Friday, March 21, 2008

House Points: Moura Budberg and Percy Harris

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. You can find out more about Moura Budberg and Percy Harris on this blog.

Family stories

The banking system is collapsing around our ears. At times like this I find history a great consolation - particularly the family history of Liberal Democrat MPs.

I am indebted to Nick Clegg’s great great aunt Moura Budberg. This formidable lady knew all the leading Bolsheviks and was the lover of both Maxim Gorky and H. G. Wells. She was portrayed in the 1934 film British Agent, directed by Michael Curtiz who went on to make Casablanca.

But when she became a society hostess in London after World War II, Moura was thought to be a Soviet agent. The Moscow Embassy warned that she was a very dangerous woman who had once given Stalin an accordion. But MI5 should have listened to her: she told one of its agents that Anthony Blunt was a Communist years before he was exposed.

Moura died in 1974, late enough to have dandled the infant Nick on her knee. I am in her debt because, after writing about her for the New Statesman website last year, I was offered a regular column.

Readers of The Times will know another family story. Matthew Taylor was adopted as a baby and a few years ago decided to trace his birth mother. She turned out to be the granddaughter of a Liberal MP.

Sir Percy Harris was returned for Harborough - the constituency where I live - at a by-election in 1916. There was a wartime truce between the parties, but he still had to beat a strong Independent backed by the Daily Mail.

Although he was on the social reform wing of the party, Percy remained loyal to Asquith because he did not trust Lloyd George’s scheming. As a result he did not receive the Coupon at the 1918 general election and Harborough, which had been Liberal since 1891, was lost to the Tories.

In 1922 Percy was elected for Bethnal Green South West and was to keep the seat until 1945, serving as chief whip for many years. Even after 1945, he sat on London County Council. Percy Harris died in 1952, but his son Jack - Matthew’s grandfather - is alive in New Zealand aged 102.

So make room on the window ledge. There are many more stories to tell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And Percy's wife was a "disciple" of occultist Aleister Crowley and designed the Thoth Tarot with him!