By Kenneth Roy
Douglas-Homes: there are so many of them that I begin to wonder if they are factory-produced at some top-secret establishment in the Borders dedicated to the manufacture of double barrels.
One who slipped off the production line without notice – until now – was a Jamie. Jamie is said to be the son of William, who once went to jail for disobeying a military order and wrote a couple of half-decent plays, including a West End hit about a reluctant debutante. Jamie is also said to have been married to Christine, one of the five daughters of Willie Stephenson, the only Englishman in the 20th-century to have saddled the winners of both the Derby and the Grand National.
Jamie’s main interests are grand houses and fast racehorses, not necessarily in that order. I cannot tell you much more about him except that he is extremely unpopular in Cumnock.
Oh – I’ve just remembered. He is the nephew of our former prime minister, Sir Alec. My present research – I’m writing a book; isn’t everyone? – informs me that there were few Scottish candidates in the great election of 1945, the year of the first Labour landslide, more right-wing than Sir Alec, Lord Dunglass as he was at the time. He complained that it was the dirtiest campaign he had ever fought and that un-named opponents were putting it about that he was a Nazi. He lost his seat, narrowly, to a stationmaster called Tom Steele (‘Vote Steele for Strength’).
Sir Alec, however, returned in various guises and proved to have more staying power than Tom Steele. In 1963 the grey eminences of the Tory Party had a collective nervous breakdown and invited him into No 10 to succeed Harold Macmillan, who was having trouble with his prostate – the usual problem. By the time I got to meet him for tea in the House of Lords, Sir Alec had mellowed. He was now Lord Home of the Hirsel, an elder statesman and the perfect gent. I liked him.
When I say he had mellowed, what I mean is that although he was still pretty right-wing, and insisted on describing senior Labour politicians as ‘socialists’ when they hadn’t been for years, and some had never been, he was able to see some good in his political opponents. Not many, admittedly, and I did press him quite hard to be nice about them. In the end he acknowledged an affection for James Maxton and his comrades in the Independent Labour Party.
His obsession with the rain in Cumnock is also slightly odd. I have it on good authority that it has been sunny there for days, and despite the murder of the gay barman the crime rate is falling (I’ve checked the figures).
About Maxton, the leader of the only anti-war party in the 1939-45 House of Commons, Home was almost effusive. He spoke of Maxton’s artistry and finesse as a parliamentarian and about his many attractive qualities as a human being. If only Jamie – you may remember him from a few paragraphs ago – could be as generous in spirit about another Labour hero, Keir Hardie, as his uncle Alec was about Maxton.
Hardie is one of the reasons for Jamie’s intense dislike of Cumnock, an inoffensive little burgh in east Ayrshire, which he describes in a magazine article as ‘one of the dreariest places in Britain’. Other reasons include the weather – apparently it rains a lot in Cumnock; the recent murder of a gay barman – it seems gay barmen are murdered only in Cumnock – and the offensive presence on the outskirts of the town of ‘World’s Worst Dumps: No. 27’, the geographically confused Dumfries House, whose purchase and restoration was bankrolled a few years ago by the heir to the throne. According to Jamie this is right at the top of Charles’s lunatic ideas list, up there with chatting to the plants.
Although it isn’t far from here, I have no pressing interest in visiting Dumfries House – even for its 85 quid a couple St Valentine’s Day dinner next Tuesday – and maybe it really is one of the World’s Worst Dumps, although I doubt it. Clearly Jamie has never seen Falkirk Town Hall, or my old school (demolished recently in a widely applauded mercy killing), or the Scottish Parliament building.
His obsession with the rain in Cumnock is also slightly odd. I have it on good authority that it has been sunny there for days, and despite the murder of the gay barman the crime rate is falling (I’ve checked the figures). But it’s his reference to Keir Hardie which qualifies Jamie for the revised list of World’s Prize Chumps, a new entry at No. 27. Hardie, he says, was ‘not much fun’.
Heavens, it’s true he wasn’t exactly a bundle of laughs, old Keir. He was labouring by the age of seven and his family had to sell all its possessions just to eat. He campaigned for women’s suffrage, self-rule for India, graduated income tax, free schools, a shorter working day, pensions, fair rents, an end to racial segregation in South Africa and the abolition of the House of Lords. Pretty well everything he ever stood for has come to pass, except regrettably the abolition of the House of Lords. And he founded the Labour movement.
All in all, this irritating individual, who lived in Cumnock where it rains a lot, helped to prevent the rest of us from being bossed around all our lives by people like Jamie Douglas-Home. It is easy to see why Jamie thinks he wasn’t much fun.
Courtsey of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review