Tories in Turmoil: Retreat to estates of the realm

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AFTER THE battles of the week, the lords retreated yesterday to their estates to concentrate on pursuits a little less metaphorically bloody. Having winged the leader of his party, Lord Cranborne was bagging pheasants in deepest South Dorset on his family's country estate.

At a house party at the Manor House, Cranborne, Lord Cranborne, who said he was sacked by William Hague for "running in like an ill-trained spaniel", was surrounded by family, close friends, and his spaniels, Stan and Ollie. A shooting party enabled him to switch his sights from some of his Westminster enemies, who had accused him of treachery for his secret deal with Tony Blair, which plunged Mr Hague's leadership into crisis.

A Protestant, he will be going to the village church tomorrow while his wife, a Catholic, goes to another local church, but he is unlikely to be seeking forgiveness for "behaving outrageously". He has told friends he does not regret what he did. "He knew exactly what he was doing and ... he was much more concerned with getting an agreement he had been trying to get for five years," said a friend.

Since it became clear Labour would try to abolish the hereditary peers, Lord Cranborne has been plotting to reach a compromise which could avoid the Lords becoming an entirely appointed upper house dependent on the patronage of the Prime Minister.

He was convinced the deal rejected by Mr Hague and the shadow Cabinet would help to preserve a hereditary element in the upper house. Some Tory MPs accused him of seeking "thirty pieces of silver" to save his own skin as a Cecil, one of the oldest aristocratic families in the Lords, but that was dismissed as "complete tosh" by his friends.

Lord Cranborne, said to have treated Mr Hague like his estate gardener, has made it clear privately that he intends to keep his head down to allow his replacement, Lord Strathclyde, to exercise his own authority. "Tom Strathclyde is a very close friend and ally of Lord Cranborne, and he is going to deliver the deal that Robert negotiated," said a friend. "Robert wants to let Tom get on with doing the job ... But when the Bill is introduced to reform the Lords, Robert will reappear."

Meanwhile, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford will be dining with his neighbour, Lord Peyton, this evening and lunching with Lord Tordoff tomorrow. Did he think the subject of this week's rebellion in the House of Lords will come up? "I should think almost certainly," he said yesterday. Lord Pilkington, 65, resigned as Tory education spokesman on Wednesday, amazed that Mr Hague had dismissed the deal negotiated by Lord Cranborne, his good friend. The dismissal of Lord Cranborne, whom Lord Pilkington had taught at Eton, was the final straw.

On Thursday evening, when he was expecting to do his duty on the Opposition frontbench, he could be seen, suitcase in hand, heading out of London for his 17th-century farmhouse in Somerset. "I'm sad from the point of view that the thing I care passionately about is education and now I'll only have a backbench role," he said.

But he felt more strongly about the bigger picture. "It seemed to me an amazing thing to do [reject the deal and sack Lord Cranborne] when a deal like this had been achieved. It was a marker for the future. And it didn't seem to me there was any other coherent policy."

When Lord Pilkington learnt on Wednesday of the offer of a reprieve for 91 hereditary peers, he was "utterly amazed" at what Lord Cranborne had secured. "It's much more constructive than a war of attrition, which wouldn't be good for a second chamber. It seemed in line with the pragmatic nature of Toryism."

Lord Pilkington firmly opposes a wholly elected second chamber and points to the elected French Senate to indicate why. "It's become a retirement home for politicians. There's an element of that in the Lords, but there is independence. There's nothing I've got that they can take away from me and nothing they have got I particularly want." That was why he was able to quit. "The world won't fall if I resign," he added. "But I felt someone at least must make a mark."

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