Monday, 11 November 2019

Mr Rose's Diary

Kenneth Rose's biography of King George V is the funniest book I ever read. His book on the Later Cecils is in my top ten for laughter. I love him and must read his diaries, which the Daily Mail is serialising. 

He was a howling snob, known as Climbing Rose, and how I envy him being in the midst of the establishment. 

The establishment today, made up to a large extent of earnest Europhiles and egalitarians, is probably very much less fun: think John Bercow, Eric Pickles, Archbishop Welby and the bishopesses he keeps appointing.

But how recently it was full of Victorian figures like Lady Diana Spencer's father, Earl Spencer and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Perhaps it still is mid-Victorian. I hope so.

Here are some extracts.

July 31, 1979

Lunch with Harold Wilson at the Travellers Club. He is smart and spry in a well-cut, very dark brown suit, with starched cuffs and elaborate cufflinks.

Some talk of anti-Semitism, especially Ernest Bevin’s. Wilson has heard of the relish with which Bevin, on becoming Minister of Labour and National Service in 1940, boasted that he would call up all the East End Jews.

‘Real working-class anti-Semitism’, says Wilson.

April 14, 1982

George Morpeth tells me that when Dorothy Macmillan, tiring of [her affair] with Bob Boothby, returned to Harold Macmillan, there was no emotional reconciliation or apology. The doorbell rang, and there she was with her suitcase. She said: ‘Are there any letters?’

June 9 1982

John Grigg tells me that Michael Foot is now absolutely besotted with admiration for Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the Falklands crisis and the assault on the Argentine forces.

February 6, 1983

I hear reports of the school where the Princess of Wales taught infants. She is apparently not very clever and certainly without any of the intellectual resources needed in marriage to the Prince of Wales.

March 12, 1983

When the Duke of Devonshire joined the SDP, the Labour MP Eric Varley said: ‘He will bring to the party that common touch which Roy Jenkins lacks.’

December 6, 1983 

Lunch with Harold Macmillan at Birch Grove. For a man approaching his 90th year, he looks in splendid shape. During the Falklands campaign, the old war horse felt the smoke of battle in his nostrils again when he called on Mrs Thatcher and was asked for his advice. ‘You see, nobody at No 10 had ever fought a war before. So I told her how to run it, with a small War Cabinet, and she wrote down everything I said in a small notebook.’

Heseltine is one of the few members of the Thatcher Government for whom he has respect. Norman Tebbit is another. On Mrs Thatcher: ‘I worked for a united country. She is narrow and hard, a middle-class megalomaniac.’

November 19, 1986

Julian Amery tells me that when Ian Harvey had to resign as Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office after being found with a Guardsman under the bushes in St James’s Park, Harold Macmillan could scarcely understand his foolishness.

‘Why didn’t he put the Guardsman into his official car and drive him home?’

A Private Secretary said: ‘But Prime Minister, Under-Secretaries do not have official cars.’

A few days later, there came an edict from No 10. In future, Under-Secretaries were to have official cars.

September 21, 1991

Duncan Davidson [founder of housebuilders Persimmon] tells me that he is still sometimes teased for having been a page at the Coronation in 1953. ‘Did you not faint at a rehearsal?’ someone asked him recently.

He says: ‘Yes — one of the bishops made an indecent suggestion to me.’

September 27, 1991

Dinner party for Jim and Audrey Callaghan. Jim tells me that, walking out of Westminster Abbey after the memorial service for Elizabeth Home, he found himself next to Ted Heath. It was the morning Mrs Thatcher had resigned — and Ted turned to Jim and said: ‘I had better compose my features so the photographers will not record my true feelings.’

August 28 1991

I hear that when Charles de Gaulle was succeeded as President of France by Pompidou, he said: ‘It’s like being cuckolded by one’s chauffeur.’

December 13, 1992

Arnold Goodman calls. We talk about the Wales affair. He does not care for Charles’s ‘empty pretensions to be an intellectual’, nor for his unforgiving character.

‘Of course,’ he says, ‘Diana has deliberately and publicly humiliated him — and incidentally made Morton a millionaire. So it is not surprising that he hates her and has not the generosity of spirit to offer a reconciliation.’

How will Diana now behave? Will she lead a quiet and dignified life that could one day lead to a reconciliation? Almost certainly not. She wants to make it difficult for Charles to become King, and to ensure that she will be the nemesis.

March 24, 2000

Johnnie Nutting tells me a story of Jonathan Aitken’s arrival in prison. He was interviewed by a psychologist, who asked him: ‘How big is your immediate family?’ ‘Five.’ ‘And how many people not of your family know you are in prison?’

‘Oh, I suppose about 20 million.’ The psychologist put him down as a megalomaniac.

June 8, 2006

Hugh Thomas tells me that Black Rod, in the House of Lords, has a disconcerting habit of asking a new peer: ‘How much did you pay for it?’

There are three sorts of response: (a) outraged silence; (b) a nervous giggle, and (c) a bold, ironic ‘£200,000’.

April 7, 2009

Lunch with Peter Carrington at White’s. He tells me of the worst row he ever had with Mrs Thatcher when he was Foreign Secretary.

In front of Robert Armstrong [the PM’s Principal Private Secretary] and Michael Palliser [her Special Adviser], she rebuked him for his policy on Israel, which she said was much resented by her Jewish constituents in Finchley.

Peter replied: ‘I thought it was the policy of the Government, not mine alone. But if you think that our policy should be based on whether or not it satisfies your Jewish constituents, you had better get yourself another foreign policy and another Foreign Secretary.’

And he went out, slamming the door. Later in the day, he passed the PM in a corridor, who said: ‘That didn’t go very well this morning.’

As Peter says to me: ‘That was as near as she ever got to an apology.’

March 7, 2010

Peter Carrington was talking to Margaret Thatcher the other day and said: ‘I had no idea you were going to turn out as you did.’ She said: ‘Nor did I.’

September 13, 2011

I am deeply disturbed by the conduct of David Cameron, the PM, who has declared a planning free-for-all in the construction industry, apparently in return for huge donations to the Conservative Party. He is not a true Tory at heart but a spivvy Etonian entrepreneur.

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