge for charity, instead of being kidnapped, his host and hostess returned and the kidnap attempt fizzled out. He narrowly lost the election in October 1964 to the 14th Mr Wilson, later observing that, in his year in office, his government had done absolutely nothing. The best quote from him is probably: "There are two problems in my life. The political ones are insouble and the economic ones are incomprehensible."
Douglas Home was probably the last Prime Minister to dress as formally as in the above picture, taken at Downing Street, which provides an example of what Julian Fellowes (mentioned in the post Past Imperfect), meant about the customs that were still being practised in the 1960s.
Posted by NJS at 08:59