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Cold Call: Sally Chatterton rings the Marquess of Bath

HEREDITARY PEERS aren't having an easy time of it in the House at the moment. One such peer is the Marquess of Bath. He is rumoured to be a colourful, slightly mad chap. Perhaps it is because his days as a peer are numbered, but he was monotone when we spoke. He lives at Longleat, which he uses as a gallery for the display of his "neo-expressionist" art, and which serves as a glamorous backdrop for his polygamist lifestyle - he is alleged to have scores of "intimate friends" or "wifelets", whom he refers to as his family. He might claim that he does this in the name of altruism, but I think he enjoys having it all. However, I was ringing about another aspect of his life.

Do you consider yourself to be a redundant figure in the House?

Hereditary peers have to go. There isn't justice in it. There isn't social justice in someone inheriting a right to power, to government, to sit in the House and pass laws over your fellow men. I just cannot condone it.

Why did you take up the seat in the first place, if it represents something against which you are vehemently opposed?

I took up my seat because I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. If the other hereditaries are giving up their power, I am very happy to do so, too. I wouldn't be happy to say that I won't stay and then leave them all there.

Will your not making appearances in the Lords make any difference to your routine?

I go perhaps once a fortnight? Once a week? Once a fortnight. So, well, not much difference. I have given speeches, though, and I do obey the three-line whip.

What do you do when you're not being a peer?

I am a writer and a painter. I also run a tourist industry at Longleat. There is masses for me to do here. I've actually got a very full timetable and I don't think for a moment that I will be unoccupied when we go.

You are often referred to as an eccentric. Do you consider yourself to be one?

No, I never have. I preach individualism. If you have to give a name to what I preach.

Can you reconcile individualism with the collectivist nature of your polygamy?

Polygyny, I prefer to call it. I believe in a collective world. I believe in a collective universe. But the only way you can get that collectivism to work is by giving respect to the individual.

I'm curious as to the logistics of the "polygyny". How does it work?

I think I should keep out of my personal life. I should practice what I preach.

You reject the "system" with your bohemian, unusual lifestyle, and yet you are firmly rooted in the establishment through your peership. How do you reconcile the two positions?

There has to be a starting point in all evolution. I was born into a stately home with quasi-feudal powers. I am trying to find a way into the democratic society which is already in existence.

What if by some strange quirk, you were democratically re-appointed to the House. Would you take it up?

Well, I'd certainly consider it. It would depend how much time I'd have to take off my writing and painting. I'm not an idle person. If you were down here you would be amazed by the quantity of work that I've put in my life. But you'll just have to take that on trust.