Magazine article The Spectator

Memoirs

Magazine article The Spectator

Memoirs

Article excerpt

Politically almost too correct MEMOIRS by Douglas Hurd Little, Brown, L20, pp. 534, ISBN 0366861472

Douglas Hurd's political career ended only eight years ago, but it already seems to belong to another world. When he entered the House of Commons in 1974, at the age of 44, after a career in the diplomatic service, politics was still available as a second career. It had not yet been wholly professionalised. Overpowering ambition was not necessarily a qualification for the job. There was still a handful of fine political orators in the House, but Hurd felt no pressing need to add to their number. He was thoughtful without being original. He founded no movements. He joined no factions. He broke no moulds. Douglas Hurd built a distinguished career on being a competent man of business, decent, dependable and well-liked. He was dignified or aloof, depending on your point of view. He had what the 18th century called 'bottom'.

One of the problems about writing political memoirs is that it is almost impossible to be interesting without breaking confidences. The events of a politician's life are either dull or well-known already, unless they are purely personal. Only gossip or indiscretion will spice them up for a jaded audience. Hurd is too correct for indiscretion, and lacks the malice for really good gossip. These are amiable traits, but they do not make for great autobiography.

Still, he belonged to a class of politician now rare enough to be worth studying. His political instincts were largely inherited and very English. He was born into a family of provincial professionals and modest tenant farmers with a long habit of unquestioning Toryism and discreet public service. His father and grandfather had both been MPs, well-known in their constituencies, wallflowers at Westminster. The young Hurd himself was really formed by Eton, in the self-contained and highly intellectual world of 'College'. Widely regarded as a place for playboys, dukes, millionaires and the odd patrician novelist, Eton was in fact one the great nurseries of English public life for most of the 20th century. In the 1940s, when Hurd was there, the school still retained the self-confident assumptions, militant Christianity and powerful public service ethic which had guided generations of army officers, diplomats, colonial administrators and statesmen.

Hurd joined the Foreign Office for which, perhaps, his whole upbringing had destined him. He was posted to Peking at a time when tennis was the chief diplomatic activity in the embassy compound. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.