Winston Churchill said of Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour PM:
I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum’s Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most desired to see was the one described as ‘The Boneless Wonder’. My parents judged that the spectacle would be too demoralising and revolting for my youthful eye and I have waited fifty years, to see The Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.
And on Lord Beresford:
He is one of those orators of whom it was well said: Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.
On Herbert Morrison:
A curious mixture of geniality and venom.
On David Lloyd-George:
The happy warrior of Squandermania.
On Clement Atlee:
A sheep in sheep’s clothing.
On Stafford Cripps:
There but for the grace of God, goes God.
On Stanley Baldwin:
He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.
On Austin Chamberlain:
He always played the game, and he always lost it.
All of this could equally be said of our own Prime Minister.
Niki Savva might not like my saying so. She has – like Peter Van Oscillate, Waleed Aly, and so many other progressives – elected herself gatekeeper of the conservative tradition. Accordingly, Mrs Savva declares:
Conservatives also would have been horrified by the sight of a pouty, sulky, American president in the Oval Office refusing to shake the hand of another world leader, male or female, and equally horrified at footage of a former Australian prime minister twice walking past a serving prime minister at a memorial service for a celebrated artist and pointedly ignoring him.
Again, they would have felt compelled to say something, again they would have been right to do so because these moments, the observance of common courtesies that unfortunately are no longer common, provide an insight into character. Handshakes, or their absence, can tell you a lot.
And she’s quite right to say conservatives should assiduously defend common courtesies. But she who fancies herself an authority on conservatism should also know this: the chief virtue of courtesies being common is that, when broken, their edges are all the more jagged.
And so we can do no better than to follow Winnie – who, on being told by Lady Astor that ‘if you were my husband I would flavour your coffee with poison,’ ever so civilly replied: ‘Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it.’
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.