Saturday, February 21, 2004

Small wonder that sometimes government could seem to be almost a family business: one-tenth of cabinet members between 1868 and 1955 were themselves sons of ministers. The administration put together by Lord Salisbury (Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil) after the 1900 General Election contained so many members of his own family that it was known as the 'Hotel Cecil'; the career of his Chief Secretary for Ireland is much less memorable than the quip about how he got the job: 'Bob's your uncle.' Lord Grey's Whig administration of 1830-34, which drive the Great Reform Act through parliament, included seven members of his own family. His great-great-nephew was Sir Edward Grey, later Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War. It was he, looking out of the Foreign Secretary's office at dusk in St James's Park, who remarked in August 1914 that 'The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our life.' Reading his biography, one is baffled as to why he was in public life at all: he clearly would have been much happier fly-fishing or birdwatching. An explanation is given by the Associated Press obituary on his death in 1933. 'Public life drew him, not because he had a tatse for it, but because he was one of the Greys of Northumberland, a member of the great governing class of Britain.'

Jeremy Paxman, The Political Animal (26-27)

No comments: