Tory wit knighted at last the queen's birthday honours

POLITICS
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The Independent Online
After years of taking solace in Robert Peel's phrase "the honour of the unadorned name", Julian Critchley will spend his remaining days as MP for Aldershot as a knight of the shires - "not a knight of the suburbs", he insists.

Honours list watchers had grown weary of remarking that, despite his long service, Sir Julian's name was missing once again from the handful of Tory MPs made knights bachelor in the twice-yearly ritual.

He first entered Parliament in 1959 and as long ago as January 1990 was the only Tory backbencher of his intake not to have a title. Knighthoods for MPs elected in the 1970s were already common.

Sir Julian's service has not been continuous - he lost Rochester and Chatham in 1964 and returned for Aldershot in 1970 - but the reason he languished as plain Mr was his lampooning of Margaret Thatcher. Descriptions of her as "the Great She-Elephant" and a steady stream of wittily subversive speeches and articles did not endear him to his then Prime Minister.

Warming to his honour yesterday, Sir Julian, aged 64 and retiring at the next general election, said it was a "very kind" way of John Major to say farewell.Seriously handicapped by polio, the MP has attended the Commons in a wheelchair for recent crucial votes.

Though he took a pride in his unadorned status, even rising and bowing low to the House when one Labour MP drew attention it, Sir Julian said he had changed his mind since the passing of the Thatcher regime.

"I heard it said that when the then Leader of the House [John Biffen] was asked who was in the frame and my name was read out, Margaret said, `Never, over my dead body','' Sir Julian recalled.

The two other Tory knights in the list have served more conventional terms - Alan Haselhurst, an aviation specialist, was MP for Middleton and Prestwich from 1970 to 1974 and has represented Saffron Walden since 1977. Michael Shersby, adviser to the Police Federation, has represented Uxbridge since 1972.

Unusually, one Labour MP becomes a knight - Geoffrey Lofthouse, MP for Pontefract and Castleford. Labour does not take part in the honours system, but Sir Geoffrey's elevation is in recognition of his role as a deputy speaker of the Commons. He is also the only occupant of the Commons chair to have played rugby league for Featherstone Rovers.

Three minister become privy councillors and thus acquire the parliamentary handle Right Honourable: Robert Atkins, Minister of State for the Environment, David MacLean, Minister of State at the Home Office, and Lord Strathclyde, the Government chief whip in the Upper House.

Of the 60 honours for political service on the Prime Minister's list of 1,055 names, 53 go to Conservatives, four to Liberal Democrats and two to Ulster Unionists. Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse is also in this category.

Civil service mandarins pick their customary gongs in the Order of the Bath. Sir Terence Burns, permanent secretary to the Treasury and veteran of 14 Budgets, has his title upgraded to knight grand cross (GCB) while David Fell, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and James Stewart, Second Permanent Secretary at the Minister of Defence, step up from being companions of the Order of the Bath (CBs) to become knights commander (KCBs).

Seventeen civil servants of deputy and under-secretary rank get a toe on the honours ladder as CBs. Notable among them is John Beastall, the Treasury official conducting the inquiry into the Government's handling of the PowerGen and National Power flotation.

In the more exotic Order of St Michael and St George, mainly the preserve of diplomats, there is recognition for Ivor Roberts, Britain's charge d'affaires in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and involved in the release of the UN hostages, and Gavin Hewitt, ambassador in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Both become Companions of the Order (CMGs).

A CMG also goes to Professor John Free, with the intriguing citation of "for services to bee-keeping worldwide".

Stephen Goodwin

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