Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lord Hurd visits Southampton.

Above, Lord Hurd prepares to give his speech at the Blue Keys Hotel in Freemantle and below pictured siting on stage as he takes questions at the Nuffield theatre.

I have just spent an exhilarating day some of it preparing for and some of it in the company of the Rt. Hon. Lord Hurd of Westwell, better known as Douglas Hurd.
Lord Hurd had agreed to speak at a commercial presentation ‘An audience with Douglas Hurd’ at the Nuffield Theatre in the evening and after a few beers with my friend Jeremy Moulton, we agreed to write to him on the off chance that he might be able to speak at a political event in the afternoon. Being a true gent as well as a party man to the core (his father and grandfather had both been MPs and so incidentally is his son Nick Hurd); he very kindly agreed to do so. He arriving on train from London where he had been on business and (after tea and chocolate cake!) he spoke for thirty minutes and took another thirty minutes of questions from Conservative Party activists. He then went to the Nuffield theatre where he spoke for another forty five minutes and took forty five minutes of questions, stopping only to do a fifteen minute book signing session during the interval. -Remarkable stamina for a man of 76.
He has certainly had an amazing career- political secretary to Edward Heath, both in opposition and in government, Northern Ireland Secretary, Home Secretary, followed by Foreign Secretary. He spoke a great deal of the three premiers he had worked for and I got the impression that although he said he found their behaviour at times ‘maddening’, that he had a huge regard and affection for them all.
Lord Hurd told of his satisfaction when the pundits and polls were confounded, largely by Heaths efforts, who went on to win the 1970 general election. Confirming Heaths famous dislike of small talk, Hurd recalled how as a very junior researcher he sat in on some social function at the back of the room. In front of him Heath was sandwiched between two senior Tory ladies but was not speaking to them at all. Hurd passed a note urging Heath to speak to them- Heath returned one saying that he already had!
He talked also of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘feminine switch’ and how not only how she could be charming and very effeminate when the occasion demanded it but also how other astute operators could use it to their advantage such as a Spanish diplomat who charmed her with his complements. Interestingly he said that he did not think it a mistake that she went to France during the first round of the 1990 leadership contest rather than the tea room tour and he noted that she ‘did her duty to her country first’ which goes against the conventional wisdom. She was also capable of remarkable acts of personal kindness such as when she met some of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.
He described Major as the best and most skillful Chairman he had ever encountered in meetings and a remarkably skilful reader of body-language. It was his obsession with the media was to be a flaw that consumed much time and energy. Hurd quietly spoke to the Civil Servant who used to place the ‘racing edition’ (lunchtime) of The Evening Standard on the desk outside the cabinet room. Once it had been removed, the business of government at least went on, if not smoothly.
Hurd was predictably damning of Blair’s foreign policy, especially in Iraq, his sofa style of government and the real problems of military over-stretch. He came across as an atlantacist but very realistic about the limits of the ‘special relationship’ and perhaps unsurprisingly was also pro-European arguing that in areas such as energy policy we should work more closely with our European partners. He respected Straw (who gave him a lift this-morning in his ministerial car) and Reid (who he said had started to be quite a good Defence Secretary before he was moved in a pointless reshuffle) but unsurprisingly was less impressed with Beckett (I won’t comment on her other than to say where is she?) and thought that Blair had made a mistake having his last reshuffle and indeed abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor in one previously.
Lord Hurd came across as an admirer of David Cameron who (as his successor but one after the disastrous Shaun Woodward), sits as the MP in his old seat, particularly when it came to engaging more people, especially young people in politics. He also appeared to agree with Cameron’s stratergy of developing policy slowly and using the policy review committees although he did not say so directly.
All in all Douglas Hurd came across as fascinating, charming, lucid and highly intelligent man. Anyone who went to either of the events today cannot have failed to have been impressed by his performance and although Lord Hurd is far too modest a man to recognise it, that is a formidable achievement.

Incidentally, Lord Hurd returns to Southampton to deliver the annual 'Wellington Lecture' at the Turner Sims Concert Hall on the 29th November. The lecture is admissable by ticket only but they may be obtained by applying via http://www.archives.lib.soton.ac.uk/lecture.shtml


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