By Tim Montgomerie
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In an 'exit interview' for last night's Channel 4 News Lord Strathclyde's silky performance suggested that he could have been more of a front-of-camera spokesman for the Conservative Party over recent years. He isn't retiring from political life – just leaving the frontbench – and I hope we will continue to see and hear a lot from him.
I asked a few members of the Upper House to offer a few words about their outgoing Leader and here is what they said…
Lord Bates focuses on Lord Strathclyde's youth
"To imagine the House of Lords without Lord Strathclyde at the helm is a bit like imagining Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson. Tom Strathclyde has played a masterful role at the centre of the House of Lords for quarter of a century. It has been one of the great political innings of our time. Tom's style is unobtrusive but marked with a steely focus not on himself but
on duty. If I was asked to sum Tom up in one word it would be 'loyalty,' loyalty to the Prime Minister, the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. The fact that at the tender age of fifty-two he could still take ten years out and come back as into a prominent role in the House of Lords as a relative 'spring chicken' is testament to his extraordinary achievement and ability. He will be missed, his example will endure and he will be back."
Baroness Stowell remembers the way Tom Strathclyde again and again steadied the Tory ship
"I first got to know Tom Strathclyde in 1998 when William Hague appointed him Leader of the Conservatives in the Lords after the infamous departure of Lord Cranborne. It was a tense time (I know, they all are, but like them all, this seemed especially so) and I wasn’t sure how things would pan out for William and his relationship with the remaining Conservative peers. What became clear very quickly was that everything would be OK, precisely because Tom Strathclyde was at the helm. And to this day, that’s what having Tom in charge has meant to me: whatever the matter and however rocky it might seem, everything will work out OK.
Tom is the calm, reassuring figure, light of touch and wise of mind that is essential to any successful team and it’s been great to work with him again and to have him for a boss. I’ve loved the way he takes his responsibilities seriously, but never himself, and I’ve valued his encouragement when us junior frontbenchers are about to face the Opposition at the dispatch box.
I will miss Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith (thank God he keeps it simple with Lord Strathclyde) and I’m sad he’s decided to step down. But as his mind’s made up, my great relief is that he is succeeded by the wonderful, talented and equally able Jonathan Hill."
And Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Baroness Berridge and first Baroness Jenkin…
Anne Jenkin: "Tom Strathclyde is the ultimate Safe Pair of Political Hands. Aged
only 52, and one of the younger members of the House or Lords (average
age 71), he is also, with 27 years in Parliament and 25 years unbroken
service on the Front Bench, not only one of the most skilful operators
in the Cabinet, but also one of the most experienced Peers, amongst
some very experienced people. He has seen it all before. The job of
Leader is rather like herding cats, but he has done it with panache and
style, welcoming new people, keeping egos sweet, rarely dropping a
catch and all with a big twinkle in his eyes. He is a good
advertisement for the hereditaries. Jonathan Hill has big shoes to
fill. Business’s gain will be our loss and all colleagues in the Lords
will wish him well."
Elizabeth Berridge: "Although Lord Strathclyde clearly knew the culture and practices like
the back of his hand he had not forgotten what it was like to join,
especially when you are one of the younger members of the Conservative
Benches. I greatly valued his introductory advice along with his good
sense of humour. Tom was excellent at exhibiting the dividing line
between managing government business and facilitating the self
regulation which governs the Lords’ procedure. I keenly remember Tom
trying to limit one of the debates on Lords’ reform to one day not two
(Tom clearly believed in miracles) and when it became clear that the
will of the House was for more than a day Tom privately gave way. He
will be missed."
Brian Griffiths: “Tom was a great leader of the House for which he had an instinctive ‘feel’. He was extremely approachable, always ready to listen but at the end of the day led with a very firm hand. I think the House is a better place and much stronger because of his leadership. I shall miss him in many ways but in particular for his Chairmanship of the cross-party Dorneywood Trust.”
And two tributes from non-Tories…
Lord Wood, Labour peer, and adviser to Ed Miliband:
Strathclyde led Tory peers through 14 years and four Commons
leaderships with a mixture of wit, charm and sometimes old-fashioned
bluster. Labour colleagues all use similar words to describe him:
straight, true to his word, warm and friendly (even in the most
difficult and partisan moments), supportive of colleagues experiencing
tough times. He was also a highly capable political operator, using
humour and calm steeliness to defuse political deadlock and get
government business through an increasingly fractious House. His
twinkles and chuckles, in private and at the Despatch Box, often
revealed that he did not share his party’s line (especially on Lords
reform). But he was never disloyal to the Tory Party that he loves so
much, and that he has served with such distinction."
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Crossbench peer, predicts that debates will be "infinitely poorer" if Lord Strathclyde doesn't make his voice heard
"Tom Strathclyde's decision to leave the Government and to return to his business career robs the Government and the Conservative Party of a skilful and well liked politician.
Since Margaret Thatcher offered him his first post some 25 years ago, his combination of charm and intelligence has been deployed in the House of Lords to great effect – at turns cajoling, teasing, exhorting, and explaining – and usually getting his way.
Beneath a genial and avuncular exterior lurks a formidable and skilful politician. He is also a decent man, never taking his supporters for granted and is generous to his opponents.
His famous unflabability was sorely tested over the contentious case of the dog's breakfast of Lords Reform. Whilst most of the House doubted that the Leader of the House actually believed in what was on offer, Tom Strathclyde had to remain loyal to the Government. His shrewdness and personal popularity enabled him to successfully navigate these treacherous waters.
As the Coalition Government reaches its half way mark (presuming that it runs a full term) Tom Strathclyde has left it on his own terms with his reputation in tact – no mean feat in politics. His will be a hard act for Lord Hill to follow – not least as Liberal Democrat Peers now seek to reverse the commitment to constituency boundary reforms which were the quid pro quo for the AV referendum.
Many will hope that from time to time Tom Strathclyde's voice will still be heard in House of Lords debates – not least on Scotland's future in the Union which, given his origins, remains a subject dear to his heart. If his voice is not heard in our deliberations Parliament and public life will be infinitely poorer."