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5 February 2009

Shakespeare’s Globe

Jack Straw’s promise to reform the House of Lords is long overdue. Remember Lord Kagan?

By Sebastian Shakespeare

A Tory minister once said that being attacked by Roy Hattersley was like being assaulted by a bread and butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is a bit infra dig for Hattersley who prefers the superior fare at the Garrick Club, but he was in his bread and butter element when he spoke at the launch of this year’s Gladstone Bicentennial celebrations at the former premier’s house in Carlton House Terrace. Hattersley declared that Britain’s greatest premiers all had five qualities – “integrity, courage, determination, certainty and endurance”.

The “Grand Old Man” (as the four-time Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was known) had them in spades, said Hattersley – as, of course, did Winston Churchill. However, Gladstone did not always endear himself to his monarch. Queen Victoria once complained: “He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting.”

Hattersley went on to say that one of the reasons he was such a great admirer of Gladstone was that, unlike so many of today’s politicians, he kept his word. “As I become older I become more and more admiring of politicians who stick to their principles,” said the former Labour deputy leader.

However, he seemed less certain just how many of the “big five” qualities Gordon Brown possesses.

“Well, he certainly has courage,” said Hatters, before heading off into the night.

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And the other four? Time will tell.

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Who’s WhoSlumdog MillionaireSlumdogoeuvreShallow GraveTrainspottingInternational Who’s WhoIts criteria for selection can also be baffling. Kate Moss is in but not Naomi Campbell. Why? When the novelist Adam Mars-Jones first entered Who’s Who he listed his club as the London Apprentice. This was not your usual Pall Mall establishment. It was a gay bar on the fringes of Shoreditch frequented by leather-clad fetishists. It would be good to know what outré clubs Boyle likes visiting if nothing else.

The House of Lords has a lot in common with Who’s Who. Once you are invited to join its select ranks, you are there for life whatever your crimes and misdemeanours. The belated promise by the Leader of the House, Jack Straw, to overhaul the upper chamber could see convicted felons such as Lord Archer and Lord Black being stripped of their peerages. Critics say that this is a long-overdue reform.

Lord Kagan was stripped of his knighthood, which he acquired in Harold Wilson’s first resignation list in 1970, after he was sent to prison for ten months for stealing from his own companies. But he was allowed to retain the peerage he was awarded in his pal Wilson’s second resignation honours, the “Lavender List”, and was able to prattle on in the upper chamber until his death in 1995.

At least Lord Black still has his clubs to fall back on. Just before he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, Conrad Black boasted he was still a member of several. “Yes, I’m a member of the Garrick, the Athenaeum, White’s, the Beefsteak, and what’s that one that belongs to a duke? Pratt’s, and many other clubs besides, all around the world,” he said.

Lord Archer was not so lucky. The peer was suspended from the Marylebone Cricket Club for seven years in October 2002 after he was convicted for perjury. Only nine months to go, Jeff, and you’ll soon be back in the MCC – if you don’t have to rejoin the club’s 20-year waiting list.

The legendary industrial correspondent Geoffrey Goodman recalls that when Hugh Cudlipp ran the Daily Mirror he wrote a memo spelling out what his staff journalists must not do. No Mirror hack was to accept a “freebie”, he ruled, because they were usually promotional bribes. If the story was worth covering, the paper would spend its own money to cover it.

The other day, the editor of the Sun, Rebekah Wade, gave the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture and the word “freebie” did not once pass her lips. But she was asked by a journalism student whether her staff got paid extra for blogging. Cue guffaws of laughter from the audience. No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, said Dr Johnson. Today no man but a blogger ever writes except for money.

Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary

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