Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Blatant self-seekers

’I am very fond of John. He was a very capable PM, making the economy the best ever. However, the modern Tory Party is top-heavy with shallow minds and blatant self-seekers. They expect quick results and have little guts or loyalty. They short-change the leader when the going’s rough.’ This is from the colourful diaries of Woodrow Wyatt, born a century ago today. Early on, he was elected as a Labour MP, but later became more influential as a Thatcher-supporting journalist. His diaries, published posthumously, are said to have ‘provoked widespread outrage’.

Wyatt was born on 4 July 1918 in Kingston upon Thames, near London, the second son of a headteacher. He was educated in Eastbourne and at Worcester College, Oxford. He joined the army and served in the Second World War, rising to the rank of major. In 1945, he was elected to Parliament for Birmingham Aston, and remained an MP until 1955, serving as a junior minister in Clement Atlee’s final administration. Subsequently, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, before returning to Parliament in 1959 as member for Bosworth, Leicestershire, which he represented until 1970.

After leaving politics, Wyatt was appointed chairman of the Horserace Totaliser Board in 1976 (a position he retained until the year of his death). He continued his journalistic writing, most notably for the News of the World with a column called The Voice of Reason. He became an admirer and confidante of the Tory leader Margaret Thatcher. In 1987 he was appointed a life peer with the title Baron Wyatt of Weeford. He was considered one of the most outrageous and outspoken political figures of his age. He married four times, his third and fourth wives giving him a son and daughter respectively. He died in 1997. Three years later, his daughter, journalist Petronella Wyatt, published a book entitled Father, Dear Father: Life with Woodrow Wyatt (which can be previewed at Googlebooks). Further biographical information can also be found at Wikipedia, as well as from obituaries at The Independent, The New York Times and the BBC.

From the mid-1980s until the year of his death, Wyatt regularly tape-recorded diary entries which were then typed up by his secretary. These were
 edited by Sarah Curtis and published by Macmillan between 1998 and 2000 in three volumes. They are now all out of print (see Amazon), but second hand copies can be picked up cheaply. According to Curtis, Wyatt kept a diary in the hope that his memoirs would eventually provide for his wife (the fourth) when she was a widow, though he was also ‘conscious of making a contribution to history.’ She quotes him saying: ‘The manuscript is not merely intended as a source of income for my estate when I am dead. It is becoming more and more in my mind to be the only memorial I can ever leave.’ Curtis adds that the process of dictating events ‘became a lifeline to him, a form of therapy, a means to confide his true reactions beyond the badinage of ordinary social exchanges.’

According to Anthony Howard, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required): ‘[Wyatt’s] reputation was not enhanced by the posthumous publication from 1998 of three volumes of his Journals. These covered merely his life on the periphery of politics from 1985 but - through their wounding references to supposed friends and their brazen breaches of even royal confidences - provoked widespread outrage.’

A review of the first volume of journals can be found at the London Review of Books. Peter Clarke says: ‘What redeems these journals is that they have some good stories to tell and that Wyatt remained a good enough journalist to know how to tell them. Vain, snobbish, materialistic, greedy, reactionary and opinionated he may often appear, but at least he does not cover up his own lapses, foibles and frailties.’

But a review (entitled Lechery and treachery) of the third volume by Vanessa Thorpe, found on The Guardian website, makes an unfavourable comparison with Alan Clark’s diaries: ‘All private diarists are entitled to be inconsistent egotists, but when you decide to go into print you have a duty at least to entertain and there are three problems with Wyatt's attempts to do this. First, because he was a journalist, unlike Alan Clark, all his best stories were delivered up to the public at the time. Second, Wyatt is not prepared to be revealing enough about the areas of his life which were truly odd. Third, his writing lacks Clark’s imaginative phrasing.’

Here are several extracts from the third volume.

28 June 1992
‘My letter to the Mail on Sunday was printed, edited somewhat but not so badly that it was worth taking it [the matter] to the Press Complaints Commission.

Actually, of course, the truth is she [Princess Diana] is slightly barmy and whinging, making a bloody nuisance of herself and behaving incredibly badly, enthusing people to attack her husband through the Morton book. But I don’t want to be represented as saying that.

Another swim and another enormous breakfast, then off betimes to get to the Paul Getty cricket match.

The ground is amazing. I said to Paul, “It’s as though some deus ex machina had swooped out of the sky and scooped up great mounds of earth from the valley and put this cricket ground down among the hills.” He said, “That is roughly what did happen.”

Today in the Sunday Telegraph appears the great piece by Graham Turner with a photograph of us having lunch in the garden at Cavendish Avenue. He left out the 1961 date and he also didn’t mention the Pavilion Blanc, but I suppose it wasn’t too bad.

In the same Sunday Telegraph was a long interview of Petronella’s with Mrs Thatcher about the record she had been making of the Gettysburg speech, hoping to make money from it for her foundation. I didn’t think it was a very kind article. It talked about her voice being high pitched and I thought it was snide in some respects, in the way that Barbara Amiel says she mustn’t be - she will damage her own career because people won’t be willing to talk to her.

When we got back I talked to Margaret. She said she probably would make a maiden speech about Maastricht on Thursday when there is a debate in the Lords.

She is over-doing it a bit and I can’t restrain her. I said, “Your maiden speech is supposed to be non-controversial.” She said, “But I shall only be following precedent. Macmillan in his maiden speech attacked me.” ’

29 June 1992
‘Petronella had two tickets for the first night of Spread a Little Happiness: a Celebration by Vivian Ellis. It was an enormously happy affair, without rape or violence or any grizzly message or people traumatically disordered, disabled mentally or physically. In short it was romantic. I clapped so hard I nearly broke my thumb.’

30 June 1992
‘Margaret was introduced into the Lords today. The house was absolutely packed. I have never seen it so full. I managed to find a seat on the Opposition side, high up, because it all has to be rearranged when the introduction ceremony is on. Then pretty Baroness Hollis (Labour) came in to squeeze in beside me. She said, “Do you mind?” l said, “I never mind sitting next to a pretty girl.”

When Margaret came in, it was like a lioness entering into what she must realize is something of a cage. She was very dignified, fairly pretty but not quite as pretty as usual. When the ceremony finally finished and she shook hands with the Lord Chancellor on the way out, a very substantial “Hear, hear,” went up twice all round the chamber from all sides. They are looking forward to the fireworks.

She then came back without her robes, wearing a very attractive black dress and a beautiful diamond brooch, large, and sat where all the Tory Prime Ministers sit on the bench nearest the lobby, just apart from the normal Ministers’ front bench. She listened with great interest, particularly to Lord Stoddart asking why we couldn’t have a referendum on Maastricht. At one moment I looked across at her from where I was sitting on the crossbenches and she saw me and I blew her a kiss and she smiled very sweetly.

In the lobby outside was Denis Thatcher and his family, all very enthusiastic, saying what a great honour it was, which was piffle because it isn’t an honour at all for her to go into the Lords like any other life baroness. It was very mean of Number 10 not to arrange for her to become a life countess.’

29 January 1995
‘Talked at length to Margaret. She was full of complaints. She said John Major was previously madly pro Europe when he was in her Cabinet. Now he is reversing himself. He doesn’t believe in anything.

When I said I was convinced he would win she said, “I hope he does.” That she said in a sincere tone.

I asked her does she ever speak to him on the telephone to which she replied in a testy voice, “I won’t speak to him on the telephone because there are always leaks if I do. And I would only have a row with him in any case.”

After about half an hour or so we stopped talking. She did say her old, “God bless you for ringing, God bless.” She retains affection for me, that is clear, as I do for her and always will. Indeed, it’s more than affection, it’s a love I have for her.’

16 July 1997
‘John Major came to dinner. The dear wronged and injured man, free of the strains he was put under, was cheerful. He will give up Huntingdon to let Chris Patten in. “He’s my best friend.”

John said he wanted Patten to be Prime Minister and he would resign at the appropriate moment, possibly going to the Lords: he might not even do that.

I said I thought William Hague was pretty ghastly. John said he would get Chris Patten back in the House to challenge him. This is allowed under the rules where there can be a leadership change once a year, unless they alter the rules beforehand which I don’t believe Hague would dare to do. John said he voted for Kenneth Clarke for the leadership as the best man to rattle Blair on the economy, though he thought Ken a real bastard.

John thought they [Labour] would get two terms. It would be too difficult to disperse such a huge majority after only one parliament. I said, “It is quite extraordinary how all their ideas are yours and from the Tory Party.”

I suppose it is possible that Patten could be acceptable as a sort of centre candidate. He’d certainly be better than Hague. John said, “I don't want this dreadful, overdone, right-wing stuff all the time. I want someone to lead from the centre where it’s best to be, in the centre or slightly right.”

I remain convinced that Portillo has the best chance now that he has calmed down, but he must be warned to have no connection with David Hart. Rifkind was a fool to have him as his political adviser when he was a senior minister.

I am very fond of John. He was a very capable PM, making the economy the best ever. However, the modern Tory Party is top-heavy with shallow minds and blatant self-seekers. They expect quick results and have little guts or loyalty. They short-change the leader when the going’s rough.

It was lucky we didn’t have a cowardly crew like that when we stood alone against Hitler. They’re nothing like the old Tory MP squires who put first their duty to the country.’

The Diary Junction

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