Letter: Home truths

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The Independent Online
Sir: Unlike Bernard Black (Letters, 30 July), I was a member of the House of Commons in October 1963, when Lord Home became Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. The only question that was put to me by my Whip was: 'If there is a tie between Rab (Butler) and Quintin (Hailsham) would you support Alec Home as party leader?' I declined to answer such a loaded question.

In fact, there was no such thing as the 'customary processes of consultation' to which Harold Macmillan refers in his autobiography. He became Prime Minister in 1957 solely on the votes of members of the existing Cabinet.

Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, in 1955, without any vote at all. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, in 1940, because the Labour Party was not prepared to serve under Neville Chamberlain in the coalition government. There was no vote, in 1937, when Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin. Baldwin first became Prime Minister, in 1923, because he was the only Conservative member of the Cabinet who voted in favour of the end of the coalition at the famous Carlton Club meeting in 1922. I think I have gone back far enough.

Immediately after Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as Lord Home became, took up his duties as Prime Minister, I wrote to ask him whether he would agree to a proper method of electing a party leader. He asked me to draw up a plan, which he subsequently accepted, that allowed all Conservative MPs to vote for the party leader, whether in power or opposition, by secret ballot. This is how Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major were elected.

If Mr Macmillan, according to Mr Black, placed the record of the then 'customary processes of consultation' with his papers to protect his position and that of the monarch, why can this information not now be released, since Mr Macmillan died several years ago, in 1986? Perhaps I might add that the monarch required no protection since she had no alternative but to accept the advice of her outgoing Prime Minister.

Yours faithfully,

HUMPHRY BERKELEY

London, W4

30 July

(Photograph omitted)

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