Lord Hailsham's coded diary

During the later part of his life Quintin Hogg - Lord Hailsham - kept an occasional political and personal diary, some of it in a form of shorthand system called 'Speedwriting' which he seems to have used as much for security as saving time. has been granted exclusive rights to publish extracts online.

We have successfully translated a number of the coded entries, with very generous help from some cryptanalysts at G.C.H.Q working in their spare time, the "Kryptos Society".

Can you help us translate the rest? Email the address below if you think you could.

biography & overview

Hailsham as Lord Chancellor

Quintin Hogg, Lord Hailsham (1907-2001), was a Conservative frontbencher and Cabinet Minister for more than 30 years, a semi-permanent fixture of the political scene who contrived, nonetheless, never to pass unnoticed. Briefly seen as a possible leader of the party in 1963, his eccentricity, excitability and lawyerly erudition made him an implausible candidate for the very highest office, though the same attributes made him among the most interesting and engaging political figures of his time. He was an influential minister in the government of Harold Macmillan, 1957-63, and became the twentieth century's longest-serving Lord Chancellor, holding the position under Edward Heath 1970-74 and Margaret Thatcher 1979-87, during which period he played a dominant role in Conservative thinking on legal matters, if not the constitution (where the arguments over devolution, for example, often left him at odds with colleagues).

The Hoggs were a twentieth century political dynasty. Hailsham's father, Douglas, had been Lord Chancellor before him and a close confidante of Stanley Baldwin, while Hailsham's eldest son, also named Douglas, became a Cabinet Minister under John Major. Winning many of Oxford's glittering prizes, culminating in a fellowship at All Souls, Hailsham became a barrister before entering the Commons at the intensely controversial Oxford by-election in 1938, defeating an anti-appeasement candidate in the form of the left-leaning Master of Balliol, A.D. Lindsay, Britain's agonies over policy towards the Nazis playing out against the backdrop of university politics. Such early exposure to national attention perhaps encouraged a certain showmanship in Hailsham's character.

Tagged an appeaser, he belied the reputation on 8 May 1940 by voting against Chamberlain's government in the confidence motion that precipated the latter's resignation and the formation of the Churchill coaltion. Hailsham then spent several years on active service in the Middle East, where he first kept a diary. (The volume covering his wartime experiences would probably merit publication in itself.) Returning to the Commons due to illness, he was a founder, with Lord Hinchingbrooke, of the Tory Reform Committee and was generally reckoned a rising hope of the progressive wing of the party, and one of its ablest polemicists.

But Hailsham's political prospects were always limited by his standing in line to inherit a peerage, which would force his departure from the Commons on his father's death (an event which took place in 1950). During the Conservative Governments of 1951-64 he held a succession of significant but not quite crucial jobs, including the Admirality (during the Suez Crisis), Education, Science, the Lord Privy Seal and Leadership of the House of Lords, as well as the Party Chairmanship. By 1963, however, legislation was working its way through Parliament to allow peers to disclaim their titles, designed ostensibly to accommodate Tony Benn but naturally of far greater application to the Conservative Party than Labour. Hailsham now began to nourish the dream that he might succeed Macmillan as Prime Minister. At one point Macmillan seems to have encouraged him in the hope, though whether he ever really saw Hailsham in this way is debatable, and if he did, he certainly proved an unreliable friend, decisively favouring Alec Douglas-Home for the top job when illness led him to resign in October 1963.

Bitterly disappointed, Hailsham was not among those Conservatives who refused to serve in Home's Government, despite telling the new Prime Minister that he thought his tenure would prove a calamity for party and country. He went ahead and disclaimed his peerage, becoming MP for St Marylebone, and when the Party lost the General Election of 1964 became an important Opposition spokesman, notably for Home Affairs 1966-70 when (now under Heath's leadership) Enoch Powell made the topic of immigration a matter of burning priority. Hailsham strongly urged that Powell be sacked from the Shadow Cabinet when he made his "River Tiber" speech in April 1968. Like many Conservative frontbenchers, he was deeply angered by what he saw as Powell's disloyalty to party and leader, as well as fundamentally opposed to his views on race relations.

1970-74 HEAth's lord chancellor & the coded diary

When Edward Heath unexpectedly won the General Election of 1970 he appointed Hailsham Lord Chancellor, ending his come-back career in the Commons and extinguishing any remaining hope he might have had of occupying the most powerful offices of state. If Hailsham was disappointed, his new responsibilities provided many compensations, and some political opportunities too. Heath's attempt to tame the unions through reform of labour law, via the Industrial Relations Act 1971, put the courts into the frontline of political argument and made legal opinion more than usually central in cabinet decision-making. And Hailsham's previous political career gave him a public profile well beyond that possessed by the rather colourless, if able, career-lawyers who have usually occupied the post since WW2.

Hailsham now resumed his diary, making extensive notes of cabinet meetings under Heath. No other senior Conservative seems to have kept a diary during this government, so Hailsham's has a special significance, though the existence of the document is a little surprising given that he forcefully condemned political diary-keeping in his memoir, A Sparrow's Flight, and stressed that nothing of the kind would be found in his papers after his death. Perhaps he saw the notes as something less than a diary, or intended to make a bonfire of them but failed to (thankfully).

Most of the entries are in 'Speedwriting', a phonetic system of abbreviation or word-contraction devised in the US in the mid-1920s, which he had learned as a young barrister and modified over the years (adding, for example, characters from classical Greek, such as θ - theta - for "th" sounds). Speedwriting is similar to shorthand, but was designed originally to be written using ordinary typewriters, so no special symbols needed to be learned. As a result it is quicker to master than true shorthand, but a good deal slower to write.

These notes are difficult to read, but rewarding as a source because the level of detail recorded is often considerable and Hailsham seems to have felt sufficiently sure of their unreadability to be relatively indiscreet. Deciphering has been made easier by the discovery of what codebreakers call a 'crib'. In 1985 Hailsham witnessed a fatal traffic accident on the M1: he made a quick aide-mémoire in speedwriting, then dictated a copy in plain English. We can reconstruct a good deal of his system by comparing these texts. We have also used Charles E. Smith's Speedwriting dictionary (New York, 1937 edition), which helps less than one might hope because Hailsham had customised the original system to such a degree that one present-day instructor of speedwriting we approached found his texts impossible to read reliably. (Also the dictonary translates English to speedhand, but not the other way about, making it difficult to use effectively.)

An early translated entry relates to the sudden resignation of James Chichester-Clark as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in March 1971. The translation is not quite complete: some phrases prove elusive (marked in red; conjectured but uncertain readings are square bracketed in italics). Note that context mattered powerfully to speedwriting, because the same letter or combination of letters can represent many different meanings. Words are often contracted to a single letter and combinations of words can also be represented in radically shortened form. So, "w waw" might mean "which we all wanted", the letter 'w' stretched to three different meanings in the compass of only four characters.

Monday 22 March 1971: the resignation of Chichester-Clark

A second translated item relates to the painful events of 18 and 19 February 1972 when the Heath Government experienced defeat in its first, shattering collision with the National Union of Mineworkers (N.U.M), an episode which cast its shadow across British politics for more than a decade. On 9 January the N.U.M. had gone on strike, rapidly causing a rundown of coal stocks and severe power cuts to industry and homes. The government set up an inquiry into the union's claims chaired by a senior judge, Lord Wilberforce, and Hailsham records his impressions as the Cabinet first discussed his report. To the horror of ministers - who were "indecisive, divided" - the miners' executive had rejected the report, though Wilberforce had accepted their case for 'exceptional treatment' almost in full. The Cabinet debated whether to offer further concessions, but was swayed by the argument that they could hardly "bin Wilberforce with the ink scarcely dry" (as Carrington put it, in a decisive intervention), finally deciding that the Prime Minister should meet the miners and urge them to ballot their members on the Wilberforce terms. Hanging over the argument was the fact that coal stocks actually at the power stations were at a very low level: only 14 days remained, after which generating capacity would fall at best to 25 per cent of that needed. Hailsham summed it all up with a single word: "Abyss".

Ministers were told to remain close by in case a further meeting was necessary, so a clutch of senior Tories adjourned to the Savoy Grill. As the diners worked their way through oysters and salmon - Hailsham scrupulously records that the white Burgundy was especially good, and that Carrington paid - the miners' leaders met the PM and inflicted the coup de grâce. Sensing the strength of their position, they pressed their demand for further substantial concessions, which they promptly got. Hailsham's text is not wholly clear, but it seems that he went home in the early hours of 19 February under the mistaken impression that Heath had faced the strikers down and forced them to settle within the terms of the report, aided by a mere facesaving device from the National Coal Board. Even this would have been far from a happy outcome from the government's point of view. "We have avoided a great evil," he wrote, "but Wilberforce is bad enough".

Friday-Saturday 18-19 February 1972: Hailsham diary on the miners at No.10

Friday18 February 1972: Cabinet minutes

A few weeks later, on 7 March, the Cabinet debated the introduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland and the suspension - effectively abolition - of the Unionist-dominated Stormont Parliament. Hailsham spoke against, stressing the political risk to the Conservatives, and frankly admitted: "Not a very popular or polished performance on my part". A decision was deferred, but suspension came later in the month.

Tuesday 7 March 1972: Northern Ireland

1974: the end of heath

A second miners' dispute in early 1974 caused Edward Heath to call an early General Election, which he failed to win. (A tantalising coded entry, as yet only partly translated, has Carrington making the case for an early dissolution privately to Hailsham.) No party held an outright majority and for a few days the possibility of a Conservative-Liberal arrangement was explored. Hailsham made extensive notes on meetings, mostly in plain English.

Interestingly, one entry shows that MT and Keith Joseph were among only three ministers openly opposed to approaching the Liberals when the Cabinet discussed the question on 1 March, making common cause even before the end of the Heath Government.

Friday 1 March 1974: MT and Keith Joseph oppose approaching the Liberals

A further note gives an overview of the crisis over the weekend, illustrating how little prospect there was of a viable arrangement. Hailsham believed the outcome particularly damaging to the Liberals and anticipated that their six million strong vote would fall dramatically at the next election - which could not be far off - giving one or other of the major parties a strong majority. (He proved wrong in this judgement.)

Saturday & Sunday 2-3 March 1974: Conservative discussions

Once again in Opposition, the Conservative Shadow Cabinet saw some sharp arguments over tactics, while emerging offstage were deeper divisions as to the overall direction of the party. Hailsham saw more of the former than the latter, recording early mentions of the idea that the Conservatives should run their next campaign promising a 'government of national unity', which they did when a second election came in October. Defeat followed, Labour winning a majority of three. At a Shadow Cabinet discussion 12 days later, an element of recrimination is perhaps present, Hailsham pointing out to colleagues the cost of this stance in terms of party morale and cohesion.

22 October 1974: Shadow Cabinet discussion of 'government of national unity' stance

A group of shadow ministers met quietly on 12 November - in Heath's room, but in their leader's absence - to discuss his future. Hailsham records a negative-sounding discussion, and reports a slur by Harold Macmillan on Keith Joseph, currently a hesitant candidate for the succession.

12 November 1974: meeting to discuss Heath's future

1975-79: Thatcher's shadow

Hailsham was not particularly close to Heath, but nor was he an obvious supporter of Margaret Thatcher. He played no part in her election as leader in February 1975 (other than a ceremonial role at the party meeting which formally adopted her) and may not have expected to serve in her team. But he was a skilful courtier, writing her an amiable and a supportive letter of congratulation to which she warmly replied, in what proved to be the beginning of a lengthy correspondence across the years. For her part MT was naturally respectful of a figure who was so much her senior in the party hierarchy, and conscious also how limited her support was among the big names of the previous generation. And so Hailsham continued to sit in the Shadow Cabinet and his views had weight with the new leader.

11 February 1975: Hailsham writes to MT

16 February 1975: MT replies

Hailsham had more time for note-taking in Opposition and saw perhaps less need for secrecy, so speedwriting diary entries now decline in favour of longhand. He wrote a blow-by-blow account of a divisive Shadow Cabinet meeting on 11 April 1975 to discuss a paper by Keith Joseph. This single document is probably the closest surviving account of what it was actually like in the Thatcher Shadow Cabinet, opening with the words of Reggie Maudling: "I do NOT agree with ONE little bit". The dry formal minutes are worth comparing.

11 April 1975: Shadow Cabinet - Hailsham's diary

11 April 1975: Shadow Cabinet - formal minutes

Keith Joseph is the subject of several later entries. In a conversation at All Souls in November 1976 Hailsham delivered a sarcastic put-down when Joseph lamented the loss of Enoch Powell to the Conservative Party: "I do not doubt Judas Iscariot was a great loss to the Church", he said - provoking laughter from another Fellow, Michael Ramsey (the Archbishop of Canterbury) - adding for good measure, "you wear too much sackcloth". This was a common criticism of Joseph in the late 1970s, as he agonised over the faults and failures of post-war Conservatism, impugning in the process the political record of colleagues like Hailsham.

20 November 1976: Keith Joseph at All Souls

Criticism of so close an ally of the leader of course implied doubts about her, and these duly surface in the diary at the end of March 1977 when Peter Carrington dropped by for a quiet chat.

29 March 1977: Carrington & Hailsham's doubts about MT

For her part MT seems still have to had considerable trust in Hailsham's judgment. A few months earlier she consulted him in a very confidential matter, inviting him to her home in Flood Street - away from her staff and the press - to discuss an approach that had been made her by a dissident Labour MP, Brian Walden, "purporting to speak for 12". "If we would put down motion of censure he might vote with us". A revolt on this scale, on a motion of confidence, would have brought down the Labour Government and forced an early General Election.

1 Oct 1976: Brian Walden

Hailsham had an eye for a story. In January 1977 during a shooting weekend at Birkhill Castle near St Andews he recorded an extraordinary anecdote by Alec Douglas-Home of his time as Prime Minister.

In 1964 a group of Aberdeen University students simply walked up to the house where he was staying overnight - belonging to John Buchan's son and daughter-in-law, the Tweedsmuirs - and found him unguarded, indeed alone. The house was too small to accommodate his bodyguard, but it was judged a safe place and so the policeman was quartered elsewhere. The Prime Minister opened the door to the students in person, to be told that they had come to kidnap him. Characteristically cool, he played for time - asked for ten minutes to pack some things, offered them beer in the kitchen - and did his considerable best to talk them out of it. Eventually, when his hosts returned, the students were persuaded to abandon the attempt. It was in everyone's interest to say nothing more about it - the bodyguard's especially - and not a breath of the story reached the press, beyond a garbled account in the student newspaper. Thereafter Home was wise and generous enough to let the incident slip into oblivion, except as an after dinner story told against himself.

Aside from the IRA attacks on Margaret Thatcher and John Major, this was one of the worst breaches of the personal security of a British Prime Minister in the twentieth century (so far as is publicly known). It brings to mind the once famous incident in September 1913 when angry suffragettes cornered Asquith on the 17th Green at Lossiemouth. His daughter Violet fended them off with a golf club till detectives arrived. Though similar weapons were probably to hand at the Tweedsmuirs', Home's methods were subtler, and fortunately just as effective.

9 Jan 1977: students nearly kidnap the British Prime Minister

please help us translate the coded diary

Most of the coded entries in the diary are untranslated and we would be delighted to have help reading more from people with the right skills.

Here are some coded diary extracts. We will be adding more as work gets underway.

To aid your work, try reading the Kryptos Society's notes on Lord Hailsham's system and their invaluable list of almost 800 word meanings ("recoveries") - this last is an Excel file and needs to be opened with that programme. There are also the site editor's notes, an admittedly skimpier production.

Email us for more information

The original of the diary, and a huge collection of other Hailsham papers, are now available to be seen in person at the Churchill Archive Centre, catalogued online.