Discretion and tact have never been John Laird’s close friends. Good judgment has been a positive stranger. Some of his causes like Ulster Scots were accompanied by a fair amount of indulgence, as all the world knew. John was not part of the temperance wing of Unionism. Reviewing his artlessly revealing autobiography I described him as Ulster Unionism’s jester, a word less open to misunderstanding than clown or fool. I stand by that. Jesters or clowns are exaggerated performers who wallow in sentimentality and behind their knockabout lies a barely concealed sadness. Among many others John will have embarrassed his fellow Ulsterman Robin Eames the former archbishop, who is a member of the House Standards Committee which has suspended him from the Lords for four months. Robin and I both were in the throng attending his book launch in the Lords.
I declare a small interest. He was once my neighbour in Belfast and a very good neighbour he was. Like many others I’ve enjoyed his generous hospitality and company. He’s a very hard man to dislike even by many who warily kept their distance. But he never seemed able to make up his mind whether to be one of the club or a rebel, an exaggerated example perhaps of an Ulster Unionist out of his comfort zone. Even his contributions seemed like attention seeking. He asked nearly 300 written parliamentary questions last year He was a minor rebel against the Lords’ residual stuffiness and a critic of others’ abuses. In the end he fell for abusing the protection and privilege he relied on to give him a platform.
To adapt Clement Attlee’s famous verdict on a gabby colleague, a very long period of silence from him would be welcome. The time has come for John Laird to lay aside his ermine and lead a quiet life, for the sake of what’s left of his reputation and his health. It will be easier for his true friends to stick by him. Being a member of the House of Lords was beyond his measure and it went to his head.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London