Peer's family attack `offensive' obituary

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The Independent Online

The family of Lord Jay, who has died aged 88, last night defended the former Labour Cabinet minister against an obituary which claimed he was mean, shabby and mediocre.

Peter Jay, Lord Jay's journalist son, said the family did not recognise the picture painted by the veteran Press Association (PA) political writer Chris Moncrieff, dismissing it as the work of a "sad, tired old hack".

His sister, Catherine Boyd, complained personally to Mr Moncrieff, who was PA's political editor for many years.

The agency took the rare step of issuing a notice warning newspapers and television stations that the family found the obituary "offensive".

In his portrait, Mr Moncrieff described Lord Jay - better known as Douglas Jay - as a "shambling figure" whose oratory was "as mediocre and uninspiring as his appearance".

He was a "useful, if not indispensable" member of Harold Wilson's Cabinet in the 1960s, a "trenchant and persistent, if not persuasive, anti- European" whose very presence Mr Wilson found "irksome".

Mr Moncrieff continued: "Stories about him and his reputed tightness with money abounded at Westminster. It was said of him that he took sandwiches to high-level foreign meetings . . . His attire was such that at one overseas gathering . . . he was mistaken for a tramp and not recognised as a visiting statesman."

The politician also had the "doubtful distinction" of possibly being the only Cabinet minister to have been sacked on a railway station - by Mr Wilson because he had reached the age of 60.

But Peter Jay, speaking from Germany where he was filming for the BBC Panorama programme, said the family was very proud of the "enormous distinction and achievements, the humanity, intelligence and humour" of their father. He said: "Frankly, I'm not going to waste words on a sad, tired, old hack [journalist]. I don't really want to get into that because it's undignified.

"But I'm very confident that in what will be written on the coming days and weeks my father will be very fully and lovingly remembered. He gave his whole life to serving his country and government in politics."

Lord Jay, who had two sons and two daughters with his first wife, Peggy, went into politics after refusing to accept his childhood nurse's explanation that some people were poor "because that's the way it was in the world", his son said.

Peter Jay, who also served as a former ambassador to Washington, added: "Privately, there was this extraordinary person of love and joy and truth and logic and duty."

His brother, Martin, is managing director of the shipbuilders Vosper Thorneycroft. They have twin sisters, Catherine, who works for the BBC, and Helen, wife of Rupert Pennant-Rea, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England.

Mr Moncrieff later said that he would not have written the obituary if he did not consider it fair and there were no plans to alter it. But he was sorry if the family was distressed, adding: "I'm not in the business of upsetting people."

A Parliamentary insider said everyone agreed with Mr Moncrieff about Lord Jay. "Nobody liked him," she said.

Obituary, page 18