No sacred cows

What more do I have to do to get a peerage?

6 February 2021

9:00 AM

6 February 2021

9:00 AM

Watching Lord Hannan of Kingsclere being introduced in the House of Lords on Monday was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I’m delighted for Dan. He is one of the heroes of Brexit, and his impromptu speech about Margaret Thatcher in the pub following her memorial service brought a tear to my eye (you can find his speech on YouTube). But on the other, I can’t help thinking: where’s my bloody peerage? I’ve edited this and that, co-founded four free schools, served on the boards of numerous charities and set up the Free Speech Union. I was the chief exec of a high-profile charity, for Christ’s sake, and my immediate predecessor got a CBE. I haven’t even got a lousy MBE. All the more surprising given that I must be one of the few potential recipients who wouldn’t denounce the British Empire as soon as he pocketed the gong.

I thought my elevation to the Lords might happen when Boris became Prime Minister. Up until that point, I’d given him more tobacco enemas than any other journalist in Fleet Street. (Blown smoke up his arse.) I even wrote a 5,000-word hagiography for an Australian magazine entitled ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. Indeed, I laid on the oil so thick in that piece I’m now worried that when I’m standing in front of St Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s going to bring it up: ‘You did plenty of good works, you’ve been a decent husband and father and you always gave money to beggars. But on the other hand, you did write that 5,000-word piece about Boris in which you compared him to Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Sorry mate, it’s down you go.’

It was Boris who got my hopes up. In September of 2011, when he was Mayor of London, he opened the first free school I helped set up. He made quite a good joke as he cut the ribbon. ‘The Secretary of State for Education has given a new word to the English language,’ he said, referring to our mutual friend. ‘We give, they gave, he Gove — he Gove us this school.’

Afterwards, as he was getting into his chauffeur-driven car, he asked me if I’d like to be in the House of Lords. ‘We need more people like you,’ he said.

‘Don’t I have to give a million quid to the Tory party first?’

‘Leave it with me,’ he said, touching his nose.

I can’t say I’m particularly enamoured by the ermine, or even the £305 daily attendance allowance. No, the big attraction of the Upper House is that it would force Caroline to take my name. When we got married she said she’d never change her name, but I persuaded her to make one exception: if I became a lord, she’d become Lady Young. She agreed to this because she thought it would never happen, whereas I congratulated myself on having pulled a fast one. Twenty years later, she’s proving to be a better fortune teller than me.

Given how critical I’ve been of Boris since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, I’ve now abandoned all hope. Bloody typical of me. I’ve been a massive Boris backer since I campaigned for him to become president of the Oxford Union in 1985; then, 35 years later, when he’s finally in a position to reward his loyal supporters, I start attacking him in the press.

It was the same story with David Cameron. We were at Brasenose together and when he was still prime minister I told him about the shock I’d received when I returned for a college reunion and Dave Ramsden — a contemporary of ours and now deputy governor of the Bank of England — let slip he’d been given a knighthood. ‘Come on, Prime Minister,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to stick me in the Lords so I can one-up him at the next Brase-nose gaudy.’ He laughed, but I told him I was in deadly earnest. I thought there might be a sliver of a chance until we ended up on different sides during the EU referendum. Another bridge burnt.

I realise the prospect of me becoming Lord Young of Acton is about as likely as Katie Hopkins being made a Dame, but whenever a new list of honours comes out I cannot help running my eye down it and thinking: ‘Why’s that oxygen thief being given that? He’s achieved nothing compared with me.’ It’s one of the many unpleasant things about growing old — the furious sense of injustice whenever one of your peers is recognised for their achievements.

My best hope is to ingratiate myself with Boris’s successor, who-ever that might be. But knowing me, I’d just pick a fight with him as soon as he set foot in No. 10.

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