Last of a long line of great Tory aristocrats

Click to follow
The Independent Online
OFTEN DESCRIBED as the last great Tory "aristo", Viscount Cranborne's demise ends more than a 100 years of Parliamentary tradition of one of the greatest Conservative dynasties.

The great-great-grandson of the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury won widespread respect for the way in which he marshalled his troops to inflict defeat after defeat on the Government in the House of Lords.

Yet Robert Cecil Cranborne, the seventh Marquis of Salisbury, carried a sense of "noblesse oblige" that seems finally to have led to his sacking last night.

Although he fought vigorously against the Government's plans to reform the Lords, as a hereditary peer himself, he realised that his days were numbered and was open to compromise.

Lord Cranborne, "Cranbo" to his friends, became Leader of the House of Lords in 1994, and then opposition Leader after the last election.

Educated at Eton and Oxford, he sat as MP for Dorset South for 16 years. He showed little interest in promotion and gave up his seat in 1987. He had achieved notoriety as an MP after offering his freelance services to the Mujahedin resisting the Soviet regime in Afghanistan.

He was persuaded by his old friend John Major to re-enter Parliament in 1992, when he was summoned to the Upper House with his family name.When he offered his resignation after the 1997 election defeat, Mr Hague refused to accept it.

The family gave its name to the "Salisbury Convention", established by the 5th Marquis, which states that the House of Lords will not frustrate the House of Commons when the latter is expressing the overwhelming will of the electorate.

It appears that Lord Cranborne's own commitment to the convention has led to his downfall.

When the Government lost the European Elections Bill at the end of the last session of Parliament, he offered what appeared to be a truce by stating that Tory peers would respect the convention.

The peace offer infuriated Mr Hague, who reversed it the following day. When Lord Cranborne decided to offer a similar "freelance" deal on Lords reform, Mr Hague's fury resulted in his sacking.

When he was asked recently where his career was heading, Lord Cranborne gave a startling answer: "I'm not a bank clerk," he said. "I don't have a career." Today, he certainly doesn't.