Harrow County School for Boys


by Richard Buckley

I have always held ‘conservative’ views and joined Wembley Young Conservatives in 1962 when I was fifteen. When HCS held a mock election to mirror the General Election of 15th October 1964, I was in the 5th Form and expected to campaign on behalf of whichever 6th Former emerged as Conservative candidate. However, for some reason, no member of the 6th Form came forward so, rather to my surprise, I found myself nominated as Conservative candidate.

There were three other candidates. Duckett stood for Labour and Rook was an Independent.  Alan Iny, whom I had been at primary school with and who, sadly, was to die when a young man, was a rather dignified ‘New Scientist’ candidate. There was no Liberal candidate, for which I was grateful. Following the 1962 Orpington by-election, a Liberal candidate could have been a strong contender. 

I must confess I don’t remember that much about the campaign although no doubt there were hustings and party meetings.

I know I flooded the school with literature obtained from Anthony Grant, the Conservative candidate for Harrow Central who went on to win the seat at the election proper. Mr. Grant offered to come and speak for me but this was vetoed by Dr. Simpson.

I organised a rally in the outer quad which whipped the 1st Formers up into such a frenzy that I hastily abandoned it.

One day I asked the Duty Master, Mr. Attridge, to read out a notice in Assembly of a meeting which suggested that everyone attending would get a signed photograph of Caroline Maudling, the glamorous daughter of the then Tory Chancellor. This got a big laugh.

The campaign was enlivened by an anarchist cell in the school which persuaded 117 voters to spoil their ballot papers. One of the members of staff scrutinising the count, I think it was Fred Bilson, was thrilled at this typical example of HCS subversion (no doubt undertaken by people wearing shortie overcoats and suede shoes) and compared it, rather doubtfully in my opinion, to a write-in campaign in a US presidential primary.

Harold Wilson won the national election for Labour by a whisker and with the supposed radicalism of youth one would have expected HCS to go the same way. But, surprisingly, I won HCS against the trend with 48 % of the vote. The Conservative Party in the real election won 43.4% of the vote nationally with Labour taking 44.1%.

Polling took place a week before the election proper, on Thursday 8th October. Votes cast were as follows:

Buckley, R.W. (Conservative)  270   48%
Duckett, M. G. (Labour) 158   28%   
Rook, J. (Independent)  87  15%
Iny, A. (New Scientist) 48 9%
Conservative majority 112

Alan Iny lost his deposit but I can’t remember how much we had to put up in the first place, if anything.

Jim Golland commented in the next edition of Gaytonian that ‘the School showed itself to be depressingly conventional in that it presumably followed the feelings of a majority of the parents by voting for the Conservative candidate’. I thought this was distinctly ungenerous but it was another thirty years before I had the chance to tell him!

This victory should have been the first step in a successful political career. I was a Tory councillor in my 20s and fought the safe Labour seat of Neath at the 1983 General Election. Funnily enough, an Independent candidate in Neath stood on much the same ‘rational science’ platform as Alan Iny had all those years before.

I always thought that eventually I would become a Conservative MP. But it was not to be.

In 1982 I was short listed for Bradford North but withdrew on the grounds that it was too far away and unwinnable. In 1983 we . . . won it. In 1987, I came near to being selected for a number of safe Conservative seats (although they were all lost in the debacle of 1997) but ultimately the Tory nominations for Wanstead & Woodford, Wimbledon and, the one I really wanted, Harrow West all slipped through my fingers.

When it became clear that I was unlikely to get into the House of Commons, I laid heavy hints in the appropriate quarters that I wouldn’t mind becoming a working peer. “Lord Buckley of Brent”, mused one party grandee, “Yes, it has a certain ring”. But that was not to be either.

I went back into local government in 1990 and became a player in that most dysfunctional of local authorities, Brent (or Bent as it is often known, albeit unfairly) when it was controlled for a bizarre five years by what Private Eye described as the only Conservative – Black Power coalition in the world.

Curiously, visiting junior ministers, most of whom had served in local government before entering Parliament, would often express the view, off the record of course and out of earshot of their private secretaries, that when they had been senior Councillors or Council Leaders, they had had real power. As junior ministers they had little power, filled up their time with pointless visits, toed the Government line and generally did as they were told!

Be that as it may, ultimately local government is to Parliament what amateur dramatics are to the West End stage. It is a poor substitute for the real thing and whilst I did some useful work promoting employment and economic development in the Borough, I was glad to call it a day after two terms.

Whilst quite a few Old Gaytonians (and the odd member of staff) have stood for Parliament, to my knowledge only Michael Portillo and Donald Box, who won Cardiff North for the Tories in 1959, have been elected.

My political ambition has gone, no doubt rationalised out of existence by age and failure and a growing belief that politicians are best employed doing very little and legislating even less. But the idea that one day you could be a power in the land never really goes away. I now live in one of those rare constituencies which even in 1997 had a five figure Tory majority. Would I take it on in the unlikely event of it being offered to me? No. Of course not. No way. Well, possibly. Oh, all right then.

* * * * *

RWB / February 2004

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