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Alec Douglas-Home

[duhg-luhs-hyoom]
Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC (2 July 1903 - 9 October 1995), 14th Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963, was a British Conservative politician, and served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a year from October 1963 to October 1964 (as Sir Alec Douglas-Home). He held a series of records: he was the last member of the House of Lords to be appointed Prime Minister; the only Prime Minister to renounce his peerage to leave the House of Lords and contest a by-election to enter the House of Commons; and the last Prime Minister to be chosen personally by the British monarch. He was also the only Prime Minister to have played first class cricket and the first British Prime Minister to have been born in the 20th century.

Early life

Douglas-Home was born in Mayfair, London, England, the eldest of seven children born to Charles, Lord Dunglass, (the eldest son of the 12th Earl of Home) and Lady Lilian Lambton, daughter of Frederick Lambton, 4th Earl of Durham. His mother was the great-great-granddaughter of the reforming Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. After his father's succession to the Earldom in 1918 he held the courtesy title Lord Dunglass. One of his brothers was the dramatist William Douglas-Home.

Home was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated with a Third Class Honours MA in Modern History in 1925. At Eton, his contemporaries included Cyril Connolly, who later described him as "a votary of the esoteric Eton religion, the kind of graceful, tolerant, sleepy boy who is showered with all the laurels, who is liked by the masters and admired by the boys without any apparent exertion on his part". Connolly famously concluded, "in the eighteenth century he would have become Prime Minister before he was 30: as it was he appeared honourably ineligible for the struggle of life". In 1936 he married Elizabeth Alington, the daughter of Cyril Alington, who had been Douglas-Home's headmaster at Eton. They had a daughter, Diana Douglas-Home Wolfe-Murray.

Cricket career

Home was a talented cricketer at school, club and county level, and is the only British prime minister to have played first-class cricket. Amongst others he represented the MCC, Middlesex CCC and Oxford University Cricket Club at first-class level, playing under the name "Lord Dunglass", his title at the time. Between 1924 and 1927, Dunglass played 10 first-class matches, scoring 147 runs at an average of 16.33 and with a best score of 37 not out. As a right-arm fast-medium bowler he took 12 wickets at an average of 30.25 with a best of 3 for 43. Three of his first-class games were internationals against Argentina on the MCC 'representative' tour of South America in 1926-27.

After Douglas-Home had retired as prime minister, he became president of the MCC in 1966. Between 1977 and 1989 he was Governor of I Zingari, the well-known nomadic cricket team. His cricket career served him well later in life when, at a particularly rowdy election hustings, he had an egg thrown at him and was able to catch it without its breaking.

Member of Parliament

Home became the Scottish Unionist Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Lanark in 1931. His high birth gave him a head start in Parliament, and he served as Parliamentary Private Secretary (1937-9) to Neville Chamberlain, witnessing at first hand the latter's attempts to stave off World War II through negotiation with Adolf Hitler. Douglas-Home fell gravely ill with spinal tuberculosis in 1938, which kept him immobile on his back for two years and prevented him from fighting in World War II.

Home lost his parliamentary seat in the Conservatives' landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, but regained it in 1950. However he was automatically disqualified from the Commons in 1951 when he inherited his father's seat in the House of Lords, becoming the 14th Earl of Home.

Lord Home, as he then was, served not only as Commonwealth Secretary from 1955 during the time of the Suez Crisis but, from 1957, also as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (the latter twice; briefly in 1957 and subsequently from 1959). Home traded all three for the Foreign Office in 1960. In 1962, he was created a knight of the Order of the Thistle — the highest Scottish honour and in the personal gift of the Monarch — which entitled him to be styled "Sir" after later renouncing his earldom.

Appointment as Prime Minister

In 1963, Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan suddenly resigned following prostate trouble from which he feared he would not recover, though ultimately he did make a full recovery and survived another 23 years to live to the age of 92. At the time, the Conservative Party had no formal procedure for selecting a leader, merely a series of confused precedents and the Queen was expected to choose a new Prime Minister on the basis of advice given by the party's elder statesmen. Though Rab Butler, nominally the "Deputy Prime Minister" (officially no such constitutional office then existed, with the title on its rare usages being an honorary one), was the favourite among Conservative MPs, Home was preferred by the elder statesmen, some of whom indicated that they would refuse to serve in cabinet under Butler or the other potential candidate, Quintin Hogg. Macmillan's resignation took place at the time of the 1963 Conservative Party Conference, which rapidly became something akin to an American political convention as various candidates and their supporters jostled publicly for the position. Following a series of consultations to determine who could command support from across the party and prove the best compromise candidate, Macmillan advised Queen Elizabeth II. Though it was argued that he had no right to advise the Queen as to whom to invite to kiss hands as Prime Minister, and the Queen was under no obligation to accept his advice, the Queen duly invited the Earl of Home to become Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.

Home, the first UK Prime Minister born in the 20th century, believed it would not be practical to serve as PM from the Lords (it was widely believed that Lord Curzon had not been invited to become prime minister in 1923 because of his seat in the Lords). Using the Peerage Act 1963, which had only been passed earlier in the same year after Tony Benn's campaign to renounce his peerage, Home disclaimed his Earldom and other peerages on 23 October 1963. For the next two weeks he belonged to neither House of Parliament - an extremely uncommon (although not unique) occurrence for a sitting Prime Minister. As "Sir Alec Douglas-Home", he contested a by-election in the safe seat of Kinross & West Perthshire. Home duly won on 8 November 1963, entering the history books as the last peer to become Prime Minister and the only Prime Minister to resign from the Lords to enter the Commons.

Defeat and opposition

Linked as it was to the damaged former government's Profumo Affair of 1963, Douglas-Home's tenure as prime minister lasted only one year. The October 1964 general election was won by the Labour Party under the new leadership of Harold Wilson. However, the margin of victory proved narrow and the election thus provided a much sterner test for Wilson than expected. Indeed it was in this campaign that Home made his most famous remark. Wilson kept gibing Home that he was not a man of the people, as he was the 14th Earl of Home. Home responded, "as far as the 14th Earl is concerned I suppose that Mr. Wilson, when you come to think of it, is the 14th Mr. Wilson".

Home remained leader of the party until his resignation in July of the following year. At this time, Home himself revised the rules of the Conservative Party to allow the party leader to be henceforth selected by a series of ballots of all Conservative MPs. The resulting leadership election was won by Edward Heath, who defeated Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell. Over the following six years, Home was notably loyal to Heath, comparing those who questioned his position with impatient gardeners who would keep digging up a tree to gauge its progress by examining its roots.

Return to Government

In 1970, Heath became prime minister, Home returned to the post of Foreign Secretary which was deemed to suit him well. As of 2008, Home is the last former Prime Minister to take a Ministry in someone else's cabinet.

Retirement

In 1973 Home intimated his intention to retire from Parliament and government at the next general election, but was overtaken by the calling of a snap general election in February 1974. Following the defeat of the Heath government by that of Harold Wilson in 1974, Home retired from front-line politics, standing down from the Commons at the October 1974 election.

In the 1979 Devolution referendum, Home made a high profile statement arguing that an incoming Conservative Government would introduce a better Scottish Assembly. In the event, Margaret Thatcher's government did not do so.

Personal life

Home was restored to the House of Lords when he accepted a life peerage, becoming known as Baron Home of the Hirsel, of Coldstream in Berwickshire (The Hirsel being his family seat in Berwickshire), and continued to appear in the House of Lords into his nineties. To date, Home ranks as the third-longest-lived British Prime Minister, behind James Callaghan and Harold Macmillan. His autobiography, The Way The Wind Blows, was published in 1976. He was also the author of Peaceful Change (1964) and Border Reflections (1979). His correspondence with his grandson Matthew Darby was published as Letters to a Grandson in 1983.

Death

On his death at The Hirsel in 1995, aged 92, Home was succeeded as Earl of Home by his only son, David Douglas-Home. He also had three daughters, Lady Caroline Douglas-Home DL, Lady Meriel Darby (who married Adrian Darby OBE) and Lady Diana Wolfe Murray.

Titles from birth to death

  • The Hon. Alec Douglas-Home (1903 – 1918)
  • Lord Dunglass (1918 – 1931)
  • Lord Dunglass, MP (1931 – 1945)
  • Lord Dunglass (1945 – 1950)
  • Lord Dunglass, MP (1950 – 1951)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord Dunglass, MP (1951)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Home, PC (1951 – 1962)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Home, KT, PC (1962 – 1963)
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, KT (1963)
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, KT, MP (1963 – 1974)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC (1974 – 1995)

Nicknames

Home was constantly referred to as 'Baillie Vass' by the satirical magazine Private Eye. This running joke began in 1964 when a provincial newspaper, the Aberdeen Evening Express accidentally used a picture of Home over a caption referring to a baillie called Vass. Private Eye then affected to believe that Home was an impostor whom the newspaper had unmasked, and the magazine maintained this amusing conceit until Home's death.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Government, October 1963 – October 1964

Changes

  • April 1964: Quintin Hogg becomes Secretary of State for Education and Science. Sir Edward Boyle leaves the Cabinet.

Notes

References

  • Dickie, J. (1964). The Uncommon Commoner: A Study of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Pall Mall.
  • Douglas-Home, Alec, Sir. (1964). Peaceful Change.
  • Dutton, D. (2006). Alec Douglas-Home (20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century), Haus Publishing.
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord. (1976). The Way the Wind Blows: An Autobiography, London: Collins.
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord. (1979). Border Reflections, London: Collins
  • Home of the Hirsel, Lord. (1983). Letters to a Grandson, London: HarperCollins.
  • Hughes, E. (1964). Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Housman
  • Thorpe, D.R. (1996). Alec Douglas-Home, Sinclair-Stevenson
  • Young, K. (1971). Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Fairleigh Dickinson

External links

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