For 30 years Michael Heseltine has been remembered as the man who toppled Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.
And Heseltine, at the age of 83, is at it again. Since 2010 he has served in government advisory roles to David Cameron and Theresa May. Until last week, that is, when he was sacked after backing the demand for a parliamentary vote on the final Brexit deal.
Heseltine’s dismissal is indicative of a government in crisis. That the Conservatives are so afraid of an elderly politician (of their own ilk) is a damning indictment of their own precarious position.
Heseltine’s sacking, for arguing, with cross-party support, that parliament should have a say on Brexit is Kafkaesque. The marrow of the Brexit argument was to ‘retake control from Brussels’. The UK’s not a presidency. Its authority stems from its accountability to parliament. Why does the government ignore this?
That Heseltine has been so vocal and so consistent in his support for Europe is a remarkable act of conscience common only to politicians of a particular age. Ken Clarke, another stalwart, received acclaim across the aisles for his principled objection to Brexit. Big beasts of all political colours from a better time, including John Prescott, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown, John Major and William Hague, bring presitge and experience which should and must be listened to.
A peculiar thing happens to politicians of a particular age at the end of their careers. When they’re done with government or opposition, they’re shuffled off to the House of Lords where they either languish gracefully or take to the television circuit to gently voice their view or to share their experience. The animosity, whatever it might be against them, ends and they become that most pervasively undefined of creatures, the respected ‘statesman’.
Brexit has spoken to the most political, reactionary instincts of the political class and, with some irony, the old men in grey suits have returned to provide a strong sense of wisdom in the modern age. They should not be ignored, cast aside or forgotten as relics. A little grey and time are a remarkable combination to confer sagacity in the eyes of the public, and now more than ever we need it.
No. Heseltine has done a remarkable thing and has carried the consequence with grace. And he can take it, as one hopes grandfathers would do for the sake of the greater good of their family when a feud is getting out of hand.