11 APRIL 1992, Page 7


ALEXANDER HESKETH hen an election is on it is not much fun to be the Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms. When Par- liament sits, the Chief Whip in the Lords — to use my less threatening title — does at least have his moments of elation. Weeks of careful planning result in vitally impor- tant victories, such as the passing of the Local Government Act. These thrills are quickly dissipated, though, once the date of the General Election is announced. Now, three weeks into the campaign, they have been replaced by an empty sensation of being excluded with the lunatics, criminals and everybody else without a vote.

T. o fend off the terrible lassitude, and Inspire myself with renewed confidence in the democratic process, I always turn to the Onnskirk Advertiser of 10 April 1862. Let me quote a most historic passage from that distinguished journal, which appeared exactly 130 years ago this Friday under the heading of 'A Demonstration in Rufford'.

... when they found out that Sir Thomas had won they made arrangements to greet him on his return home; a band of music was laid on and 'See the Conquering Hero Comes' and other appropriate strains greeted the new Member on his arrival at his ancestral domain.

On taking his seat in his carriage, the horses were taken out and he was dragged by the people to the hall; all along the route vocifer- ous exclamations and satisfaction greeted the honourable and gallant Baronet.

At the hall all the village was there rejoicing for the remainder of the evening, at the head of the Hesketh family being elected a Mem- ber of Parliament.

Restored by such a consummate exam- ple of unbiased and hard-headed reportage, I decided to take advantage of the under-employment which elevation to the Upper House affords at this time. I have just made a journey to Scotland in search of electoral confidence in my party. My first host there was Mr David Murray, a remarkable man who amassed a large for- tune despite having lost both legs in a road accident at a very young age. He invited me to watch Glasgow Rangers, the Club of Which he is the Chairman, play their bitter local rivals Celtic at Ibrox Park. Rangers is the team associated with Protestantism and the Union, Celtic with Republicanism and Catholicism. I, a Catholic, naturally began With a tendency toward the latter. Soon, however, I was overwhelmed by the discov- ery that Churchill and Mrs Thatcher had both visited the Rangers Stadium. I looked at the Union Jacks massed around me, and

listened to the passionate singing of 'Rule Britannia' from the Rangers supporters. Where, I wondered, are all these people who want an independent Scotland? In no time I found Toryism outstripping any reli- gious connection. I was not a little down- cast when Rangers lost a fine game by the margin of two goals. For a moment I con- templated whether the result was a punish- ment from my maker for having sided with my Queen rather than with Him for almost the whole 90 minutes. However, I then realised that I would never know the fact of the matter until I met Him, and so discon- tinued that line of thought immediately.

Zig-zagging in an upwardly mobile fashion away from Glasgow, and towards various hustings, I was able to punctuate the political struggle with the experience of great hospitality and some of Scotland's great houses. After Inverkip and Lochluichart Lodge I ended up at Glamis Castle with the Deputy Chief Whip, Lord Strathmore. All these estates are tended with care, dedication and hope. Hope espe- cially is important, if standards are to be upheld against the possible prospect of the return of malevolent taxation driven by envy. But it was sad to see the sprouting of ever more country hotel signs. These inevitably rcflect the break-up of another property, and the destruction of the deli- cate infrastructure both human and envi- ronmental. While such changes are bad, they are less bad than the ribbon develop- ment all over Scotland of a new-style bun- 'Typical — they always have to get there first.' galow whose architectural genre can best be described as High Street Europe. But perhaps that is what the Scottish National Party's call for 'Scotland in Europe' really means: Europe in Scotland.

In an attempt to flee such horrors I take a ferry to the Western Isles. To my shock, I discover I have left Scotland, and am now in the territory of somewhere called Alba. For Gaelic has not only superseded English but almost extinguished it, at least on sign- posts. There is a smattering of Euro-speak, however. Messages in Gaelic line the road- side beneath the European flag, informing passers-by that all these good works (be they ferries, powerlines or roads) were brought to you by the EEC. This no doubt encourages the locals to anticipate ever- larger amounts of money in the very near future, especially if they end up with 'Scot- land in Europe'. I fear my irritation at the Islanders returning to their roots stems from the fact that whenever I try to get back to mine I am immediately accused of being reactionary.

The bleak grandeur of the Isle of Skye, and the North Uist Shore in a Force 9 gale, soon put any small-mindedness relating to signs and language and politics itself in per- spective. I then had to move south again. Sarah Davidson, the beautiful and untiring Chairman of the local constituency party, has asked me to speak on behalf of Dr Tony Henfrey, the Tory candidate for Berwick-on-Tweed, in Berwick Guild Hall. The seat is held by Mr Alan Beith and thus I am determined to be at my most scintillat- ing. Therefore, I launch an all-out attack on the incumbent. I remind the audience that, far from having an interest in commu- nity politics, the sitting Member's desire for PR ensures that he has no desire to see his constituents again. I am pleased to say it is as always a pleasure to address an old-fash- ioned political meeting.

Visiting Washington (District of Columbia, that is, not Co Durham) for a hectic day of official business, I paid a fra- ternal call on Senator Wendell Ford. Sena- tor Ford is the Chief Whip in the Senate, and is a great southerner from the great state of Kentucky. He embarrasses me somewhat by giving me a beautifully pro- duced History of Whipping. My shaine stems from the fact that much of this excellent book is about the House of Lords. I can't help thinking that perhaps we should have got round to producing such a work our- selves. I trust, though, that I shall not have the leisure to do it for some time.