Lords: Leader resigns – replaced by Lord Hill of Oareford

The Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords since 1999, Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, the Lord Strathclyde, resigned today on the day the government had their mid-term review. A shame. Lord Strathclyde was a decent man who, it seemed to me, was a true House of Lords man to coin a phrase. Whatever his differences with the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I don’t think he should be held too much responsible for the break-down in communication and collegiality within the Usual Channels (the leaders and their whips); that blame spreads much further around the chamber and few of the whips/party leaders are innocent in that. There’s no question he did his best in a difficult job, and Downing Street gave him the benefit of the doubt so he could do what he felt was necessary – even if colleagues claim he felt isolated by Number 10. He resigned to pursue a career in business – apparently a recent decision, from just before Christmas. After 25 years on the front bench, perhaps that’s understandable. Of course, this is shortly before some on the Tory benches are going to get very uppity about gay marriage, boundary reform and doubtless more of its own procedural reform.

Seems Lord Strathclyde was getting very irritated by his Lib Dem colleagues in the Lords where the coalition has already broken down. It’s a testament to his skill that there have been only 59 defeats in the Lords – the previous government could have expected double that.

His replacement was Jonathan Hill, the Lord Hill of Oareford. Once a political secretary to John Major, he was parachuted in as a minister back in 2010 and seems like a good bloke. Of course, he did try to resign during the reshuffle – saying he was getting contradictory signals – but the prime minister wasn’t listening. So why take on a much bigger and unwieldy job? Is he a placeholder until someone else can take over? In that case, why not put Lord Howard of Rising, former Tory leader, straight in who was tipped to replace Strathclyde in the reshuffle? No, it seems more likely this is permanent. Of course, Lord Hill’s an amiable guy (definitely more so than Lord Howard) and he’s probably a better choice anyway. We have to wonder how much discretion Downing Street will give Lord Hill. Despite the fact Cameron and many peers have known him for twenty-odd years and he’s apparently quite the backroom operator, he doesn’t know his way around the Lords that Lord Strathclyde did and we have to wonder how well-attuned he is to the mood of the House.

EDIT 2: A few little titbits:

“Friends in the tearoom say is was not uncommon to hear Lord Strathclyde refer unhappily to the “f—-ing Liberals”.

The red end of the Palace of Westminster is often terra incognita for MPs and hacks alike. People up there report that Lord Strathclyde was often left isolated as No 10 blithely expected him to force peers to back the Government, failing to recognise the near-impossibility of managing the unelected house or pay attention to the political realities of the place.”

“The PM made the most of the moment at cabinet, pausing for effect after saying: “I have an important announcement – one of us is leaving the cabinet today.” After letting the other ministers sweat for a second or two he announced that Lord Strathclyde was leaving the government and would be made a Companion of Honour.”

“[Cameron] trusted his judgment, acknowledging that Lord Strathclyde had forgotten more about the Other Place than he would ever know.”

“To imagine the House of Lords without Lord Strathclyde at the helm is a bit like imagining Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson.”

EDIT 3: See the House of Lords tribute to him here – as always, Lord McNally’s the most entertaining.

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