David Cameron will feel Lord Strathclyde's loss

 

David Cameron will feel Lord Strathclyde's loss keenly after his decision to step down from the cabinet and his post as leader of the House of Lords.

He is a safe pair of hands who, in a long political career, has hardly ever dropped the ball. Behind a jovial demeanour, he is one of the cabinet's shrewdest political operators.

He is also one of the most experienced voices around the table. Most prime ministers do not understand the House of Lords. They resent it when it gives them trouble and disrupts their legislation. So Mr Cameron will miss Lord Strathclyde, I am told, above all because under him, the Lords has not given No 10 much trouble.

His skill was his ability to keep two masters happy, balancing the needs both of his party leader and also his party's peers.

Over the years he was repeatedly called upon to smooth feathers in the Lords that had been ruffled by the threat of reform - despite being one of the few Tory peers who supported the principle of a more democratic Lords. And equally he has calmed successive party leaders and their advisers as they fretted about what their rebellious peers were up to.

Lord Strathclyde leaves cabinet

  • Lord Strathclyde is standing down from the cabinet at the age of 52. He is going voluntarily while he still has time to pursue a second career in business. His friends insist there is absolutely no political reason for his departure. It is just, they say, that he feels he has done his time.
  • It is 25 years since Margaret Thatcher gave him his first job as a whip and he has been on the Conservative front bench ever since. He has served six party leaders, including three prime ministers. He has been the Tory leader in the Lords for an extraordinary 14 years since his predecessor Lord Cranborne was sacked by William Hague in 1998 for "running in like an ill-trained spaniel" and negotiating secretly with Tony Blair over Lords' reform.

The irony is that after seeing off the latest attempted Lords reform that would have forced him to leave, Lord Strathclyde is going of his own accord.

He is being replaced by Lord Hill who is new to the Lords but old to politics. He was made a peer only in 2010 but began his political life at the Conservative research department in the 1980s.

Lord Hill is one of a select group of survivors from the Downing Street bunker in the 1990s, helping John Major to win the 1992 election before serving as his political secretary.

Crucially, he was the No 10 point man during the Maastricht rebellion, so he will be in a good position to advise Mr Cameron on how to handle Tory dissent over Europe.

Since then Lord Hill has worked in public affairs for firms like Bell Pottinger and Quiller Consultants. In a previous life, he was a special adviser to his new cabinet colleague Ken Clarke when he was at education and health.

The key to understanding Lord Hill, I am told, is that he is a backroom deliverer. Where Lord Strathclyde pacified a troublesome Lords with jovial good humour, Lord Hill will instead use softly spoken reason. He will need it.

Update: Labour would, of course, question Lord Strathclyde's success in his job, pointing out that he has presided over 59 government defeats in the Lords since 2010.

 
James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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