Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Auberon Waugh backed the Liberal party

One of the New Statesman's halcyon periods was during the 1970s under the editorship of Anthony Howard, who sadly died just before Christmas. Among the more unlikely contributors Howard recruited was Auberon Waugh, who did some of his best writing for there , precisely because he was going against the grain of his readers' views.

Waugh died nearly ten years ago, but although he was probably the funniest journalist of his generation, newspaper and magazine scribblings have a short shelf-life and all the anthologies of his work published in his lifetime seem to be out of print. So it is good news that a new collection of his articles was published earlier this year, even those of us who own previous volumes and will no doubt find the same material repeated.

The reason Waugh was funny was because he didn't take politics and politicians seriously, which made him more successful at getting under the skin of leftists and liberals than if he had been a mere right-wing polemicist. He held Liberals and Lib Dems in particular disdain, leading the charge against Jeremy Thorpe in the 1970s and never forgiving Shirley Williams for her role in the comprehensivisation of secondary schools.

But in my meanderings through the historical archive of The Times I have found one occasion on which he specifically endorsed the Liberal party. Waugh was much exercised by the plight of the Biafrans in the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-70 during which both the Labour government and the Conservative opposition supported the Nigerian Federal government.

In protest, Waugh threatened to stand as an independent pro-Biafran candidate in the 1970 Bridgwater by-election, but in the end withdrew, explaining in a letter to The Times on 20 January:

May I use the hospitality of your columns to urge those voters in Bridgwater who expressed their support for my candidature... to support instead the Liberal candidate, as representing the only political party which carried itself with honour throughout this disgusting episode in our nation's history?

Sadly, Waugh's endorsement didn't do the Liberals much good. The Liberal vote fell by 5% and the candidate only narrowly saved his deposit.

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