He came to open the school fete one summer. There was an excitement about his visit.
English members of parliament had large constituencies of eighty thousand or more voters. The expectations of their constituents were that members of parliament were to do their work in parliament. If one had a problem with which it was thought they might be able to offer help or advice, then the thing to do was to write a letter and they would respond on paper embossed with the distinctive House of Commons portcullis. There were such letters in our house, my father was a man who would have put pen to paper and the member of parliament would have responded even though he would have been aware by my fathers tone that he was gaining no votes in replying to the questions.
Not only was he the member of parliament for the Yeovil constituency in which our village was situated before boundary revisions moved it, he was also a member of the cabinet in the government of Edward Heath. The thought of the minister for transport coming to our school was exciting, our village was not the most significant of places and our school had only forty pupils. Given the weight of ministerial and parliamentary work in those times before members of parliament had teams of assistants, there must have been many more attractive ways of spending a Saturday.
John Peyton duly arrived to open the fete, saying the requisite few words appropriate to such occasions. It was a disappointment to a primary school boy, he was not an imposing or dramatic figure. He might have been a country doctor or solicitor. Exciting or not, Conservative or not, my family respected him. Whatever they thought about the party’s policies, their was a respect for the Conservative Party as one that had integrity and that would be prudent in its management of the economy. There was no love for the government, but there was an expectation that it would act responsibly.
It is against that background of trust, even if it was frequently coupled with dislike, that their comes a sense of complete bafflement at the present Conservative administration. John Peyton and his cabinet colleagues would have recoiled at the unthinking populism to which the present party has succumbed. Being a Financial Times subscriber, it is astonishing to read the daily news of what business and economic leaders are expecting next year – today’s news includes the prospect of the M26 being used as a holding zone for lorries awaiting customs clearance in the post-Brexit era and the RAF being used to deliver food and medical supplies after the collapse of normal networks. This is not some radical newspaper, this is the most conservative part of all.
The late member of parliament for Yeovil might have been as baffled as I am.