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.
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.