Do you ever get bored with the mincing correctness of politics these days? I have to confess I’ve never been all that interested at the best of times, so I’m no kind of expert on these matters. However it does feel like there’s a lot of games of conkers going on in the chambers of elected members across the land.
Yesterday a friend and I visited House of the Binns, near Linlithgow – very close to home for both of us but neither of us had ever been before – it’s always the way. It was a very pleasant visit – a fine old laird’s house of the early 17th Century, full of interesting portraits and charming mismatched old china, and inhabiting a lovely spot looking down over the Firth of Forth (‘Binns’ apparently means something like ‘Bens’ – ie hills – the estate is built on two hills). It is the family home of the Dalyell family – Tam Dalyell was Labour MP for Linlithgow from 1962 to 2005. Our guide, a Grangemouth lady who has been guiding for over 15 years, was knowledgeable and entertaining, and dropped in some nice personal opinions and experiences.
We were graced by a personal appearance of Dalyell himself. Now over 80, he excused himself to check on the welfare of his bees, then shuffled off again. Among the many portraits on show, there were copies of press cartoons highlighting his political career as a ‘dogged crusader’. One of the best was of Dalyell with his teeth clamped round a woman’s ankle , handbag brandished nearby – Maggie Thatcher. Apparently he was twice suspended from the House of Commons for calling her a liar, and refusing to retract the accusation. He compared the Falklands campaign to ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’. Although a ready challenge to the conservative governments of his day, he was no less critical of New Labour, and staunchly declared himself ‘Ancient Labour’.
How exciting to come into contact with landed gentry who care about the masses. And it gets better. Tam Dalyell is married to Kathleen Wheatley, whose father, Lord Wheatley, was Labour MP for Edinburgh for many years, and established the Legal Aid system in Scotland. He was a lifelong Roman Catholic, and at his memorial service in 1988, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, was disciplined by his church for attending Lord Wheatley’s service in the catholic church.
I don’t really care that much what denomination people belong to or what beliefs they profess. But I love it when people rise above the often-stifling and misguided institutions of formal religion and do the right thing. And ditto with politics. Yesterday was a refreshing blast of rebelry and I hope it hasn’t gone from public life.