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 the tone of my father’s letters that he was gaining no votes in replying to the questions.
He was the member of parliament for the Yeovil constituency in which our village was situated before boundary revisions moved our village to the new constituency of Somerton and Frome. (On the day of the 1983 general election, against the background of a Conservative landslide, the changes allowed the Liberal Party to capture Yeovil). He was also a member of the cabinet, serving as Minister of Transport, in the government of Edward Heath.
The thought of a government minister 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, there was a respect for the Conservative Party as a party 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. It is hard to imagine what men like the late John Peyton would have made of a Tory Prime Minister whose chief skills seem to be obfuscation and dissimulation.