Newslinks for Sunday 31st January 2021

31 Jan

Vaccines 1) Zahawi pledges that the UK is “ready to help” the EU

“Britain stands ready to help the EU with its vaccination crisis, the vaccines minister said after Brussels abandoned its threat to block supplies at the border. In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Nadhim Zahawi said the focus is now on “collaboration” with the EU, adding that Britain has gone “out of our way” to help Brussels with its production problems and “will continue to do so”. The Government drew a line under the extraordinary diplomatic row over vaccine exports on Saturday after the EU promised Britain that it would not stop supplies from Pfizer’s Belgium factory reaching the UK.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • A year on, we’re more scared of Covid than ever – Sunday Times
  • Send surplus jabs to the Irish Republic urges Foster – Mail on Sunday
  • Union snubs jabs for teachers – Mail on Sunday
  • A GP surgery in St Austell vaccinated more patients in 24 hours than Latvia, Lithuania and Ecuador put together – Sunday Times
  • When will lockdown end? Three scenarios for the next few months – Sunday Times

Vaccines 2) Gove declares that relations will be “reset”

“The UK and European Union will “reset” relations after Brussels triggered a provision in the Brexit deal to control vaccine exports, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said. The government is confident that the EU will not block vaccines entering the UK. It comes after Brussels reversed its widely-condemned decision which could have seen checks at the Irish border. Mr Gove added the European Commission recognised its “mistake”. He said he had spoken with European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič and the pair had agreed to put the people of Northern Ireland first.” – BBC

  • Calls for ‘vindictive’ von der Leyen to resign over Irish border debacle – Sunday Telegraph
  • Vaccines to be recorded in Dublin in compromise deal – Observer
  • Swayne may face disciplinary action – Observer

Vaccines 3) Johnson’s “double victory” forcing von der Leyen to withdraw threats

“Boris Johnson forced the EU into an extraordinary double climbdown during a dramatic late-night intervention to protect the UK’s record-breaking vaccine rollout. During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, the Prime Minister made European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ditch plans to stop 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer jab from reaching the UK from a factory in Belgium and abandon the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK. Following his diplomatic victory, Britain yesterday recorded a daily record for first-dose jabs – 487,756 – to bring the total to almost 8.4 million. In his phone calls, Mr Johnson warned Ms von der Leyen that her actions risked denying millions of British pensioners their second Pfizer injections.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Second dose for millions is at risk, PM told EU chief – Sunday Times
  • Vaccine supply assault backfired spectacularly – Sunday Telegraph

Vaccines 4) European Commission’s allies hit back at critics

“Allies of von der Leyen have hit back against such criticism, however, saying the commission’s task was complicated by the need to square differences between member states with varying views of how much they were ready to pay. Some were also reportedly wary of the more experimental mRNA — messenger RNA — vaccines of Pfizer or Moderna, preferring Astrazeneca’s more conventional one. Either way, the results have been demonstrably disastrous: EU countries did not start vaccinating until a good three weeks after Britain and then, far from closing the gap with the UK, they have slipped further behind. The European Medicines Agency — which moved from London to Amsterdam in 2019 — delayed giving its approval to the Astrazeneca vaccine, a mainstay of its immunisation campaign and at the centre of last week’s vaccine war. It was finally granted on Friday.” – Sunday Times

  • WHO criticises EU over vaccine export controls – BBC

Vaccines 5) Hannan: For some remainers this has been a “Kronstadt moment”

“The European Commission elbowed aside its member states, which had begun their own procurement programmes, and insisted on negotiating en bloc for the 27. It moved slowly and bureaucratically, reportedly because it was holding out for vaccines produced by Continental firms. In the end, three months after Britain, it signed a contract with AstraZeneca similar to that which some of its nations had tried to sign earlier. As criticism mounted, it panicked and lashed out – smashing the principles of due process, private property and free trade in the process…For at least some British Remainers, the events of this week have served as what Western Communists used to call a “Kronstadt moment”. Kronstadt, the site of a naval mutiny against the Bolsheviks in 1921, became a shorthand for the moment when a previously loyal party member suddenly grasped the true nature of the Soviet regime.” – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph

Other comment

  • The EU’s failure to secure life-saving jabs for its citizens is abject – Leader, The Sun on Sunday
  • So, Lord Adonis et al, what price Remain now? – Mark Francois, Sunday Telegraph
  • Brexit is done. We don’t need to bait Brussels – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times
  • Making a scapegoat of Britain can’t disguise the EU’s shambolic response to Covid-19 vaccine acquisition – Leader, The Observer
  • As a dyed-in-the-wool Remainer, I now wish I’d been a Brexiteer – Alan Cochrane, Sunday Telegraph
  • The lumbering EU monster panicked and showed its true nature – Leader, Mail on Sunday
  • This has been a sad and revelatory crisis for the EU – Leader, Sunday Telegraph
  • It’s time to look ahead – Leader, Sunday Times
  • We must not pin all our hopes on Covid vaccines alone – Paul Nuki, Sunday Telegraph

IDS to chair new review of EU regulation

“Boris Johnson has set up two task forces to kickstart the economy after lockdown. The PM will chair the National Economic Recovery Team alongside Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other Cabinet ministers. NERT’s job will be to devise an action plan to be launched as soon as the main phase of vaccinations is complete. The plan will be unveiled by Mr Johnson in the summer or early autumn. A second task force, TIGER, will explore ways of taking advantage of our new-found regulatory freedoms on the first anniversary of Brexit. The Taskforce for Innovation and Growth through Regulatory Reform will be chaired by ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith alongside MPs George Freeman and Theresa Villiers.” – The Sun on Sunday

  • Sport faces crisis with the “end of gambling cash” – Sunday Times
  • Sunak may be trapped between the wings of his own party – Phillip Inman, Observer

UK applying to join Asia-Pacific free trade pact

“Britain is set to cash in on one of the world’s biggest trade deals as it formally opens its application to join the massive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Writing for the Sunday Express today, international trade secretary Liz Truss said that the massive opportunity for British businesses to join a £9 trillion free trade area is only possible because “we are no longer held back by the EU.” The 11 country bloc is one of the fastest growing free trade areas in the world set to overtake the EU in the next few years. The announcement comes as the UK celebrates one year since leaving the EU and becoming an independent trading nation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the move which will be the biggest Brexit bonus yet. ” – Sunday Express

  • Dynamic Pacific nations will unleash our potential – Liz Truss, Sunday Express
  • What is the CPTPP? – BBC
  • US trade deal ‘blown by Kim Darroch’ – Sunday Times
  • Tariffs on steel would be “very damaging” – BBC

Heywood warned Cameron against EU referendum

“The UK’s top civil servant during Brexit privately warned David Cameron that he would “open up a Pandora’s box of problems he couldn’t solve” by offering a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Jeremy Heywood, who was Cabinet Secretary from 2012 to 2018, penned a personal memo alerting the then Prime Minister to the pitfalls of holding the vote. In her biography of him, entitled “What Does Jeremy Think?” and serialised in The Telegraph, his widow Suzanne describes the “almost unheard-of trip” he made to the office on December 30, 2012, to compose the note.” – Sunday Telegraph

Conservatives regain poll lead

“The Conservatives have regained the lead against Labour in the latest Opinium poll for the Observer after a week in which the total number of deaths from Covid-19 passed 100,000. The figures – showing the Tories on 41%, up four percentage points compared with two weeks ago, and Labour down three points on 38% – are a blow to Labour and will raise questions about whether the party’s progress has stalled under Keir Starmer. With the country in its third lockdown and the death toll passing such a grim milestone, Labour MPs and activists would have hoped to be surging ahead of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.” – The Observer

Shadow Cabinet claimed first-class flights on expenses

“Labour’s Shadow Cabinet pocketed thousands in expenses during lockdown, billing taxpayers for first-class travel, TV licences — and hand gel. A Sun on Sunday probe reveals a dozen of Keir Starmer’s top team travelled in style since March totting up £14,061. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who boasts of “standing up for working people”, spent £1,600 on 23 first-class tickets between London and her Manchester constituency since March. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy blew £1,800 on 13 first-class journeys since May. The Wigan MP billed taxpayers for thousands in rent for a London flat, an office TV licence and £20 for hand-sanitiser. Shadow Business Minister Lucy Powell billed £390 for first-class trips.” – The Sun on Sunday

Russian Government faces Navalny protests

“Russian authorities have closed metro stations and are restricting movement in Moscow ahead of planned rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Many restaurants and shops in the city centre will be closed and overground transport will be diverted. More than 4,000 people were arrested across Russia during rallies last week. Mr Navalny was jailed on his return to Russia after recovering from an attempt to kill him with a nerve agent.” – BBC

  • Putin misjudges his greatest threat, the people – Sunday Times

Church of England memo warns “20 per cent of worshippers may never return”

“The damage inflicted on the Church of England by the pandemic is revealed in a leaked internal document which warns up to 20 per cent of its regular worshippers may never return. It calls into question “the sustainability of many local churches” and the continued financial subsidy given to 5,000 loss-making parishes out of a total of 12,000. The document also warns that most dioceses intend to “prune [the] number of clergy and diocesan staff”. One bishop and another senior source said the number of paid priests could be cut by 10 to 20 per cent, as the church cuts costs by recruiting more unpaid clergy.” – Sunday Times

>Today: John Redwood on Comment: Let’s hear more debate about how the Church of England enjoys its privileges

Hodges: Give the Scots another referendum

“How is it that Boris, Michael Gove and their lieutenants – still proudly sporting the battle-scars of Brexit – have not learned the lessons of their own successful campaign? Why can’t they see they are replicating, with almost perfect symmetry, all the mistakes made by the Remainers? The first of these is the most basic. Like it or not, the referendum is going to happen. And the longer it’s delayed, and the longer politicians in Westminster are seen to be trying to delay it, the more certain it is it will be lost.” – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday

  • Sturgeon may seek vote on Scottish independence before Christmas – Sunday Times
  • If the referendum in 2016 had been pushed back significantly then history might have been different – Robert Colville, Sunday Times
  • “We can give the SNP and Labour a fright” claims  Scottish Greens co-leader – Scotsman

News in brief

  • Johnson has to go big on education – Isabel Hardman, The Spectator
  • The Archbishop’s flawed understanding of Christianity – John Redwood
  • Does the Confederate flag symbolise identity or slavery? – Derek Gadd, The Article
  • Our children’s care system is failing – Stephen Skeet, Independent
  • The quiet collapse of Scottish unionism – Scott Hames, New Statesman

Our survey. Johnson’s vaccine bounce. Over three in five party members believe he’s handling Covid well.

31 Jan

Here are the Prime Minister’s monthly positive ratings since we first put this question to the panel in March:

  • December: 44 per cent.
  • November: 37 per cent.
  • October: 42 per cent.
  • September: 30 per cent.
  • August: 49 per cent.
  • July: 61 per cent.
  • June: 64 per cent.
  • May: 72 per cent.
  • April: 84 per cent.
  • March: 92 per cent.

They show his score falling in each month bar two, and that it hasn’t cleared 50 per cent for six months – until now.

He will have gained from this month’s survey taking place during the current row over the EU’s clueless handling of its vaccines policy.  But we suspect that this factor is marginal to the main one; by contrast, the Government’s own deft management of the same issue.

It has clearly outweighed the frustration that nearly all respondents, and the anger that some of them, will feel over the current lockdown.

The Government’s net plus score is 61 per cent [see graphic below].  Eighty-one per cent support Rishi Sunak’s economic plans in response to the virus, 13 per cent oppose them, five per cent don’t know.

John Redwood: Let’s hear more debate about how the Church of England enjoys its privileges

31 Jan

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

It was a revelation to read a tweet from the Archbishop of Canterbury that was critical of recent words and attempted deeds of the European Union. The Church he leads has often been identified with the various Liberal Democrat and Labour Remain campaigns which he and  other Bishops have supported in the Lords. These campaigns have always worked from the basis that the EU can do no wrong and the UK can do little right.

His tweet is worth examining, because it explains why he and others like him have been so pro-EU before. It turns out to be grounded on some basic misunderstandings of both the nature of the EU and of the evolving constitution and nature of the English/UK state.

“The EU was originally inspired by Christian social teaching at the heart of which is solidarity. Seeking to control the export of vaccines undercuts the EU’s basic ethics. They need to work together with others,” he wrote.

Not exactly, Archbishop.

The EU began life as the EEC, a development of the German zollverein or customs union. It was neither free trade oriented, nor open to the rest of the world, but was based on protectionist thinking.

The early EEC/EU was strictly secular. The first reference to religions in the Treaties was introduced at Lisbon, and remains today as Article 17 of the Treaty of the functioning of the EU. That states that the Union respects different religions and different philosophical and non-confessional organisations recognised in individual member states.

It does not accord any priority to Christianity or any other religion, and merely says  the EU will have a dialogue with all these bodies. There is no official Church of the EU.  The preamble to the Treaty of Union shows how eclectic the sources of  EU thought are by saying “drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”.

France, a fiercely secular state, fought successfully to avoid any reference to the Christian religion in the EU Treaty or constitution. The EU has sought to define inalienable human rights that come from no particular faith or philosophy.

By contrast, there are several states in Europe that do afford a special place or mention to a Christian Church and Christian values in their constitutions.  Denmark, England, Greece, Hungary, Malta and Norway, for example, all have state Churches that are identified and given various special privileges or mentions. England is one of the most generous to its established Church – the Church of England which the Archbishop leads.

I do not hear him talking much about the special status that the Church enjoys in English and wider UK life. The Church owns substantial legacy property and investment wealth, courtesy of the UK state and Parliament.  MPs do not  question this.  Parliament, moreover, allows the Church to collect all rents and dividends free of income tax, take all capital gains free of Capital Gains Tax, and buy assets free of Stamp Duty, to give it maximum scope to build its wealth and grow its income.

It would be good to hear more debate about how that is being used.  The Church of England has its own Parliament, rule-making and disciplinary bodies, though they are answerable to the UK Parliament and ultimately governed by UK law. The Archbishops and senior Bishops have seats, votes and voices in the UK legislature.

Though they are there as part of the wider governing establishment, they are under no duty to support the government of the day, and often during a Conservative government vote and speak in opposition. They also vote on Northern Irish and Scottish matters outside the area of their clerical authority. The Archbishop himself has been a critic of various Brexit measures, including the recent Trade Bill and Internal Market Bill.

The Church of England benefits from its status as the established Church, gaining a near monopoly over all the main UK national and English civic events, from royal weddings and funerals through Remembrance Day services, national anniversaries, civic services for Councils and Mayors, daily prayers in Parliament, to a network of Church schools receiving taxpayer finance.

These swell otherwise dwindling congregations.  Solidarity is not a Christian word from the Bible, but a system of mutual insurance and action from  the world of the trade unions.  I look forward to the evolution of the Archbishop’s thinking on EU matters as he studies more how the EU seeks advantage and augments its power in ways that do not offer friendly co-operation with the rest of the world.

Alistair Lexden: The Conservatives and the Carlton Club – in partnership for nearly 200 years

30 Jan

Alistair Lexden is the Carlton Club’s official historian. His publications include ‘The Carlton Club 1832-2007’ (with Sir Charles Petrie,2007) and ‘A Gift from the Churchills: The Primrose League,1983-2004’ (2010). In preparing this address, he drew heavily—and with gratitude– on Seth Alexander Thevoz, ‘Club Government: How the Early Victorian World was Ruled from London Clubs’ ( I.B.Tauris,2018).

On 28 January, Lord Lexden spoke to some 100 members of the Carlton Club by Zoom about the Club’s history. The text of his address follows.

There would have been no Carlton Club without that excessively overweight, spendthrift, arts-loving monarch, King George IV.

There would undoubtedly have been a powerful Conservative club, but it would have been called something else – perhaps the Wellington Club in tribute to the great Duke, who was leader of the Party when the plans for its establishment were made after 1830. In that case, history would have been robbed of one of Wellington’s celebrated quips: “never write a letter to your mistress, never join the Carlton Club”.

It was a very odd thing for him to say, despite its having his characteristic terseness and, as regards the first bit, good sense. He was after all the Carlton’s founding father and, although he played no large part in its affairs, he must have observed its success with considerable satisfaction. Perhaps, like many phrases supposedly uttered by famous people, it was attributed to him, but actually coined by someone else.

In no sense was George IV a founding father of the Club, though one of his brothers, the Duke of Cumberland, a man widely reviled as a murder suspect, was one of the original members, along with a cousin, the Duke of Gloucester; no one at that time thought the royal family should be politically impartial. The King made his contribution unwittingly. In the 1820s he decided to demolish Carlton House, a palace in all but name, where he had lived in splendour as Prince of Wales, and to turn the then unpretentious Buckingham House into a residence fit for kings.

Carlton House Terrace, itself not lacking in splendour, was built over what had been the royal gardens. While it waited for its permanent home to be made ready for it in Pall Mall, the Club found a temporary abode in the Terrace, renting the house of a Tory supporter, Lord Kensington. It was in this way that the famous name was acquired. The indirect royal link was commemorated through the incorporation of the Prince of Wales’s feathers into the Club’s symbol. (At least I think that was the case; in the absence of any surviving records bearing on the point it is impossible to be sure.)

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the establishment of the Carlton Club in the history of British party politics. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, there were in existence two great clubs, Brooks’s and White’s, linked to the historic Whig  and Tory Parties respectively. But by the 1830s, the two Parties needed far more than their long-standing London bastions could supply. They simply were not large enough. Some MPs had begun to resort to non-political Clubs, like Boodle’s in St James’s Street, giving rise to the following merry ditty: ‘In Parliament I fill my seat/With many other noodles/And lay my head in Jermyn Street/And sip my hock at Boodle’s’.

Such exile from the political mainstream soon became unnecessary. Politics entered a new era, in which the two Parties, which evolved in the 1830s and the two subsequent decades (acquiring new names, Conservative and Liberal), expanded their activities greatly. They needed London accommodation on a generous scale in premises which provided  a variety of rooms, large and small.

That is what the Carlton Club supplied. In 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, it opened its first Clubhouse in Pall Mall on the corner of Carlton Gardens, yet another reminder of the gross, bloated monarch, George IV (114 years later a slim Miss Margaret Roberts would depart from the next door house in Carlton Gardens en route to her marriage to Mr Denis Thatcher).

The Club remained on its Pall Mall corner site until a Nazi bomb fell on it in October 1940. The original Clubhouse underestimated the Party’s need for space. It was enlarged in the 1840s as Sir Robert Peel brought the Party first to election triumph in 1841, and then to political disaster and division as a result of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. To assist the Party’s recovery from the split that the Corn Laws’ repeal brought about, the enlarged building was demolished and replaced by an even bigger one in 1856.

Members stared from the Club’s windows across Carlton Gardens at the Reform Club, founded in 1836, four years after the Carlton, to equip the Tories’ opponents with the same range of services, social and political, that the Carlton  pioneered. (It should be noted in passing that in the new nineteenth-century political world the Conservatives put themselves at the forefront of organisational change, where they were to remain until Tony Blair’s day.)

The close proximity of the two rival Clubs meant that they kept each other under close observation. In the early days, the Reform took a great interest in the volume of mail posted by servants of the Carlton, who retaliated by waiting until darkness fell before venturing forth. During a political crisis in 1884, blinds were pulled down at every window of the Carlton Club’s library after a member  noticed two figures across the road in the Reform Club spying with the aid of opera glasses. Members of the Carlton noted with satisfaction that their Club eclipsed the Reform in size and grandeur.

The Reform Club’s interior today gives some idea of what the Carlton would have been like inside. The Carlton’s atrium, immediately inside the entrance, at over 100 square metres was larger than the Reform’s. It was there that Conservative Members of Parliament and at least a sprinkling of peers would meet with some regularity to be addressed by their leaders over the next century, the most famous such meeting occurring in 1922 when Lloyd George’s coalition was brought to an end. With all visitors to the Club banned, absolute privacy would have been guaranteed if MPs, then as now, had not leaked so readily to the press.

The smaller premises in St James’s Street could not accommodate such meetings, which must, I think, be a cause of some regret. The Parliamentary Party had to settle for a large Commons committee room or Central Hall, Westminster.

The most important cause of the fundamental political changes, of which the formation of the two great political clubs was such a significant consequence, was the reconstruction of the electoral system, brought about by the Great Reform Act of 1832. It is no coincidence that the Carlton was established in that year following earlier, more modest attempts to give the Party a new London base in Charles Street, off St James’s Square, by a group of leading Tories, known unsurprisingly as the Charles Street Gang.

The 1832 Reform Act created, for the first time, a set of common qualifications for the right to vote in borough seats on the one hand and for county seats on the other, based on stiff property tests – designed as a permanent measure, not as the first step on the road to full democracy. The total number of voters increased, though not hugely so; the new electorate numbered around a million. The Tory Party needed to locate and enlist its supporters in order to get them on the electoral registers, which the Reform Act brought into being for the first time. This often involved long and expensive battles in the courts.

Of course, then as now, most of the work had to be done in the constituencies themselves, where solicitors became the first agents of the Conservative Party, in effect if not always in name. The Carlton provided a centre in London, where nationwide activity could be co-ordinated and, where necessary, supplemented.

Finance was a constant requirement at a time when general elections cost a million pounds and more, colossal sums in today’s values. From the outset, the Carlton had no more important function than to maintain a substantial Political Fund, for which its Political Committee was given responsibility. Lurid accounts appeared in the non-Conservative press about the flow of Carlton gold, as it was called, to constituencies for corrupt purposes, of which there were plenty of examples under the reformed electoral system, down to the 1880s.

There was no doubt much exaggeration in the stories of Carlton-financed malpractice, put about by opponents and included in the political novels of the period. To the historian’s deep regret, It is impossible to establish the truth because the records of the Club’s Political Committee do not survive for any part of the Nineteenth Century. How good it would have been to have had the inside story of the Carlton’s role in the colourful history of nineteenth-century electioneering.

(May I mention in parenthesis at this point the means by which the Conservative Party finally broke away from high, often corrupt, election expenditure? It was achieved through the Primrose League, founded at the Carlton in 1883. The League produced a whole army of election workers, half of them women, who happily toiled for votes, constituency by constituency, without receiving a penny piece in return. Beginning its life at the Carlton, the League returned to it in the years of its decline, occupying a small office at the Club in the 1970s. The Carlton at its height had some 1,800 members; the League at its zenith some two million. I am glad that Primrose League banners, and some examples of the extensive regalia worn by its members, are now on permanent display at the Club, along with a short sketch of its history which I wrote for the Club some years ago.)

Like Conservative headquarters today, the Carlton was sometimes accused of imposing candidates on constituencies. That was rarer then than now. What normally happened is that constituencies with vacancies to fill turned to the Carlton for recommendations, the nearest thing to today’s official candidates’ list.

It was in this way that a remarkable Tory who fascinated his contemporaries, and continues to fascinate posterity, got into the Commons after a succession of unsuccessful contests. An ardent supporter of the candidate recorded what happened:

“At the General Election in 1837 a Committee of the Conservative party in Maidstone had determined to run one candidate only, namely Wyndham Lewis Esquire (an intimate friend of the Duke of Wellington). At the end of the first day’s canvas, on casting up the promises, they so far exceeded the number contemplated, that the Committee determined to apply to the Carlton Club for another candidate, and three of our Committee went up to London, and with the aid afforded at the Club, Mr Disraeli was selected, and he consented, and went down with our three friends at once, and entered upon the canvas on the following morning. He soon became a great favourite with the voters.”

(At the 1837 election Maidstone had 1,399 electors.)

This important role in election management was supervised from ‘dark little rooms under the Carlton Club’, as an election agent put it in 1853. Above, in the infinitely more comfortable rooms of varying size, MPs gathered in some numbers when the Commons was in session. It was almost unheard of for an MP not to join the Carlton. The Commons was an unattractive place to spend any length of time at this period. Destroyed by fire in 1834, rebuilding work continued for some 30 years, and the place often smelt horribly because the Thames was little more than an open sewer until ‘the great stink’, as it was known, was finally subdued by Disraeli’s versatile political skills in 1851.

Travel between Commons and Club was easy. An MP recorded that “there is a cab stand at the very door of the House, and the whole process of going for, and returning with, an honourable gentleman does not occupy more than eight minutes.” The Carlton provided everything MPs needed: accommodation, food, drink (that indispensable element of club life), stationery, newspapers, a postal service and that essential ingredient of political life at all times and in all places, gossip. Sir Robert Peel as Party leader spent much of his time at the Carlton, as did Disraeli who called in most days. Never before had Tory MPs seen so much of their leaders, or been on such close terms with them.

The Club’s Committee, dominated by titled grandees, was kept busy ensuring that services were up to scratch. Who among today’s Committee members would be willing to sort out maintenance problems on Christmas Day as their noble predecessors did in the early days? In 1839 they ordered that “holes in water closet seats throughout the House be cut larger.” Britain’s leading political Club did not neglect its members’ comfort.

*

“In a progressive country”, said Disraeli, “change is constant”. How has the Carlton changed over nearly two centuries? The election managers and agents, supervised by the Party Whips (there was no Party Chairman until 1911), departed from their dusty basement for the newly established Conservative Central Office in 1870, for they now needed more room for the work of election organisation with the arrival of working-class voters in borough constituencies as a result of Disraeli’s Second Reform Act of 1867. But Carlton gold, raised by the Political Committee, continued to help fill the Party’s election coffers for the rest of the Nineteenth Century.

Almost all  MPs remained members of the Club until the First World War, happily paying its ten-guinea subscription, fixed in 1832 (equivalent to nearly a thousand pounds today), which remained unchanged until  the 1930s. But as the Commons developed its refreshment and other services, MPs tended to make less use of the Club .

No longer could they expect to rub shoulders on a daily basis with their Party leader. Disraeli, who died in 1881, was sorely missed. His successors spent little time in the Club, appearing only when they had meetings to address. Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour positively disliked it. Affection at the highest level was not seen again until after 1945, when Churchill and Macmillan resumed the habit of making fairly frequent visits, a practice continued by Mrs Thatcher who was to become the Club’s second President (Harold Macmillan, who was devoted to the place, having been the first). Perhaps in the future serving Conservative Party leaders will  be drawn once again to visiting the Club with some frequency .

Cause for serious complaint arose in the early Twentieth Century. The Club’s standards, maintained by Christmas Day Committee meetings in the early years, fell sharply. A great crisis erupted in 1912. Lord Balcarres, then Tory Chief Whip, recorded in his diary on 1 April 1912 that:

“the club is rapidly falling from its high state. Not only is the food bad, the waiting atrocious and the normal comforts of club life quite deficient, but with the steady deterioration in its social qualities the Carlton which in old days was at the very centre of political activity now almost ceases to count…The management and control have fallen into weak hands with deplorable results.”

Could the decline be reversed? The Club’s Secretary, who had been in his post for 35 years, was sacked, and a Club Chairman was appointed for the first time. Marked improvement occurred. MPs attested to the high quality of the catering during the inter-war years by eating in the Club in considerable numbers; they were well represented when the Nazi bomb arrived at 8.30pm on 14 October 1940. Cuthbert Headlam MP noted in his diary the following day that “there were over 100 members in the Club at the time and not one of them was scratched which seems to indicate that God approves of Conservative legislators.”

The real test for the Club was whether it could revitalise its serious political work. That did not happen for a long time. The Political Committee, on which all such work depended, had ceased to exist by 1912, and was not reconstituted until 1949. Even then, it did not do much, apart from arranging for Churchill to address a packed Club through loud speakers. The final completion of the  Political Committee’s resurgence was noted as late as 1983 when the Club’s AGM was told that “the Carlton Club was back as a strong political force”, as it had demonstrated by raising £50,000 for that year’s election campaign. The Committee had returned to its central position in Club life, where it remains today.

But for the Club as a whole that was by no means the most serious problem which had to be overcome in these years. Even before members arrived at 69 St James’s Street in 1940, longing for the moment when their Pall Mall home could be rebuilt and complaining about the cramped quarters in which they were now confined, membership had been falling alarmingly. By 1976, it was down to just 845, with only a handful of MPs among them. The spectre of closure loomed. It was removed by the one of the greatest of all political magicians, Harold Macmillan, then aged 83. In 1977, he achieved in months what had eluded everyone else: the amalgamation of the Carlton with the Junior Carlton, founded in 1864, which had been clinging obstinately to its independence in Pall Mall while its membership also plummeted. Not since the days of Disraeli had the Carlton had such unstinting support from an outstanding Conservative – and it came just in time.

As the Club was climbing back to financial stability, rebuilding its membership and regaining its political role in a form suited to our times, it suffered its second physical assault. It came from the IRA on 25 June 1990, fifty years after the Club had been bombed out of its Pall Mall Clubhouse. Half the ground floor, a quarter of the first floor and a significant area in the basement were damaged. In 1940 no one was killed; in 1990 a member, Lord Kaberry, and a porter, Charles Henry, died as a result of their injuries, a source of infinite sadness to members.

Everyone was astonished by the speed with which the Club patched itself up, and, having done that, began to lay ambitious plans for refurbishment which, evolving over the years, have brought the Club to its present handsome state. The grand building in Pall Mall was certainly imposing, but no one ever said it was a thing of beauty.

Happiness within the resplendent walls of 69 St James’s Street was impaired for some years after 1990 by a division of opinion over whether women should be full  members, having been associate members since 1977. The issue was finally resolved in 2008. Who today is not glad of the great contribution which women are making to the Club?

Long- established institutions must always remain conscious of the traditions of which they are custodians. Writing to Winston Churchill in 1948, the then Club Chairman, Lord Sandford, stressed that ‘members should realise the traditions attaching to their membership, and be prepared to shoulder those responsibilities which commit them to an unstinting support of the Party and its work.’ In that essential respect, the Carlton has remained unchanged over nearly two centuries.