Last night’s astonishing (and, from my perspective, welcome) trouncing of the international statesmanship pretensions of Cameron bring to mind the travails of Lord North. Described as having the air of a blind trumpeter by Horace Walpole, Lord North was the eldest son of the Earl of Guilford and sat in the Commons as his father was still alive. At the age of 38 he became Prime Minister (in 1770) but was unfortunate enough on his watch to inherit the rebellion of the American colonies aka (in some quarters) the War of Independence.
Despite winning a general election in 1781 he was always thought to be one military disaster from losing the support of Parliament. News of the defeat at Yorktown on 25th November 1781 and the surrender of Cornwallis prompted the retort, “Oh God, it’s all over!” from North. The opposition, marshalled by Charles James Fox, demanded that heads should roll, especially those of Lord Sackville, Secretary of State for America, and the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. North tried to end the war by proposing a Conciliation plan, promising that Britain would “eliminate all disagreeable acts” if the Colonies ended the war. This was rejected by the rebels who by now were determined upon independence and opposed by the opposition. From February until mid-March 1782 the North administration survived six major votes – at each vote the number of absentees and defections from North’s own party increased.
By 22nd March 1782 North knew the game was up as he had lost the support of the Commons and his own party. In front of a packed chamber that day he rose to address the assembled MPs who were anticipating another fierce and lengthy debate only to wrong-foot them by announcing that he had resigned. MPs who had let their carriages go and had to stand in the pouring rain waiting for transportation – no tubes in those days – saw the erstwhile PM march to his waiting carriage commenting, “Sometimes it is good to be in on the secret”.
North was the first PM to be ousted by a vote of no confidence and the last PM until last night to have his foreign policy overturned by the will of Parliament.
Will Bullingdon man do the decent thing by following Lord North’s example?