Magazine article The Spectator

Worth at Least a Bust

Magazine article The Spectator

Worth at Least a Bust

Article excerpt

'Authorised' is one way of putting it: for one thing, Lord Hurd still intends to write his own memoirs, which will presumably be even more authorised. For another, the book was Dr Stuart's idea; it was Lord Hurd who then fell into line and provided a generous series of tutorials, briefings and glimpses of his diaries.

Let us consider the diaries first. The Hurd diaries go back to childhood. From 1979 they are continuous, in one-page-perday volumes. Are they the Crossman diaries of Conservatism? They are wry, laconic, idiosyncratic, deeply unofficial: more the work of a writer than of a politician. Though observant and alert, they are never salacious, do not pass on much gossip, and are usually respectful and light on enmities. But the real answer is that we just do not know, for, though they are Stuart's main written source, he was not allowed unrestricted access to the diaries; and, when all is finally known, Hurd's dance of the seven veils here is a bit of a tease, and may turn out to be but the well contrived lifting of an outer mantle.

This note of scholarly caution should not detract from Dr Stuart's strength. He combines distinctly superior political analysis, sheer laboriousness and diligence, and grasp of a huge range of bygone issues. His independence of mind where Hurd is concerned rather deserts him when European integration looms, and Euro-sceptics may not gain much pleasure from his solemn disapproval of their activities. The economic dimension of modern life is conspicuous by its absence. This leaves the odd and perhaps unjust impression that Hurd rose to giddy heights without having any economic views, whereas surely the Treasury put much food for thought in his red boxes. At all events, Stuart's modus operandi, for let us hope it is only that, probably overdoes the pure departmentalism of Hurd's outlook. Otherwise, level-headed judgment dominates the book.

Who is Douglas Hurd? The question is easier to answer in terms of background than of foreground, where multiple identities perplex. Is the notably unstuffy Hurd, one of the best political novelists since Disraeli, the proud holder of the Alan Clark seal of approval as `delightful: clever, funny, observant, dryly cynical', the same being as the authoritarian personality whom Stuart compares to a village headmaster? And what has the Christian, churchgoing Hurd, with a strongly Christian wife, in common with either? Do any of these connect with a public career based on sustained competitiveness and equally sustained lack of originality? Here Belloc's lines might provide a fitting epitaph:

. . . he resides in Affluence still, To show what Everybody might Become by SIMPLY DOING RIGHT.

Not that Hurd had much alternative other than to excel. His family were not out of the top drawer. They had neither land, nor money nor connections. They differed from other middle-class families only in that the father and grandfather had been MPs. For such folk, Eton was the only hope, and the Eton Hurd went to was the one that enables talent to overtake broad acres and blue blood, the Eton of the middle-class careerist. Leaving school without enthusiasms or commitments, but with a habit of authority, he passed from a miserable National Service to a glittering Cambridge career. A first in History, President of the Union, chairman of the Conservative Association, passing top into the Foreign Office -- nothing seemed beyond him. Not least, he read history at Trinity under Jack Gallagher, the best political mind in the university.

Such unfailing success was poor preparation for the longueurs of adult life. It was not till his mid-fifties that he eventually entered the Cabinet. His 14 years in diplomacy were about to lead to a posting to Chile when he bolted and became Mr Heath's political secretary, seeing him through his government of 1970-74. Where others sharply distinguish between Heath and Thatcher, Hurd's line has been to stress the common features of their governments, with Mr Heath as Lady Thatcher's John the Baptist; which is fair enough history in the circumstances. …

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