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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Political insults and putdowns

Humour in politics can be very effective, especially when combined with clever putdowns and as this piece in the Telegraph illustrates not even the best at this art can get it right. The feature also shows that former political generations were no more gentle in their insults than the present day, though they were more subtle.

There is for example Benjamin Disraeli's putdown of Robert Peel that "The Right Honourable Gentleman's smile was like the silver plate on a coffin." or Disraeli on Gladstone: "If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune, and if anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity."

Winston Churchill was of course a master at this art.  When berated for being drunk by MP Bessie Braddock, Churchill said: "My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober, and you will still be ugly." In a similar vein, he had a spat with Lady Astor, who said "if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea." Churchill replied: "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

Harold Wilson's verdict on Edward Heath that he was "A shiver looking for a spine to run up.” appears to be remarkable prescient in the light of recent allegations.

Michael Foot famously called Norman Tebbit "a semi-trained polecat", whilst Jeremy Thorpe said of Harold MacMillan's 'night of the long knives': "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life."

In my political lifetime we have Denis Healey's verdict: "Being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep." whilst Ann Widicombe's verdict on Michael Howard that "There is something of the night about him.", haunted him throughout his leadership of the Tory Party. Some though are just over the top, like Frank Dobson's verdict that "When Edwina Currie goes to the dentist, he needs the anaesthetic."

The final word must belong to Dennis Skinner: "I often say to my children 'No need to go to the Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur, come to the House of Commons at about half past twelve'."
"Semi-house-trained polecat", I think.

The late Tony Banks was a great one for the political insult, mostly directed at Conservatives. My favourite is his citing Terry Dicks as "living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament".

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