DOUGLAS HURD MEMOIRS by Douglas Hurd (Rt Hon. Lord Hurd of Westwell)

Abacus, 2004. First published by Little Brown, 2003. ISBN 0-349-11828-0

Unlike many political autobiographies Douglas Hurd's autobiography is not self serving - he sets out with good humour and clarity to show how it really was.

He was Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Northern Ireland Secretary and served as a minister of state in the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. He was also political secretary to Edward Heath for four years from 1970.

These positions gave him an unrivalled insider view of British politics at a critical time as the country shook off the catastrophe of Marxist Socialism. The Conservative government took the lead in implementing the free market ideas of Hayek and Friedman.

Of course Margaret Thatcher is the main character here and he greatly admires her talent and hard work. He supported her stand against abusive trade union power while at the same time being uncomfortable with her lack of inclusiveness or sympathy for "caring" Conservatism. He is more in tune with Edward Heath's ideas, despite their failure at the time to fix Britain's serious problems, exemplified by the NUM (National Union of Miners).

Hurd stresses that his father was only a tenant farmer and that a scholarship paid for his Eton education, but nevertheless he did go there, and was a model pupil, moving on seamlessly to Trinity College Cambridge and the foreign office.

He had ambition and ability. As scholarships, prizes and promotion came within reach he would go for them and win - a notable victory being the Newcastle Scholarship in the classics at Eton. This may give the impression of a sharp elbowed swat, but what (surprisingly) appears is a general niceness and good humour that is confirmed independently by his political colleagues and opponents. (top)

Eton provided him with lifelong friendships, and he sees it as the most formative period in his life along with his youth in the idyllic setting of Rainscombe Farm, his family home on the Wiltshire downs.

Douglas Hurd's true vocation was politics, rather than the foreign office, and when, after some difficulty, he finally became an M.P,. he followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps.

The "political" parts of the story covering the period when he held office (chapters VI and VII) are probably the most interesting, although I love all of this book. He has a good eye for detail, and it is a surprise to hear how someone can become a cabinet minister with virtually no hand over and be expected to get on with it.

The constant pressure on government ministers is also described very well together with, for example, the different ways of being a cabinet minister; "One set are useless and kept going by their civil servants: they do not last long. Another set are centralisers. Loving detail, they gather it relentlessly into themselves. Such ministers can thrive only if they have trained their minds to absorb formidable quantities of facts and figures and transmute them into decisions. ...Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan....both lawyers... . The third set prefer to delegate responsibility to others. They try, never with total success, to push most of the detail away from their desks and concentrate on the core of the problem....Willie Whitelaw and Peter Carrington ..." - and Douglas Hurd himself.

A book like this will be of more interest to people who who lived in the U.K. through this period and who know something about British politics, but neverthless it still has a strong general appeal. Douglas Hurd lived and worked in Peking, New York, London and Rome and you get a talented writer observing these cities along with top level E.E.C. and U.S. diplomacy including German reunification and Iraq. 

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