December 30 2011
As the only son of a wealthy BBC producer and a tub-thumping Marxist mother, Eddie Beveridge Stephenson recognised that socialism was his birthright. He had attended an expensive independent north London school and read politics and economics at the University of Stockport, where he embraced his inheritance and joined the college’s International Socialists’ Society (ISS).
He took part in a score of ISS demonstrations, attended most of the dull ISS meetings and even spent time sucking up to the aggressively proletarian ISS chairman, Kevin Evans, before he was refused membership to the executive committee on the grounds that he was “too posh”. It was clear to Eddie that the ISS was a sort of Bullingdon Club for clever state-school children more interested in beer and bonking than bolshevism, and he was forced to accepted that despite his enthusiasm for left-wing causes and his recently acquired Thames Estuary twang he would forever be thought of by the actual working class as a “champagne socialist”.
When he came down from university he sensibly kept his political persuasions to himself, rediscovered his cut-glass accent and got a job as a lobbyist. Eddie was suited to lobbying. He moved easily among Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs with whom he exchanged his watered-down views and on whom he lavished his generous expenses.
After a few years he struck out on his own and found, ironically, that he was now spending considerably more of his time with the Tories. Soon any political views he might once have held began to fade under a welter of long lunches, shooting parties, foreign trips and other perks that he enjoyed with posh parliamentarians.
As Eddie’s business blossomed, his radical ISS days and his liberal Hampstead roots were abandoned. He reinvented himself as the landed Edward Stephenson with a terraced house in Chelsea and a large country estate. He was, however, desperate for a title and the respect that went with it.
Getting a life peerage seemed to Eddie to be very easy if you were a senior judge, civil servant, senior officer in the armed forces, a member of the House of Commons who’d served at least 10 years, or a noted scientist, writer or artist. None of the above applied to Eddie. He thought he might wangle a “handle” with a bung in the right place, but was assured by the respected Earl Northleach that that was absolutely not the way to do it.
“I shall tell you, dear boy, that all one has to do to get into the Lords nowadays is to be noticed by a prime minister and his cronies,” confided the hereditary peer. (It was true the prime minister had ennobled more than 100 people in his first year in office.)
Eddie followed Earl Northleach’s “advice”. After considerable high-profile brown-nosing, some late-night socialising with the right people and perhaps a little political arm-twisting, Edward Beveridge Stephenson finally received a letter from Her Majesty The Queen suggesting that, if he were gracious enough to accept a title, he would be ennobled.
He accepted with alacrity. And while he was sworn to secrecy until the formal announcement in the New Year’s Honours list, he could not resist contacting the Garter King of Arms at the College of Heralds to ensure there was not another Baron Edward Stephenson of North London possessing the title that he had chosen for himself.
The College also assured him that no one shared his newly acquired motto “ad astra per aspera” (to the stars through difficulty). He decided that his crest would be a talbot hunting dog, which should scotch any suggestion that he had been a fanatical member of the League Against Cruel Sports in a past life.
The day he was admitted to the Lords, dressed in his scarlet, gold and ermine robes, he was as proud as the former Labour leader Michael Foot must have been when he sported his donkey jacket at the Cenotaph. Or at least he was until he overheard Earl Northleach remarking cheerfully to Baron Kevin Evans of Stockport, “One abhors the fact that the House of Lords is almost entirely occupied by the fiendish bourgeoisie these days.”