LORD Carlile has many notable achievements to his name in his 71 years. He was a Liberal Democrat MP for 15 years, became a QC aged just 36, and made international news representing Princess Diana’s butler Paul Burrell against charges that he had stolen items from her estate.
And, to top it all, he was appointed CBE in the 2012 New Year Honours List for services to national security for his work as an independent reviewer of terrorism legislation — a role to which he recently returned.
As the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, who was born in the small north Wales village of Ruabon, enters the latter stages of his career, he says there was nothing else he would have liked to have accomplished.
“In any career, if you’re ambitious, which I confess to being, one always wants to be as successful as possible in politics,” he told me from his office overlooking Grey’s Inn Square, London.
“I had never have imagined that I would have been a cabinet minster as a Liberal Democrat, for example.
“I’m at a stage now where I achieved everything I expected to achieve, and anything I do now is a bonus.”
Lord Carlile had two ambitions as a child — scoring the winning goal for his beloved Burnley Football Club in the FA Cup final and becoming an MP for Burnley.
Despite starting out life in the aforementioned small Welsh village — which only now has a population of around 4,000 — his family moved to Burnley when he was just three thanks because of his father’s career as a GP.
Although he doesn’t have many memories of the village, his connections remained strong during his early years, however, as his Godparents Florence Smith and Gordon Ling lived there.
He recalled: “I would stay there during the school holidays. I always had a good time.
“My father was a member of the Polish guards, and came to the UK in 1940.
“He ran a hospital which dealt with wounded Polish soldiers, particularly airmen.
“My mother came here in 1946, as she spent the entire war in Poland. She and my father married a year later.
“My father was an Anglophile and said that the best thing to ever happen to him was coming to the UK to live and work.
“Both of my parents wanted us to be as British as possible.”
Lord Carlile — born Alex Charles Carlile — had, he added, no religious upbringing at all.
But he does class himself as 100 per cent Jewish and is “very proud” of his heritage.
He said: “Where we lived in Burnley, there were almost no Jews.
“My parents became friendly with people from the Christian religion and we attended church.
“I went to a boarding school and was a choirboy.
“Religious Judaism never impinged on my life until I was an adult.
“I remain not a religious person, but I recognise my heritage and I’m very proud of it.
“I’m conscious of my cultural roots and I’m proud of them — I know that causes some people discomfort, but it’s the result of the upbringing I had.”
Lord Carlile’s view on religion overall was not exactly positive.
When asked whether he would have liked to have been more religious, the grandfather-of-nine’s answer was a resounding no.
He said: “My own view is that religion is responsible for a very high percentage of the majority of the historical ills of the world and I can manage very well without it, thank you very much.
“I have total respect for people of faith and I would not criticise them at all for keeping that faith.
“I am probably an agnostic and that’s the way I am.”
Lord Carlile was quick to point out, however, that he is a strong supporter of Israel — although not always the political side of the country.
Famed for his barristerial work, Lord Carlile admits that he actually wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor.
But, during his teenage years, he decided that he actually wanted to be a psychiatrist rather than a GP.
“My father probably thought psychiatrists were a visitation of the devil,” he laughed, “and as a result I was introduced to a barrister called David Waddington.”
The now-late Baron Waddington was the Conservative MP for Nelson and Colne from 1968 until 1974, before becoming the MP for Ribble Valley for 11 years from 1979 to 1990.
Lord Carlile, who has three children from his marriage to first wife Frances, said: “David and I never agreed on political issues, as I was a Liberal and he was a Conservative, but he was very kind to me.
“He took me to court when I was a teenager, which is when I knew that I wanted to become a barrister and I have never forgotten that.
“It is the best profession in the known world as far as I’m concerned. I’m still practising, but only in an advisory capacity.”
As mentioned, Lord Carlile — who married Alison Levitt QC in 2007 — represented former royal butler Burrell.
The trial collapsed when it emerged that Mr Burrell had told the Queen that he was keeping some of Princess Diana’s possessions.
He had faced three charges of theft, involving 310 items from the late princess’s estate, and also some from Prince Charles and Prince Williams, too.
Most of the items were discovered when police searched his home in Farndon, Cheshire, in January, 2001.
“I’ve been involved in some amazing cases, of which the Burrell case was one,” Lord Carlile said.
“I was also involved in the Morecambe Bay cockle disaster case in 2004 (where 21 Chinese illegal immigrant labourers lost their lives when the tide came in). That was my life.
“I still have all my notebooks from all of my cases in court.
“I am by discipline and inclination still a barrister.
“My wife is a QC, and one of my children is a barrister.
“As I stand here overlooking Grey’s Inn gardens, it is what I am.”
As if being a barrister wasn’t enough work, Lord Carlile took on a political career, too.
This was inspired by his father, who he describes as a “news hound”, and a trip to stay at his maternal grandparent’s home, aged nine — where Labour MP Dan Jones visited.
“It struck me that MPs could really get amazing things done, and that is what I wanted to do,” he said.
“Later, when I became a barrister, I joined a chamber in Chester — which had been founded by Welsh QC Emlyn Hooson, who was also a Liberal MP from 1964-1979.
“Mr Hooson was a great influence on my life and political life.
“After he lost the Montgomeryshire seat in 1979 to Conservative MP Delwyn Williams, I won it back at the next election in 1987.
“He and I were also together at the House of Lords.
“I always wanted to be an MP, and I thought the Liberal Democrats were rational and led by a radical but rational thinker called Jo Grimond.
“What’s not to like about the Liberal Party and Liberal principles?
“I had, as a student been a Labour member, but it was going through a bad patch and didn’t have much support.”
Lord Carlile would go on to win three elections — 1983, 1987 and 1992 — before standing down and being replaced by another Liberal Democrat in the shape of now-celebrity reality television personality Lembit Opik.
He resigned the seat for family reasons, but missed the “cut and thrust” of the House of Commons — although he describes today’s version as “shameful”.
When Paddy Ashdown stood down as leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1999, he offered to make Lord Carlile a Lord.
He added: “I was missing Parliament and this gave me the perfect opportunity to return.”
There is much debate around the current state of the House of Lords, specifically from the Left which often calls for it to be abolished.
Lord Carlile was a little more philosophical about the criticism.
He said:“If a Martian walked into the House of Lords and looked at how it was populated — with the average age being over 70 and those in there being there for life — they would say that it is completely illogical.
“However, it’s a fantastic place where debates are conducted with great courtesy and there are a lot of experts there.
“I now belong to a group of independent peers and it all works very well.
“The problem with the suggestions to reform the House of Lords is that it does not produce anything better.
“If someone can come up with a better suggestion of having a second chamber then I’m very happy to look at it, but I haven’t found it yet.”
In August, Lord Carlile took on yet more work as he became the Independent Reviewer of the Prevent programme, which safeguards vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism.
The review will focus on the current delivery of the Prevent programme and make recommendations for the future and is expected to report to Parliament by August, 2020.
Prevent deals with all forms of terrorism, including Islamist and extreme right wing, and does not focus on any one community.
He said: “As the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, I have a strong track record of asserting and sustaining my independence of government in assessing the effectiveness of legislation, and this role will be no different.
“The nature of the terrorist threat is ever-changing and government policy must evolve in order to tackle it.
“The review will be strongly evidence based.”
One of Lord Carlile’s biggest passions is watching the claret and blue of Burnley Football Club in the Premier League.
“Watching Burnley has been a topsy-turvy time as they’ve had some good spells and some bad spells.
“But it’s much less boring than watching a team always in the top four.
“I have great respect for the way manager Sean Dyche runs that team.
“He is one of the unlauded and underappreciated stars of British sport.”
With the House of Lords, his slightly winded-down law career and the new Prevent role, Lord Carlile does not have any plans to retire.
“My father carried on working into his 70s, and my mother worked until around the age of 80,” he said. “It’s not in my blood to retire.
“As long as I pace myself, and have good support, then I don’t want to retire.”
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