One of the great joys of being a Suffolk MP for
eighteen years was to be able to represent Newmarket in the House of Commons.
However, it did not start at all well. The
French and Irish had obtained a generous VAT derogation from the European
Commission in respect of their horse racing and training industries, ahead of
the introduction of Single European Market legislation. Bluntly, it looked as
if much of our historic racing industry would depart these shores lock, stock
and barrel. A vigorous campaign was fought, but mercifully it was in a
subsequent Budget that Norman Lamont opened the way for racing to survive and
prosper. It is to him that I, as the then local MP, and the racing industry,
remain eternally grateful.
Because of the high profile campaign, I got to
know well all the main players in racing in Newmarket. All except Henry Cecil.
Early one morning, I was watching racehorses exercising on Warren Hill, above
Newmarket. Leading a long line of horses, the biggest in the town, was the man
himself. I introduced myself to him and he invited me back to his house. With
boyish enthusiasm, he showed me the dressage ring he had built for his wife and
his enormous and beautifully presented collection of miniature soldiers. But
his overwhelming equine passion manifested itself when he showed me the sacks
of different feed for his beloved horses, meticulously describing the quality
and purpose of each, and exactly where the feed came from, here or abroad. It
was like watching a Bond Street jeweller handling precious gems. In due course,
I departed after a wonderfully entertaining and interesting morning, but
completely convinced that Henry had not the faintest idea who I was .
His subsequent personal and professional
decline was truly horrific. Everything possible went wrong for him, and he
seemed to fade from the scene entirely. It was widely believed that he would
never recover from these dreadful years, but backed loyally by his friends and
supporters, he overcame this dark period and slowly began to re-emerge. His phoenix-like recovery was simply magnificent. With his string of British Classic winners, it was he who more latterly trained the incomparable Frankel.
During the last Parliament, I invited George
Osborne, then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to find out about the racing
industry in Newmarket. He was introduced to racing’s luminaries that day,
trainers and jockeys. I then spied Henry, and one of our hosts said to him
‘Henry, come and meet George Osborne’. A totally blank expression descended on
his face, as he replied ‘Who is George Osborne?’ Our host said in turn ‘For
goodness sake Henry, where have you been?’ Of course they met and chatted
agreeably. I never told George this story at the time, which I regret, because
of course he characteristically would have been greatly amused by it.
On the whole, racing folk are not much
interested in politics, but instinctively support and cherish those who support
them. To those of us who are immersed in politics, there is something rather
engaging about somebody of such distinction who had no idea who their local MP
was, or indeed the future Chancellor. He was one of the greatest trainers ever
and a great adornment to our national life, and somebody who knew so fully the
snakes and ladders of life itself.