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