Vis­count Long

Af­fa­ble Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment whip in the House of Lords who held the same of­fice for 18 years

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

THE 4TH VIS­COUNT LONG, who has died aged 88, was a for­mer Lord-in­wait­ing (gov­ern­ment whip) in the House of Lords un­der Mar­garet Thatcher and John Ma­jor and, ac­cord­ing to Alis­tair Cooke (now Lord Lex­den), star con­trib­u­tor to The Daily Tele­graph’s let­ters page, the only peer to have held of­fice through­out the Tories’ 18 years in gov­ern­ment.

Well liked and re­spected by his fel­low peers and by Lords’ staff, Lord Long was the “se­nior” of the ju­nior gov­ern­ment whips in the up­per house. He had an in­stinc­tive feel for the mood on the red benches and was quick to alert his col­leagues to loom­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. In his early days as a whip he reg­u­larly an­swered ques­tions and played his part in han­dling de­bates and sec­ondary leg­is­la­tion, which he did with a light touch.

He was not a nat­u­ral or­a­tor, how­ever, and when in 1998 he rose to de­mand ac­tion on dis­carded chew­ing gum – a prob­lem he said was turn­ing Bri­tain’s ur­ban land­scape into “spot­ted dick” after he had found a ball of the stuff stuck to his shoe in the cham­ber – it was his first in­ter­ven­tion in the House for 15 years. He re­fused to be­lieve that one of his fel­low peers was re­spon­si­ble, pre­fer­ring to blame the un­pleas­ant in­ci­dent on tourists.

Richard Gerard Long was born in Lon­don on Jan­uary 30 1929 into a prom­i­nent Wilt­shire dy­nasty whose sta­tus and wealth had been es­tab­lished thanks to grants be­stowed by Henry VIII after the Dis­so­lu­tion. He was brought up at Steeple Ash­ton Manor.

The vis­countcy had been cre­ated in 1921 for Wal­ter Long, who had served as a Con­ser­va­tive MP for North Wilt­shire and as Sec­re­tary of State for the Colonies and First Lord of the Ad­mi­ralty. In 1911 Wal­ter Long had been a Tory lead­er­ship can­di­date (Bonar Law was cho­sen after he stood down). Be­fore Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence, the Longs also had es­tates in south­ern Ire­land and Wal­ter Long was a lead­ing op­po­nent of Home Rule.

By the time the First Vis­count died in 1924 his el­dest son had been killed in ac­tion in 1917. His grand­son, the Sec­ond Vis­count, would be killed in ac­tion in 1944, to be suc­ceeded by Richard’s father Eric, a younger son of the First Vis­count, a flam­boy­ant char­ac­ter who would stride through Steeple Ash­ton sport­ing an enor­mous dahlia in his but­ton­hole.

From 1927 to 1931 Eric Long had rep­re­sented West­bury in Par­lia­ment as a Con­ser­va­tive. He and his wife Gwen­do­line had four chil­dren, of whom Richard was the third (and sec­ond son). Shortly after his birth the chil­dren were taken to Trow­bridge Town Hall to hear the count for the 1929 gen­eral elec­tion. When their father nar­rowly won the vote after three re­counts he was so ex­cited that he grabbed baby Richard from his nurse’s arms to wave to the crowd.

By the time his father in­her­ited the vis­countcy, Richard’s elder brother, Wal­ter, had been drowned on ac­tive ser­vice in Greece.

Richard was ed­u­cated at Har­row and did his Na­tional Ser­vice with the 1st and 2nd Bat­tal­ions of the Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment from 1947 to 1949.

In 1957 he mar­ried Mar­garet Frazer, who would be de­scribed in an obituary as a “spir­i­tual seeker and au­thor who em­braced the Or­tho­dox Church and led an un­con­ven­tional life”. They moved to Cookham, Berk­shire, and had three chil­dren: Sarah, who be­came a con­tem­po­rary art dealer, Char­lotte, who showed prom­ise as a child actress, and Jamie, a pho­tog­ra­pher, who was af­fected by thalido­mide. It be­came a lengthy strug­gle for the Longs to en­sure that Jamie had the sup­port to en­able him to lead as nor­mal a life as pos­si­ble.

Richard in­her­ited the vis­countcy on his father’s death in 1967 and the fam­ily moved to Steeple Ash­ton Manor. Be­fore his death, how­ever, his father had lost much of his for­tune in the City and in con­se­quence the manor had fallen on hard times. When Richard and Mar­garet ar­rived, there were naked light bulbs hang­ing from the ceil­ing, net­tles grow­ing be­tween the scullery flag­stones and feral cats eat­ing scraps from the crested plates. A black iron kitchen range pro­vided the only heat­ing.

Over the next few years Mar­garet ren­o­vated the manor with flair and founded a prop­erty com­pany which over­saw the restora­tion of sev­eral derelict cot­tages. Then came the prop­erty crisis of the early 1970s and the busi­ness folded. Loss of the manor fol­lowed and a move to a more hum­ble abode in Brad­ford on Avon. The Longs’ sad­ness was com­pounded in 1984 when Char­lotte was killed in a mo­tor­ing ac­ci­dent aged 18. Their mar­riage ended shortly after­wards.

Lord Long made his maiden speech dur­ing a de­bate on civil de­fence pol­icy in 1968 and served as an Opposition Whip in the Lords from 1974 to 1979.

His sec­ond mar­riage, to Cather­ine Miles-ede, was also dis­solved, and in 1990 he mar­ried, thirdly, He­len Flem­ing-gib­bons. After their mar­riage they moved into her Hert­ford­shire house, Owles Hall.

Lord Long lost his seat in Par­lia­ment after the pass­ing of the House of Lords Act 1999, and after­wards the Longs bought Towan Is­land, a spec­tac­u­lar 80ft rock just off the coast of Newquay, Corn­wall, with a small house and a pri­vate 100-ft long sus­pen­sion bridge to at­tach it to the main­land. To­gether they made it into a spec­tac­u­lar home, though when the rock was hit by gales Lord Long some­times had to crawl across the sway­ing bridge, and when Ann Wid­de­combe paid a visit, she re­fused to cross, so the Longs had to meet her in a ho­tel in­stead.

In 2006 they moved to a house with ex­ten­sive gar­dens in Jed­burgh in the Bor­ders where Lord Long had great fun on his sit-on mower and tend­ing his veg­eta­bles.

Wher­ever he lived, Lord Long made friends eas­ily. He loved his dogs, fol­lowed his lo­cal fox­hounds (in his youth he had rid­den with the Avon Vale hunt), en­joyed Scotch whisky and in later life danced Scot­tish reels. He was ap­pointed CBE in 1993.

He is sur­vived by his wife and two chil­dren. His son, James Richard Long, born in 1960, in­her­its the vis­countcy.

The 4th Vis­count Long, born Jan­uary 30 1929, died June 13 2017

Lord Long: de­manded ac­tion on the scourge of dis­carded chew­ing gum after find­ing some stuck to his shoe

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