Lord Michael Spicer has enjoyed a varied and remarkable political career by anyone's standards. Now, in this revealing, insightful, and engaging book, Lord Spicer shares never-before-heard stories of his time in British politics. During three and a half decades as a Conservative Member of Parliament, Spicer has held a plethora of essential political roles both within the party and in government, including Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and chair of the highly influential 1922 committee. As an influential member of the Tory party, Lord Spicer worked closely with both Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron, among other leaders in British politics, including Tony Blair and John Major, and his diary takes readers behind the scenes to witness the close elections and tough decisions that have characterized Spicer's political life. Part political diary, part cautionary tale, and part commentary, The Spicer Diaries is a charming, witty, and insightful memoir.
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About the Author
LORD MICHAEL SPICER is one of the most talented and influential Conservative politicians of his generation. He was an Member of Parliament from 1974 to 2010, where he served as minister of various committees, including aviation, electricity and coal, and housing. Knighted in 1996, in 2001 Spicer was elected chairman of the 1922 committee, a position he retained until 2010, when he was elevated to the House of Lords.
LORD MICHAEL SPICER is one of the most talented and influential Conservative politicians of his generation. He was a Member of Parliament from 1974 to 2010, where he served as minister of various committees, including aviation, electricity and coal, and housing. Knighted in 1996, in 2001 Spicer was elected chairman of the 1922 committee, a position he retained until 2010, when he was elevated to the House of Lords
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The Spicer Diaries
By Michael Spicer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Michael Spicer
All rights reserved.
I am born in Bath in the early hours of 22 January 1943 at my grandparents' home, Chota Koti (they had previously lived in India). Nurse Skuse is in attendance. My father is not present; he is commanding the Second Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment in preparation for an eventual invasion of Europe.
Shortly after my birth my mother and I move to Weston-super-Mare to escape German bombing of the Admiralty buildings in Bath.
Until she left the service to have me, my mother, a woman of some beauty, had been a naval intelligence officer. Having made herself bilingual in German, she had in 1940 been in charge of a listening post in the south-east of England in anticipation of a German invasion.
My mother and father had known each other for less than a month before they were married in a ceremony over which raged the Battle of Britain, diverting to the skies the attention of the few guests present. My father, ten years older than my mother, had won her heart by bombarding her with a series of rather remarkable love letters, a flavour of which is as follows:
HQ 198, Home Forces
Sailor dear, what should I write to you about today? It is so lovely that we ought to take a couple of bath buns, our bathing gear and search the coast for a strip of sand clear of mines, burrow a hole, one for you and one for me, talk – sleep – bathe – talk – sleep – could anything be nicer ... What sort of books do BAs read in their spare time? And do they ever lower themselves so much as to hold hands in the pictures? ...
There is that ominous whirr whirr in the air again. They are late this morning. Are they over you much? ... Has your father asked any leading questions about my financial position? My pay as a Captain is about £420 a year from which income tax has to be deducted ... I don't know why I tell you all this because as yet you have not shown the slightest inclination to fall in with my wishes ... Would it break your heart if I were posted to Egypt? I might be you know because I hold a language qualification in Arabic. Isn't it time you told me something about yourself? ... Trevor Card took 'Winnie the Pooh' [the PM] all round the place the day before yesterday.
It was most amusing to hear first hand evidence of so interesting a character. I have ceased to love you until you condescend to love me a bit! I hate one sided correspondence ...
Three days later, two and a half weeks after they had first met, my mother accepts my father's proposal on condition that they are married asap. Over the moon, my father nearly 'blows it'. In the excitement he mixes up lady friends. He cannot even remember the date when he writes the following.
198 Home Forces
Day, time or date unknown
You have got me so muddled that I have now gone and mixed my letters!!! Please return me a letter commencing 'Jean dear', 'Dear Jean', or 'Jean darling', or simply 'Darling Jean', which has got mixed up in one for you. And don't get excited about it. Jean is a perfectly respectable married woman with two children who I have known for twelve years and who I was asking to have you to stay in Camberley. Heaven knows what I said about you. Probably all frightfully sentimental. If you have been unlucky enough to read it in error, forget it and forgive a stupid and embarrassing blunder.
I enclose the letter written to you, apparently on Tuesday. Apropos of your wish to get married in a hurry, the sooner you marry me the better and get me under control. And, darling, whatever I do or say and however much I get tied up, I love you and you only and always, always will. I am rather miserable about this Jean business, so please write and say it's OK. And let's get married before I go to the Staff College, or we will have to wait until Xmas. Darling, I am miserable. Hardy.
My mother evidently forgives this minor indiscretion and on 7 September receives this telegram from my father:
DARLING I AM WILDLY EXCITED WILL TRY AND ARRANGE SPECIAL LICENCE WEDNESDAY STOP THINK REGISTRY OFFICE ONLY HOPE STOP BRIGADIER INSISTS I GO LONDON MONDAY STOP LONGING TO SEE YOU WILL TELEPHONE TOMORROW 0900 HOURS RED PERMITTING GOODNIGHT ALL MY LOVE HARDY
Someone pulls rank and a church is arranged. My mother drums up a fellow Wren, Marjorie Adams, to be her bridesmaid. On 8 September Marjorie wires:
YES HOW EXCITING WHERE AND WHO MARJORIE
In 1943, my mother, now a civilian, joins the two-hour ration queue for a morsel of fish, which I spit back in her face.
My father does not take his regiment onto the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944. General Montgomery had issued an order that all battalion commanders must be under the age of forty and my father was born on 4 February 1903; so he returns to the General Staff with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Once the war is over, my father is posted back to north Africa and commands a Sudanese Defence Force brigade from Asmara in Eritrea, where he is joined by my mother, me and my newly born sister, Angela Jane. Our home in the capital, Asmara, is in the palace, which has its own zoo. We also have a house in the second biggest town, Keren, where on 9 December 1946 a guest for lunch is Compton Mackenzie, author of Whisky Galore. He wrote of his visit, 'We came back from the battlefield to lunch with the Spicers. Towards the end of lunch a large but slim chocolate coloured ram came into the dining room to beg for cigarettes to eat. I gave him a cigar ... Edgar was the name of this engaging animal.'
There is a picture of me at the time aged three, taking the salute beside my father as soldiers of the Sudanese Defence Force march by.
In 1948 we move from north Africa to Vienna, where my father is the deputy commander of the British garrison. In this capacity he gives permission to Carol Reed to film The Third Man on condition that 'the man with the zither' plays the film's theme tune at a party my father and mother throw at Rosen Villa in Ober St Veit, their new home, requisitioned from a Nazi family.
When my wife, Ann, and I visit the house some sixty years later, the daughter of the Nazi is still living there. As she opens the front door to me she says:
You, I feel sure, are the son of Herr General. You are most welcome. I always felt you would come back one day. Did you know that when your family left the house it was returned to us in perfect condition and with every item, down to a little box of thimbles, in exactly its right place?
As we leave, her two good-looking sons click their heels and give a short bow.
In Vienna my parents lead a very grand life. My sister and I are left in the capable hands of a professional governess, Frau Galvani, whom I convert into Hitler's mistress and mother of a British Prime Minister in my novel Prime Minister Spy.
After Vienna it is Hamburg, Hanover, Naples and finally, incongruously, Aldershot for my father and mother. As the years go by and the post-war army begins to shrink, my father's rank is reduced so that by the time we reach Aldershot in 1952, he no longer wears red tabs on his collar.
In Naples my father is the victim of some sort of administrative practical joke – either that or a cock-up. Having commanded brigades and occupation garrisons, he is put in charge of a NATO stores base. The supplies for which he is responsible evidently do not include uniforms. The men under his charge certainly have no standard military dress. When Field Marshal Montgomery pays the depot a surprise visit, they are lined up in every form of military attire – light khaki, dark khaki, whites, shorts, longs, fatigues, you name it. Monty is not best pleased and says so, despite the famed eccentricity of his own military clothes. The whole event is recorded by an anonymous cartoonist, who dresses his soldiers in everything from a Danish guard's full dress to oversized tropical kit.
My mother adores Naples, living as they do in the palazzo of a glamorous Italian aristocrat, Dickie Winspere, and enjoying the dolce vita of post-war Italy. She persuades my father to delay for six months his letter to the War Office requesting a transfer.
Eventually they return to England, where our army house in Aldershot is painted yellow on the outside to make use of the spare camouflage paint which is surplus to the requirements of the abortive attack on the Suez Canal.
At the age of nine I fall in love with the army and, disturbingly, with the gorgeously attractive Princess Margaret, who one ever-to-be-remembered day visits Mons Officer Cadet School, where my father ends his military career as deputy commandant.
From the age of eight my sister, Angela, and I commute to boarding schools in Dorset; mine is called Dumpton and is located outside Wimborne Minster. We are suitably labelled for travel while our parents are in Germany. It is not unknown for the labels to get mixed up and for a young commuter properly destined, for instance, for Hamburg to be despatched to Trieste or wherever, by mistake.
I am a precocious little boy, acting, producing and writing plays after the manner of Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. I play secret bridge in the maths classes, passing cards inside folded blotting paper; perhaps I am just a professional schoolboy, becoming as I do head of College at Wellington. An entry in my diary at the time indicates that, thankfully, there was another side to me. On 13 April 1959 I write, 'Went up [to London] with Chris Miers [who lived there] to get Brigitte Bardot's autograph for a bet ... We were unsuccessful; however to begin with we were the only onlookers there.' She was filming early in the morning near Parliament and, I recollect, in a bad mood.
There is at this time a more profound episode in my life. It is described by Field Marshal Montgomery, no less, in his book The Path to Leadership:
Then there is the story of the English schoolboy, aged 16, who had to write an essay on somebody he knew by reputation – and he selected me. He read all he could about me in the Press, much of it very uncomplimentary, and having described my army career, finished by saying I was a very unpleasant person – conceited, vain, ruthless, and so on. His father sent me the essay to read, which I did with interest! I then wrote to his father, saying that the boy should at least be fair; he had never met me, indeed had never seen me, and yet had made definite statements about my character. I suggested that he could have begun his critical remarks in this way: 'I have never met him but it is reported that he is ...'
I asked the boy to visit me in my home, and he duly came. He was a delightful lad, very intelligent, and with a most attractive personality; we had an amusing talk and he is now one of the greatest of my young friends – and he visits me every time he returns from school for the holidays. I have persuaded him to go to Sandhurst and become a soldier – and he will make a good one.
I am the mysterious 'English schoolboy'.
The most relevant entries in my diary at the time are:
Friday 10 April 1959. Arrived at 3 o'clock. Met Monty, who was wearing a purple duffle coat and was standing in his garden. He said: 'You would like me to show you round my home?' First of all he took me round his three caravans, which he had left in exactly the same state as they were at the German surrender on Lunenburg Heath. Showed me a picture of Rommel which he used to study before Alamein. Two caravans were captured from the enemy. Monty had a feeling that the one captured at Tunis was Rommel's. (He had to fight the government to be allowed to keep these caravans. They will be returned to the country when he dies.)
The third caravan – map caravan – is his own. No press are allowed in here. He showed me the place where there had been a light but George VI had bumped his head on it and had it removed ...
Then we went indoors and had some tea.
Monday 28 December 1959. Arrived at 10 o'clock. Straight away was shown how to work the motor bike – what an excitement it was. At first just drove it around the drive. After lunch was allowed to use the gears in the road, having been shown how by Monty's chauffeur. Did this all afternoon. 7.00 p.m. went up to the flat which I had been lent and which was on the top floor. Dinner at 8.00. Afterwards listened to Monty's recent lecture at Oxford on the menace of China.
Next day, 29th, rode the bike home. Discovered with a shock that I have failed both English and History A levels ... On returning to Monty I told him. He simply said, 'That's bad, very bad'. Left early on the 30th plus bicycle.
Tuesday 12 January 1960. Went with an uncertain mind as to what my future career was to be. Monty found this out when I mentioned at lunch that instead of going to Sandhurst I might go to Mons Officer Cadet School – which would mean I would only do a short service commission.
Monty was at first surprised – then indignant. If my object in life was to be a soldier – why a short service commission? I replied that I wanted to see what the army was like myself before I committed to it. 'Then your mind is not clear,' he said. I replied 'No', at which he was as near to becoming angry as I had seen him – said words to the effect that at 17 years it was an appalling state of affairs if a boy had not made up his mind.
I said my main objective was the university – Cambridge. Once I had got there I had the whole world in front of me. He said I must look further ahead and make up my mind what my career was to be. If my decision was the army then I should adopt the following policy: Main objective – army. Two ways of reaching this, (a) preferably university, (b) if not, via Sandhurst. But these last two were only two means – either left flanking movement or right for the main goal. I was to discuss this with my father when I returned home and was to come back to see him in the next holidays.
I don't join the army. Instead I go to Cambridge University to read economics.
I am due to begin my third and final year at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I am reading economics. So far I have taken only a passing interest in politics, leading the debate in the Union on one or two minor occasions, and am certainly not politically well connected. I do not, for instance, know the leading Conservative lights like Michael Howard, John Selwyn Gummer and Kenneth Clarke, though I am quite friendly with Norman Lamont.
I am much more involved in the Amateur Dramatic Club, whose star is Richard Eyre, and with which I travel to the Soviet Union, writing sketches and playing Hamlet in front of one or two large audiences in Moscow, Kiev and Gurzuf on the Black Sea. Khrushchev is in charge and there is promise (false, as it turns out) of greater freedom in the USSR. Certainly there is a spreading barter culture. A pair of Marks & Spencer woollen socks brings you a fourth-class train ticket to the Black Sea.
When I return from Russia towards the end of the long summer vacation of 1963 I begin to take in what is happening on the political scene. The tribulations of the Conservative Party, especially, do begin to impress themselves on my consciousness.
I become, in particular, an avid reader of the weekly articles in the Sunday Times of William ReesMogg, whose theme is the compounding isolation of the Conservative Party, in government until 1964 and in opposition thereafter.
Sitting in the kitchen of my parents' house in Farnham, Surrey, contemplating the style and literature of the Campaign for Democratic Socialism (CDS), the Labour group which has developed a strong following on the left in Cambridge, I play with the words 'Campaign', 'Toryism', 'Pressure', 'Economic' and 'Social'. I come up with Pressure for Economic and Social Toryism – PEST. The mix of economics and politics has already begun to intrigue me.
In a scribbled note I claim that there are three factors which worry the members of PEST – never mind that there are no members. What is of concern to them, I say, is first the intellectual and social isolation of the Tory Party; secondly the lack of coherence in 'progressive' Tory thought, especially in economic and social matters; and, finally, the lack of contact of the Tory Party with the universities. It could all be summed up in the phrase 'too much money chasing too few ideas'.
With these virtually meaningless generalisations safely preserved, I prepare my attack on the bastions of Cambridge University in general and the Cambridge University Conservative Association in particular. Of such coincidences are rebellions germinated.
Thursday 3 October 1963
My first practical move is to ask my mother to lend me an old sheet. The second is to paint on it 'Pressure for Economic and Social Toryism' (PEST). Armed with this materiel I set off for my third and final university year with the intent, no less, to put the Conservative Party back in touch with the people.
Excerpted from The Spicer Diaries by Michael Spicer. Copyright © 2012 Michael Spicer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I - The Thatcher Years,
Chapter 1 - Alec Douglas-Home,
Chapter 2 - Edward Heath,
Chapter 3 - Elmer B. Staats: Comptroller General of the United States,
Chapter 4 - Margaret Thatcher, 1979-83: first term,
Chapter 5 - Cecil Parkinson: his resignation, 1983,
Chapter 6 - Margaret Thatcher, 1983-7: second term,
Chapter 7 - Margaret Thatcher, 1987-90: third term,
Chapter 8 - Tony Blair,
Chapter 9 - Margaret Thatcher: her downfall,
Part II - Rebellion: the Maastricht Treaty,
Chapter 10 - John Major, 1990-92: his first term of office,
Chapter 11 - John Major: the Maastricht rebellion,
Chapter 12 - John Major: resignation,
Chapter 13 - John Major: planning his succession,
Chapter 14 - John Major: final days,
Part III - Opposition: chairman of the 1922 Committee,
Chapter 15 - William Hague: a new age,
Chapter 16 - William Hague: the EPP row, 1999,
Chapter 17 - William Hague: his last period as leader,
Chapter 18 - Candidate for 1922 Committee chairmanship,
Chapter 19 - Iain Duncan Smith,
Chapter 20 - The fall of Iain Duncan Smith,
Chapter 21 - Michael Howard,
Chapter 22 - Michael Howard: general election and massive rows,
Chapter 23 - David Cameron,
A last word,
By the same author,
About the Author,