Friday, October 26, 2007

A Tribute to 'Jack' Weatherill


David Hunt's son Tom has sent me this tribute to Lord Weatherill, who died earlier this year. His Memorial Service was held this week.

When any astute political observer of the last 25 years hears the name Jack they will undoubtedly remember one of the greatest ever speakers of the House of Commons (1983-1992). Jack was the first speaker the nation observed presiding over the tumult of the House of Commons for he oversaw and fully supported the introduction of television cameras. His was the commanding voice people would have seen and heard for the first time calling “Order Order”.

He was proud of his achievement of coming from humble origins often recounting that when he first entered parliament and was sitting in a small room! he heard someone he knew saying – “God I don’t know what this place is coming to Tom, even my tailors here now”. Tailoring was his trade and he always carried around a silver thimble that his mother had given to him to remind him of his background.

On Tuesday, I sat in Westminster Abbey to remember a great family friend. It was a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of ‘The Right Honourable The Lord Weatherill DL 25th November 1920 – 6 May 2007’. Jack was my father’s political mentor. In the Abbey he paid tribute to his great friend remembering his life as a soldier, an MP, Whip, Speaker and later his life as convenor of the cross benches in the House of Lords.

In wartime Jack served in King George V’s own 19th Lancers (an amalgam of three of the original Bengal Lancer Calvary regiments) and as my father said, ‘like all gentle and peaceable men he was the very model of a perfect soldier.”

From war to tailoring and into parliament in 1964 he became the Conservative MP for Croydon. He rose through the ranks of the whips office and when he was deputy chief whip under Ted Heath we heard how the Queen especially looked forward to reading his rather humorous and cheeky takes on what was going on at Westminster. Her Majesty adored him. We also heard how the collapse of the Labour Government in 1979 would not have happened if Jack’s honourable gesture as deputy Chief Whip had been accepted by Walter Harrison (the Government deputy Chief Whip) – he offered to pair with a dying Labour MP even though he was in the best of health - the government fell by one vote. Like Walter he put honour before party.

And that was Jack. He was respected and loved by all sides of the House because of is honour and faithfulness. It was no surprise that he was elected as Speaker in 1983. It was quite a send off for Jack in Westminster Abbey. As his sons Bernard and Bruce said he would not have believed how many people were at the service. Representatives of Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and too many charities too mention. Mrs. Thatcher was there, John Major too and even Douglas Hurd dressed in his robes of clerical office! Tony Benn was there and listened as his great speech on the Zircon affair was recounted. Jack said that it was the best parliamentary speech he had ever heard. Not many people disagree.

More importantly his many grand-children were present. For they were his bliss and rapture unconfined. His entry in ‘Who’s Who’ sets out that one of his hobbies was playing with his grand children. He was a true family man and with his wife Lynn made the Speakers residence an exemplar of family life - welcoming, warm and unpretentious.

Jack told his closest friends that if he was to be remembered it was that his word was his bond. As my father said in the Abbey, “Jack it always was,and that is why we will remember you here, today and always as one of thegreatest parliamentarians of this, or any time”.

Tim Worstall has a nice anecdote about Lord Weatherill HERE.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had always thought his name was Bernard ? Still, a lot better than the current incumbent. I wonder whether, if Ming gets the Speaker's job, he will bring back the tradition of wearing a peruke, which seemed to disappear at around the time they had the first Lady Speaker, Betty Boothroyd ?

Not a sheep said...

Jack Weatherill was a great Speaker and an honest man, Betty Boothroyd was an excellent Speaker and an honest woman, Michael Martin...

Edow said...

A fine tribute to a fine and principled gentleman - Lord Weatherill was always concerned with the upholding and protection of Parliamentary democracy.

Also, his last political act was to become the founder patron of the Better Off Out campaign: http://www.betteroffout.co.uk/sup01.htm#PEERS:

sturgess said...

Have you noticed when they're dead they were always loved by all ? But when they were in the land of the living..............

simon said...

Let's be blunt- there was a good line of Speaker's from George Thomas to Betty Boothroyd. Mick Martin is a joke compared to the above. If he had any respect for the role- let alone the H of C, he would resign. The comments of ex-PM Clem Attlee to a recently fired Government Minister (who asked WHY he was fired)apply here- 'not up to the job.'

The Remittance Man said...

Why is it the passing of the greats from the past always seems to throw their successors into stark contrast.

Oh! Yeah. I remember. Gorballs Mick is a complete ####

Anonymous said...

Interesting that he sat as a cross bencher in the House of Lords.

Maybe this was in response to Margaret Thatcher's strong opposition to his appointment as Speaker.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Just compare him to what we have now. Martin is partizan and a disgrace to his office. It shows how poor the House of Commons has become if this is the best they can come up with.

Chuck Unsworth said...

Amen to that. And of course one now has to ask where are today's men and women of integrity and honour? I cannot think of any more than about half-a-dozen in public life who are comparable. Most, if not all are gone - retired or dead - to the nation's eternal shame.

machiavelli said...

The man had the decency to wear the wig, as well.

As far as the current Speaker is concerned, it comes to something when people start suggesting that Ming might be an improvement...

Anonymous said...

anon, 11.45:

In modern times, Speakers have always left their parties when they have been dragged to the Chair, and they have never re-joined them on retirement/ennoblement.

You will find that Boothroyd, Thomas, King et al always sat as cross-benchers in the Lords.

Do keep up.

Anonymous said...

How extremely unkind, Sturgess. He was very much loved when he was alive - and I should know.

Sea Shanty Irish said...

Speaker Weatherill gained a following in the US when the CSPAN cable TV channel started showing PMQs to American viewers.

At first we thought he was a Monty Python character in one of their more zanny skits. BUT it didn't take long for us to learn to better appreciate the proceedings AND the Big Wig in charge.

BTW another notable politico with a background in the rag trade was HARRY S TRUMAN the Missouri haberdasher. Both were dapper AND principled.

Methinks HST would have had greater liking for Iain's ties than Lord W.

Andrew Allison said...

Speaker Weatherill was one of the best. I watched him many times from Strangers' Gallery. He had a command over the chamber that only comes when you have the love and respect of fellow members.

Rush-is-Right said...

We also heard how the collapse of the Labour Government in 1979 would not have happened if Jack’s honourable gesture as deputy Chief Whip had been accepted by Walter Harrison (the Government deputy Chief Whip) – he offered to pair with a dying Labour MP even though he was in the best of health - the government fell by one vote. Like Walter he put honour before party.

You what? Sounds like a near own-goal to me.

Anonymous said...

His name was Bernard but his friends called him Jack.

I notice that the Times list of attendees at the Memorial Service inclued Andrew Pelling MP and Mrs Pelling. Has there been a reconciliation?

Sea Shanty Irish said...

R-is-R, 'twas all a bit o'kabuki Westminster Village old style.

Callaghan was already a dead duck quacking. Hanging on by (apparently) taking advantage of the opposition's decency & generosity would have made a bad situation worse.

Anyway, if push had come to shove, you can bet yer bottom dollar that Weatherill would have been absolved from his "promise" (which he never formally made, as it was really a classy way of underlining just how dire things were for the government) by the Labour whips (who knew full well that their proposed pairing gambit was neither cricket nor kosher).

Which of course does nothing to denegrate Lord W's deceny or sagacity. Quite the opposite!