Volume 1 Number 7
Prayer and the Politician
01 March 1988

Only one father and son have each been Lord Chancellor twice. The son is Quintin McGarel Hogg, Lord Hailsham, who retired last year on the eve of his 80th birthday.

There have been Lord Chancellors of England for over 900 years. Only twice has a legitimate son followed his father onto the Woolsack, the uncomfortable bag of wool from which Lord Chancellors preside over the House of Lords. Only one father and son have each been Lord Chancellor twice. The son is Quintin McGarel Hogg, Lord Hailsham, who retired last year on the eve of his 80th birthday. He was Lord Chancellor from 1970 to 1974, and again from 1979 till 1987, some 50 years after his father's second term ended.

In medieval times the Lord High Chancellor of England was generally a cleric, originally acting as the monarch's chief secretary. In modern times he has been a lawyer, and his duties have included being Head of the judiciary - appointing all judges down to magistrates - presiding over the House of Lords and being a senior Cabinet Minister.

I first got to know Quintin Hogg when, in the summer of 1945, we spent a month together at Peter Howard's farm in Suffolk. Howard and he had been contemporaries at Oxford, each a celebrity in his field. Peter was an outstanding athlete, a journalist and a practical joker. Quintin became President of the Union, Oxford's celebrated debating society, won first class Honours in Greats (Classics, Ancient History and Philosophy) and was elected a Fellow of All Souls, Britain's most distinguished graduate college.

In 1938 Quintin had become Conservative Member of Parliament for Oxford City after a sensational by-election. From 1939 to 1945, he served in the army, being wounded in 1941 in the Western Desert. Now he was peppering the Labour Government in the House of Commons, after serving in Churchill's Caretaker Government. He had come to Howard's farm with his wife, Mary, and their infant son, Douglas, today an up-and-coming junior Minister at the Home Office.

On the farm he was a worker, a walker and a talker. He had a warm heart and a sensitive spirit beneath that frightening intellect. He helped build the haystacks and enjoyed the rough and tumble of games with the Howard children. Argument could be dangerous for such as I, for his quick mind could be dismissive. His chortle took part in every joke. We all became good friends. A few summers later I accompanied him on his first visit to his mother's country, America.

`The road was clear'
As we got to know each other he told me his spiritual history. Brought up with an orthodox belief in God, he found at the age of 17, when his mother died, that his belief had wholly disappeared. Four years later, when he was writing the Logic paper in his Oxford final examinations, an odd thing happened. He saw at a glance that he could answer almost any question, and intended to do three or four of those most familiar to him. When the bell rang after three hours, he had only done two and a half because he had spent most of his time answering a question on mysticism, `which,' he says, `I ignorantly equated with belief'. In the process he had proved to himself that, if there was no reason why an intelligent man should believe in God, there was clearly no reason why he should not. That, he said, was the turning point in his slow recovery of the Christian faith. `The road was clear which I had thought completely blocked by heaps of stones.'

By 1945 this recovery had progressed much further, as his mind moved onward. My own search for God had been more experimental. One day I asked him if he had ever given his life and future to God. `No,' he replied briskly. `If I ever have to do it, I shall know at the time.' Much later I asked him whether he would try to pass on his faith to a senior political colleague who plainly needed it. The answer was a crisp `No, no'. We remained friends and fellow seekers in spite of my suggestions.

In the early Sixties Sir Arnold Lunn and I wrote two books opposing the introduction of a more permissive morality by certain clerics and their more extreme humanist running mates. Quintin approved, but pointed out that since our ultimate authority was revelation - the words of Christ in the Bible - the book would not convince the atheist or humanist. He urged me to write a book giving a thought-through rationale for moral behaviour. `This project is of the utmost importance,' he wrote. `We must capture the intellectual bastion and attack the humanist position.' l had to say that I had not the philosophical training to do what was necessary.

Nearly ten years later Quintin, by then Lord Hailsham, published The door wherein I went, a unique autobiography for a politician in that it contained little or no defence of his political record and no cutting down to size of his critics or rivals, but began with the sentence: `This is a book largely about philosophy and religion.' For over 100 pages, politics are hardly mentioned, but he brilliantly sets out his mental journey from no belief to a convinced Christian faith. He states in the first paragraph that he has no blinding revelation or sudden conversion to describe. `I am one of those condemned to live his faith in the discipline of darkness, and therefore in doubt, in faith without certainty.'

Challenged by a Sunday Telegraph reporter that this sounded `a bit agnostic', Hailsham replied, `Faith means trust, it doesn't mean you know more than anybody else or that you can believe without doubting. I have never had a demonstrably supernatural experience. I have seen nothing. I have heard no voices. All I have got is from others' teaching and the reading of books, so it is not demonstrably true and I therefore live in the discipline of darkness.

`I trust God is there, but I don't know he is there. How can you unless he speaks to you? But if you read the great passages in the Bible and are brought into contact with the personality of our Lord, then that awakens trust in you. You can't know all these things are true, but you can believe them to be true - and you must behave as though they are.'

In fact, in The door wherein I went, Hailsham is setting out the rationale for moral behaviour and for faith. So he writes: `It seems to me that I have one gift which makes me richer for its possession, and others of my contemporaries the poorer for its lack, and I would like to share it with all who can do so. It is that I have genuine and coherent and related views about life and its meaning which give me sense and direction in all I do, consolation in misfortune, and courage when tempted to despair.'

How has this coherent philosophy served him? Has it supplied the direction, courage and consolation claimed?

Most people would regard Hailsham's greatest disappointment that of missing the Premiership in 1963 and his greatest grief the sudden death of his wife Mary in 1978, when she was thrown from a horse while they were visiting Sydney, Australia. In the latter they would be right. Mary's death brought him years of mental anguish and left a mark which one imagines can never be wholly erased. But he found his greatest consolation in the thought of Jesus suffering for us all. `The Cross was administered without anaesthetic,' he once told me, pointedly. And after eight years he has married Deirdre Shannon, a mature and charming professional woman. It was something which Mary would have wished and at which his family rejoiced.

Who will succeed Macmillan?
But it is wrong to believe that his not succeeding Macmillan as Prime Minister in 1963 was a major disappointment. After short and enjoyable stints as First Lord of the Admiralty (navy minister) and Minister of Education, Hailsham had, in 1957, been suddenly appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party at a point when the party seemed virtually certain to lose the next election. Hailsham's deliberately flamboyant, if uncharacteristic, conduct as Chairman did much to hearten the rank and file and to deliver Macmillan a majority of around 100 in 1959. Thereafter he occupied various offices, including Minister for Science and Technology and Leader of the House of Lords and when, in 1963, Macmillan was forced by ill-health to retire, he informed Hailsham that he was his chosen successor. After various tos and fros, however, Lord Home, not he, was selected.

Hailsham did not feel bitter about this, for he had never been sure that he wanted a job which, he had observed, brought few of its possessors much happiness. What he did resent was the treatment which many of his colleagues meted out to him after the contest was over. `They treated me,' he has said, `as if I were a contemptible and a hateful person who had acted dishonourably.'

Today he is able to say that he has got over his bitterness. `Bitterness is the most corrosive and destructive of all human feelings, especially for a politician,' he adds. The details of the case are too numerous to examine here, but I believe that Hailsham's strong sense of loyalty and honour were a major factor in his not becoming Prime Minister. Lord Home subsequently said that Hailsham had always served him most loyally.

Until recently, Hailsham used a bicycle as a means of getting about London. Only in 1987, at the age of 79, was he persuaded to give it up after three falls in a few months. Aware that he suffered from painful ankles - one of the reasons he took up bicycling in the first place - I once asked him how he managed the constant standing in heavy robes involved in his office. `What's a little pain?' he replied.

When I saw him recently, the Church of England synod had just been sitting. He did not agree with some of its decisions and was particularly indignant at certain bishops who put forward what he considered ineffective remedies for social ills as if `a purple waistcoat automatically gave them more authority than an intelligent layman'. `I regard myself as a member of God's Holy Opposition,' he chuckled. He hastened to except the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, from his complaints.

`I have known all the Archbishops since Lang and Temple and he measures up to any of them.' He views the decline of Christianity in Britain `very seriously indeed'. `If you talk about rape or riot or looting or these horrible attacks on little children, Christianity has the answer - and that is love.' He is convinced, however, that the decline will be reversed: `Man is a worshipping animal and that side of human nature will keep religion coming back just as the tide swims in up the estuary.' In this he includes all the great religions. `Provided you pray for grace, in one way or another you receive grace.'

He describes Mrs Thatcher as a 'phenomenon'. Her greatest achievement to date, he maintains, is to break the `ratchet effect' of socialism, by which no Conservative government could privatize an industry for fear of its actions being reversed after the next election. `I would not have believed in 1978 that she could do as much.'

What about Foreign Affairs?
`There too she may have halted decline. Of course, we have to face that Britain, as a separate entity, is bound to play a far lesser part today than in the days of Chatham, Disraeli or Salisbury, or even those of Asquith and Winston. But it is arguable that this has changed since Margaret became Prime Minister. Recently she has managed to give Britain a larger role. Whether it is permanent, the future will show - and I won't be alive to see it.'

He says that since his retirement he is as busy as ever and that, without the infrastructure of secretaries and official cars, it is much harder work. `They save one from direct contact with the lunatics in the public. That telephone rings every few minutes.' He gives a recent example of a caller who did not even reveal his identity:

'"Is that Lord Hailsham?"
` "Yes."
`"What is the plural of King's Counsel?" '"King's Counsel."
'"No s?"
`"No s." End of conversation. Complete break in my train of thought!'

The main lesson life has taught him, he says, is humility. `As I grow older I am more conscious of my shortcomings.' Since he was 70 he has been talking of preparing his soul. One evening as he was leaving, I asked him how he went about it. `Prayer,' he barked as he stepped into the street.

I asked him recently how he prayed. `Little and often is my rule rather than long and devout,' he said with his famous chortle. Then he was thoughtful. `It is an activity without which a certain part of you becomes atrophied. The main thing is that it is not just saying to Father Christmas, "Please bring me a teddy bear when you come down the chimney." It is turning the soul towards God, as a flower turns towards the sun or a child towards its mother. Yes, that's it - turning towards the light.'

Garth Lean is the author of nine books. The latest, `Frank Buchman: a life' (Constable, 1985), is shortly to be published in paperback in Britain by Fount, and in the United States by Helmers and Howard, where its title will be `On the tail of a Comet'.

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