Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd January, 2016
Thirty-five years ago, Labour’s “Gang of Four” — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers — met at Dr Owen’s home in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where they signed the Limehouse Declaration, which would soon lead to the formation of the Social Democrat Party, the SDP. Last night, just a few doors down the road from Dr Owen’s House, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate that anniversary and to give the City and London East GLA campaign a hefty boost. Though none of the three surviving Gang of Four was present, there was a stellar line-up of speakers, starting with Vince Cable, who had started his political life as a Labour councillor in Glasgow before joining the SDP and eventually getting elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. He noted the parallels between the situation in the Labour Party in 1981 and that today under the respective leaderships of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, and said that many moderate Labour MPs now are running round like headless chickens, alarmed by the way things have developed within the party but unable to decide what to do about it. Moreover, in 2016 the dissidents lack figures of the gravitas of the Gang of Four who could be capable of organising a break-away. The fate of the SDP under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system was also a dire warning. As Lord (Dick) Newby reminded us in his speech last night, although the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 25.4% of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.6%, the Alliance only bagged 23 parliamentary seats as opposed to Labour’s 209. Only five of the SDP MPs who had defected from Labour hung on to their seats and the party’s only gain was Charles Kennedy.
Tom Brake — London’s sole-surviving Liberal Democrat MP — warned that we must not assume that the Party will just bounce back in 2020 and that it is vital that we consolidate our hold on the eight seats we still have, as well as building in the targets. The compere for the evening, Dr Mark Pack, gave his own thoughtful commentary on the rise and fall of the SDP as well as providing some colourful memorabilia, which did indeed bring back memories among those of us old enough to remember the heady days of 1982, when the Alliance was leading in the opinion polls, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocks of the Falklands War, which saved Mrs Thatcher’s political skin. Interestingly, many of the guests at the Limehouse Declaration anniversary dinner were too young to have such memories, including the GLA constituency candidate Elaine Bagshaw who rounded off the evening and highlighted the remarkable rise in membership and activities in the local parties of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bill Rodgers, City and London East, David Owen, Dick Newby, Elaine Bagshaw, Jeremy Corvyn, Liberal Democrats, Limehouse Declaration, Margaret Thatcher, Mark Pack, Michael Foot, Roy Jenkins, SDP, Shirley Williams, Tom Brake, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th December, 2015
With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely being predicted to purge his Shadow Cabinet of several right-wingers and Britain’s Conservative government rapidly becoming the most intolerant and anti-progressive since the dark days of Mrs Thatcher, there is a yawning centre ground in British politics. In principle, this offers an ideal opportunity to the Liberal Democrats as a third force. But to occupy that ground successfully won’t just happen; it has to be engineered. The way NOT to do it was illustrated in the final stages of May’s disastrous general election campaign, when a party political broadcast was aired showing a woman driving a car (while not wearing a safety belt, as thousands of TV viewers noted with disapproval) wondering whether to turn left or turn right but in the end deciding to go straight ahead. A neat idea from a PR firm’s point of view, perhaps, but as a political message totally vacuous. The LibDems were suddenly neither one thing nor the other, and nothing in particular; no wonder many of our wavering supporters went elsewhere.
The late, lamented Charles Kennedy understood that the Party must not be seen as the soggy centre, and was good at articulating a narrative of being “actively forward”. That is something Tim Farron needs to emulate. Tim has rightly seized on human rights as a core Liberal principle, highlighting in particular the humanitarian crisis relating to refugees and migrants on the one hand and the disgraceful record of Saudi Arabia and some other badly performing countries on the other. But human rights — and indeed wider civil liberties — are always going to be a minority discourse, so the LibDems need to craft a “radical forward” political platform that draws more people away from left-leaning Labour and right-leaning Tories. With the Green Party wilting, environmental issues can be reclaimed by the Party. And so must the issue of fairness, often talked about in LibDem literature but as yet not turned into a campaigning message — one that is passionate, one that is angry about the growing inequalities within British society and one that challenges the Conservative head-on. The Tories may have been our Coalition partners between 2010 and 2015, but there is no doubt that they are our political opponents now.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Charles Kennedy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Margaret Thatcher, Politics, Tim Farron | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th August, 2015
The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, set out in an article in today’s Sunday Times changes she would like to see made to the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union. This is one of the central planks of the European single market, which was largely put in place by the Conservative peer and European Commissioner Lord Cockfield and endorsed by Margaret Thatcher. Lord Cockfield, at least, must be spinning in his grave at Ms May’s outrageous demand that freedom of movement should be restricted to people who already have jobs, unlike the situation now, in which EU citizens can seek work in other EU member states, settle or retire there, study or simply make their lives more interesting by experiencing different European cultures, rather than spending their entire existence (apart from holidays) in an increasingly insular Tory Britain. One can only assume Ms May has set out her stall against free movement as part of a bid to outflank Boris Johnson in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but if that is true then it is shamelessly self-centered and against the true interests of Britain.
One of the reasons that the UK has emerged more strongly from the post-2008 recession was because of the talented EU migrants who came here to work or set up businesses. The revolting Daily Express and at times the Daily Mail would have us believe that all EU migrants are benefit scroungers, which is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The CBI, farmers and other groups of UK employers acknowledge the contribution EU migrants have made and I trust they will stand up and be counted against Ms May’s mean call. If David Cameron were to heed it and try to push for such a radical change to free movement with our EU partners it is certain that they would reject it, as the whole European project would start to unravel if it went through. Of course, that is what a disturbingly large number of Conservative MPs actually want to happen, not to mention UKIP. But the issue, if handled as badly as Ms May has done, could make it more likely that Britain would leave the EU, even though a “Brexit” would have serious consequences for our national economy. However, there is a more optimistic scenario following this new development which is that all those people who have benefited from the freedom of movement — the 2million+ Brits on the continent and the other EU citizens resident here — as well as young people who fancy studying or working abroad and older people who want to have the option to retire somewhere warmer will all gang up together to shout down this attempt to undermine their rights. And, one hopes, vote out this awful Tory government at the next election.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Brexit, Conservatives, David Cameron, EU, free movement, Lord Cockfield, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, UKIP | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th December, 2013
By happy coincidence this year is both the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 40th anniversary of the UK joining the European Economic Community, now the European Union. So it was an inspired choice of the European Commission’s London representation to merge their traditional Christmas party with a concert featuring music by that very British composer (as well as some more traditional Schubert and Rossini). “Britten in Europe” was a nice tongue-in-cheek pun, a nod in the direction of the Europhobes in UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative Party (in whose former Central Office the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices are now housed). Some might have thought Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave, but they should remember that she endorsed the launch of the European Single Market (at the urging of the Tory British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield). This evening’s recital showed a side to Benjamin Britten that was maybe unfamiliar to many in the audience, for though he was the quintessential British opera composer of the 20th Century he was also, as noted by Philip Reed in his programme notes, a proud European. Thus we were treated to his French folksong arrangements as well as his Irish melodies, and a nod to his love for his home country in “On This Island”. Four young, talented singers from the European Opera Centre performed the works: Hamida Kristoffersen (Norway), Sophie Rennert (Austria), Martin Piskorski (also Austria) and Romanas Kudriasovas (Lithuania). The unobtrusive but brilliant piano accompianement was Daniela Candillari (Slovenia). It wasa pity some of the Little Englanders were not present. Benjamin Britten appreciated the rich diversity of our continent’s and this evening so did we.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Benjamin Britten, Daniela Candillari, Europe House, European Opera Centre, Hamida Kristoffersen, Lord Cockfield, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Piskorski, Philip Reed, Romanas Kudriasovas, Sophie Rennert | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th May, 2013
Tory Eurosceptics have been dominating the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union, riding on the wave of populist sentiment engendered by UKIP. But it is wise to remember that they are a minority — albeit a sizeable one — within the parliamentary party. It’s a pity that David Cameron is unable or unwilling to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU — a real failure of leadership, in my opinion. Fortunately there is some sanity re Europe around in the Conservative Party, as witnessed by recent remarks by figures such as Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. And Robert Buckland, MP — Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the EU and Joint Secretary of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee — has added his positive voice, in the form of an article on the European Movement UK’s Euroblog:
Britain must resume a positive role at the head of the EU table and be clear that we are in to stay.
Margaret Thatcher was not a political leader who was much inclined to looking back, but her death last month has allowed us a little time to reflect upon her leadership and legacy. Much has already been written about her impact on Britain and a fair amount too on the wider world, but the true extent of her legacy to Europe and Germany bears a closer look. If you were to ask the average voter whether Lady Thatcher was pro or anti European, then I suspect many of those questioned would respond in the latter. The vivid image of Lady Thatcher swinging her proverbial handbag in the general direction of Eurocrats such as Jacques Delors seems to sum up, for some, her approach towards Europe. However, as was the case with many of her policies, this image does not do justice to the nuances of her position towards Europe over the years. In 1975, as the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition, Mrs. Thatcher was busy playing a significant role in campaigning for the United Kingdom to remain part of the then European Community. An abiding memory of that campaign is a jumper she wore, made up of the flags of the then member states of the EEC. Moving forward thirteen years to her Bruges speech in September 1988, Lady Thatcher may have sallied forth about the dangers of a supposed European super-state but she also robustly made the case for Britain’s future within Europe. Notably, she said that “The European Community is a practical means by which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are many other powerful nations and groups of nations.”
European affairs during the first four or five years of her premiership were dominated by the question of the British rebate, which was finally resolved at the Fontainebleau European Summit of 1984. The Lady’s handbag and the repeated cry of “we want our money” back are now remembered by many as the first stirrings of a latent euroscepticism, but the reality was somewhat different. In truth, her position was more akin to that of De Gaulle’s at the time of the Luxembourg Compromise in the mid 1960’s; in other words, a strong leader who was asserting a national interest whilst maintaining a belief in membership of the developing institutions of Europe.Moving forward only a couple of years, we come to her greatest European legacy: the creation of the Single Market. This concept, which largely unites the modern Conservative Party, is the jewel in the crown of our EU membership. Without her typically robust support for the Single Market and the signing of the Single European Act, we would not have seen its creation. At the heart of Lady Thatcher’s straightforward views was a belief in free trade and open markets; her support for the Single Market did more to make this a reality than any other decision.
However, if I were to identify her most troubled legacy on the global stage then I would look no further than her hostility to German reunification. Looking back from today’s perspective, such opposition seems strangely quixotic. Today’s UK/German relationship is extremely positive. The Prime Minister’s recent family visit to the German Chancellor’s personal residence at Meseberg is a reflection of the growing strength of his relationship with the German Government and our shared agenda of free trade and open markets. At varying levels, British Conservatives are busy forging new relationships with our German colleagues. However, there was a time where our Prime Minister was privately committed to stopping the reunification of Germany and personally identified her own greatest policy failing as having not achieved this. The long shadows cast by the Second World War had a huge effect upon Mrs Thatcher’s generation, which allows us to have a greater understanding of her concerns. The Cold War had helped drive the cause of unity in Western Europe as a bulwark against Soviet power. Within only a few months in 1989, all this changed, creating a new political landscape. She and other politicians can be forgiven for not having been able to forge a new policy in such a short space of time. As is so often the case in international politics, her poor relations with the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, proved to be a further obstacle to Anglo-German relations.
I believe that Britain’s initial reluctance to embrace the opportunities created by German reunification was a mistake. As we have seen over the last two decades, Germany’s decision to reunite was a resounding success. The Federal Republic is the driving force of a peaceful EU and its powerful economy has played a key role in spreading prosperity across Europe. Germany plays a positive role on the global stage and is one of our most important trading partners. It is increasingly willing to play a role with other Western nations to deal with conflicts in the Sahel, for example. Without a strong Germany at its heart, Europe would not be the world power that it is. What of Franco-German relations? For much of the past sixty years, the strength of the Franco-German alliance has been seen to be driving force behind greater European integration. Although we should not underestimate the institutional and political will that drives this partnership, the situation is undeniably evolving. France’s Socialist administration is making decisions that are causing real concern in Germany, and which are creating new opportunities for different coalitions of interest to be created within the EU. The Anglo-German agenda on free trade and open markets are examples of this fresh approach. More than twenty years have passed since German reunification, but it took far too long for Britain to come to terms with the changed politics of Europe. Pinning this failure upon the shoulders of one leader, however great and notable, may be somewhat unfair, but the events of 1990 were seminal and she, to adopt a later John Major slogan about Europe, was at the heart of things.
My hope is that if we are to take anything from Lady Thatcher’s legacy with regards to Europe, we should look at the earlier part of her rule when she was more inclined to support, not obstruct; to lead, not to follow; and, to cooperate, not quarrel. Lady Thatcher was not simply a Eurosceptic, even if her dislike of the EU and its institutions, feigned or real, did grow in later years. She saw the virtue in the “family of nations” of Europe and so should we. The EU is in need of great reform and change, but achieving that will only come about if we resume our positive role at the head of the table and are clear that we are in the EU to stay.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Cameron, EU, European Movement, Ken Clarke, Margaret Thatcher, Robert Buckland, Sir Malcolm Rifkind | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012
When people ask me ‘What has the EU ever done for me?’ my answer usually relates to the Single Market, which has given individuals and businesses four basic freedoms of movement throughout the 27 member states, relating to goods, people, services and capital. The EU is now celebrating 20 years of the Single Market, though given the current problems in the eurozone it is not, as Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier has said, the right moment for a birthday party. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to take stock of what the Single Market has achieved and what still needs to be done. So in member states across the EU events have been going on bringing together interested parties from government, business and civil society to discuss the Single Market 20 Years On. Today the EU Commission’s London Representation has been hosting a conference subtitled ‘ What’s in It for the UK?’. The star speaker this morning was Lord (Leon) Brittan, a former Vice-President of the Commission and one of the leading pro-Europeans in the parliamentary Conservative Party. Unlike many of his colleagues he sincerely believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe; indeed, he says Britain will probably join the euro one day, when the eurozone has sorted out its problems and, alas, the UK is experiencing its own. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was a Tory peer and Commissioner, Lord Cockfield, who largely designed the Single Market and persuaded Margaret Thatcher to endorse it. And of course it was another Conservative, Ted Heath, who took Britain into the EU in the first place. The Europhobic headbangers of the Tory right should ponder on that more often. Interestingly, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Markert and Consumer Protection Committee, Malcolm Harbour, is also a British Conservative; he spoke constructively this morning too. But I’ll leave the final word to Leon Brittan who declared that ‘we have to sell the EU of consumers and citizens and that is done through stories’. We pro-Europeans have some very good stories to tell and it would be good to hear more of them out in public discourse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Conservative Party, EU, EU Commission, euro, European Parliament, European Single Market, eurozone, Leon Brittan, Lord Cockfield, Malcolm Harbour, Margaret Thatcher, Michel Barnier, Ted Heath | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th September, 2012
The writer and broadcaster Gavin Esler — perhaps best known as one of BBC Newsnight’s presenters — has met a great many leaders but not many great leaders, as he told a literary lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall today. His musing was linked to his latest book, Lessons from the Top (Profile Books, £12.99), which looks at how successful leaders tell stories to get ahead — and stay there. His thesis is that the best political leaders (as well as top entrepreneurs) are strong story-tellers, with the basic elements of ‘who am I, who are we, and where am I going to take us?’ Margaret Thatcher had a brilliantly pithy line which had a whole back-story to itself: ‘I am a grocer’s daughter from Grantham’, for example. But Gavin lamented the fact that over the past 25 to 30 years, basically since the end of the Cold War, the name of the game has changed, as we have become a confessional culture. The public has been taught to expect personal details about even the loftiest figures, and scandals are daily laid bare — what one might call the globalisation of gossip. Of course, journalists, and through them the public, don’t always get the right first impressions. When Gavin went to interview Angelina Jolie, for example, he expected to meet an airhead, whereas actually she proved to be a highly intelligent woman who has adapted well to her role as a UN goodwill ambassador. Some politicians, alas, tell false stories; Tony Blair didn’t earn the sobriquet ‘Bliar’ for nothing. But the message of today’s talk was clear: if you want to succeed in life, tell a good story, and keep it simple.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angelina Jolie, BBC Newsnight, Gavin Esler, Lessons from the Top, Margaret Thatcher, Profile Books, Tony Blair | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th January, 2012
I have never met Margaret Thatcher one-to-one, but I did get a close look at her a few years ago at Roy Jenkins’s Memorial Service, when she arrvied late and swept down the aisle of St Margaret’s Westminster swathed in black and looking as if she was auditioning for a part in the next Harry Potter film. So I got quite a jolt in the opening scene of Phyllida Lloyd’s film ‘The Iron Lady’ this afternoon, when a large but frail old woman goes into a corner shop to buy a pint of milk, because, yes it was her (unrecognised by the man behind the counter or other customers, however) — except that is wasn’t because it was Meryl Streep. The impersonation is uncanny and during the course of the film, as Lady Thatcher, trying to fight off dementia while hallucinating that her dead husband Denis is still around, recalls her political life through the warped prism of her sometimes faulty memory. This is a stunning device, brilliantly executed; in fact the whole film is quite extraordinary and left me emotionally drained. Anyone who has had to deal with someone at close hand slipping into dementia, as I have, will understand the somewhat clueless and panic-stricken looks that cross the face of Carol Thatcher, the daughter (splendidly portrayed by Olivia Colman) and the surreal atmosphere inside the house in Belgravia to which the Thatchers moved after abandoning their suburban experiment in Dulwich. I can understand why some people feel that the film is premature (the lady is still alive, after all) and some will quibble about the histroical inaccuracies and whether it portrays Thatcher in too favourable/too unfavourable (delete as appropriate) a light. But that misses the point. This is an amazing piece of cinema that cries out to be seen. Doubtless Meryl Streep will get a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and Phyllida Lloyd deserves an Oscar too. But that is also not the point. This is one of those films that moves one profoundly, and however distant one may have felt from Mrs Thatcher the politician, one cannot help but empathise with the eponymous central character in The Iron Lady.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Carol Thatcher, Denis Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Lloyd, Roy Jenkins, The Iron Lady | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2011
Ben Patterson, former Tory MEP and EU Parliament official, this evening at Europe House, Westminster, launched his new book, The Conservative Party and Europe (John Harper Publishing, £20), which I will be reviewing elsewhere. The timing could not have been more perfect, nor the author more qualified to remind us all that it was the Conservatives (under Ted Heath) who took Britain into the EU, who under Lord Cockfield’s brilliant guidance helped fashion the Single Market (endorsed by Margaret Thatcher) and who may — yes indeed, may — help take us forward into the next stage of necessary European integration, despite the huffing and puffing of Bill Cash, Daniel Hannon et al. Ken Clarke, who wrote a foreword to Ben’s book, was with us at the launch in spirit, if not in body, as probably would have been Michael Heseltine. Tory Peers who did show their faces (and pinned their Euro-colours to the mast) were Lords (Leon) Brittan and (Richard) Inglewood, the latter giving a short address. Otherwise, the room was filled with numerous LibDems (several of whom had moved from the Conservatives or the SDP, because of their Europhilia). Chatting with Graham Bishop, John Stevens, Stephen Haseler and others, I was delighted to find support for my contention that far from making those in favour of Europe despondent, the current critical situation in the eurozone gives us the ideal opportunity to rally the force of Euro-realism. David Cameron needs to be able to show how many pro-Europeans there are in Britain, so he can be confident enough to tame his Euro-sceptic head-bangers. And Nick Clegg, whose Euro-credentials are impeccable, needs to have the courage to stand up and champion the message from the front. History will bless him if he does.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ben Patterson, Bill Cash, Conservative Party, Daniel Hannon, David Cameron, EU, Europe House, eurozone, Graham Bishop, John Harper Publishing, John Stevens, Ken Clarke, Leon Brittan, Lord Cockfield, Lord Inglewood, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, Nick Clegg, Stephen Haseler, Ted Heath | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd November, 2011
The text of the Address I will give at his Memorial Service at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea, later today:
Remembering Francis King
Francis was a man with many voices. That is, of course, the novelist’s prerogative. But he had multiple personalities as well. Many people only saw his formal side; a short and for many years rather portly figure with Edwardian manners and movements. He’d be immaculately turned out in suit and tie, and more often than not a hat as well, chosen to match the season. His natural courtesy extended to all those strangers he encountered. More than once I witnessed the look of astonished pleasure on the face of a young waitress at the Café Rouge off Kensington Church Street when she handed him the menu and he declared in a voice redolent of the British Raj, ‘Thankyou!’
But those of us who knew Francis as a dear friend were aware of the complex individual that inhabited that courtly carapace. The man who’d chaired International PEN with such flair and tact actually had quite a low threshold of tolerance when it came to bores and time-wasters. It was a source of permanent astonishment and aggravation to him that most human beings were neither as self-disciplined nor as productive as he. Though never rude to anyone’s face, he could be devastating about them once they’d gone. Occasionally the mask would slip, as happened on one of English PEN’s annual summer outings to a place of literary interest. As the assembled party dithered and bickered about which tea-shop they should visit for afternoon refreshments, Francis’s sighs and murmerings got louder by the minute, until Josephine Pullein-Thompson – who ran these jaunts with all the military efficiency of a Pony Club event – exclaimed in exasperation, ‘Stop grizzling, Francis!’
I wonder how many of the hundreds of people Francis entertained in his role as British Council representative in Greece, Italy and Japan realised that their punctilious host also had a side that can only be described as camp. He’d apparently acquired the nickname Francesca da Rimini Pimini while at Baliol College, Oxford, and many of the hundreds of letters that I have from him are indeed signed Francesca, though in recent years he adopted another moniker: Auntie Fanoula. I realised after a while that this was actually a useful device that he’d devised, consciously or unconsciously, to let off steam. Francesca and Fanoula could be as bitchy as they wanted about mutual acquaintances, whereas Francis would never have been so indiscreet.
He did however see a certain affinity between himself and Mrs Thatcher. This conclusion was based not only on their shared Conservatism but even more importantly on the fact that both only needed four hours sleep. When Francis and I travelled together, in places as disparate as Egypt and Romania, I would struggle down to breakfast bleary-eyed to find that he had already written a review for The Spectator, or corrected the proofs of a chapter of his latest book and was now chomping at the bit to go out sight-seeing.
He was able to squeeze a lot into his 20-hour days. Though he went much more rarely to the theatre after he ceased being a drama critic, his social diary in London was packed. He disliked large gatherings, but thrived on lunch and dinner parties, of which he hosted a great number himself. As a neatly embroidered little cushion on the sideboard in the dining room of his house in Gordon Place declared, ‘The Queen Doesn’t Cook’. Catering was invariably courtesy of ‘Maisie Sparks’, the Marks and Spencer food hall in Kensington High Street. In the middle of the round glass-topped dining table sat a Lazy Susan, on which the food revolved, like in a Chinese restaurant. Often Francis had invited too many guests to fit round the table, so chairs were placed along the walls. Dessert and cheese were set out on a second sideboard underneath a magnificent reclining male nude by Duncan Grant.
Afternoons were often spent walking in Holland Park or Kew Gardens, unless Francis had some friend to visit in hospital or in prison. Visiting the afflicted and the convicted was a charitable act that was about as near as Francis got to any religious belief or practice. I don’t think he did this for the good of his soul; the very concept of ‘soul’ was lost on him. But he was fascinated by the human condition, and one often sees that at its most raw when people are vulnerable. He relished details of friends’ illnesses and treatments, as well as stories of the criminal underworld. Not surprisingly, these sometimes later filtered into his novels.
For a man who was so kind and so generous, he was extraordinarily interested in people who were mean or even wicked. They were like specimens under a microscope for him, and he would often be on the phone to me to describe the latest appalling behaviour by some acquaintance. Perhaps he was able thus vicariously to feel sensations that were completely alien to his personality. For Francis himself was one of the 20th Century’s true gentlemen, a wonderful friend and a compassionate confidant. In a nutshell: rather naughty, but so nice.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: English PEN, Francis King, International PEN, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Kensington, Margaret Thatcher | Leave a Comment »