The UK general election campaign apparently came to life earlier this week, when the Labour leader Ed Miliband announced that he intends to scrap the “non-dom” tax arrangement that enables some UK residents to avoid paying tax on their foreign earnings.
The Conservatives responded with a highly personal attack on Miliband which didn’t entirely make sense. Miliband is, says the Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, a man consumed by a lust for power who was even prepared to stab his own brother in the back to win the leadership. He will stop at nothing, apparently, which somehow proves that he will barter away Britain’s nuclear deterrent in a squalid deal with the Scottish National Party, just to get himself into Number 10. Hold on… Milband is so ruthless that he would be a weak Prime Minister?
Surely he cannot simultaneously be a left-wing menace who will cripple Britain with high taxes and an assortment of other crazed economic policies, because he is hell bent on socialism, and be a weakling who will do only what others tell him. The Tories would do better to stick to the former charge rather than the latter.
Anyway, today, while I was away climbing a hill in Scotland (perfect weather, astonishing view), there seems to have been much criticism of the Tory attack on Miliband. I read that it is outrageous. Miliband himself says that Fallon has desecrated his office and shamed the Tory party for centuries to come (or something like that).
Sorry, I cannot get excited by this row. Personal insults? In a general election campaign? In politics? Whatever next.
To prove that Michael Fallon calling Ed Miliband a ruthless backstabber is, by historical standards, really rather mild stuff, here are ten of the greatest ever political insults. Inevitably, several are from Winston Churchill.
1) Winston Churchill on Neville Chamberlain
“He looked at foreign affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.”
2) Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit
“A semi-house-trained polecat.”
3) Winston Churchill on Ramsay MacDonald
“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.”
4) Adlai Stevenson on Richard Nixon
“The kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree and then mount the stump to make a speech for conservation.”
5) Clement Freud on Margaret Thatcher
“Attila the Hen.”
6) Denis Healey on Margaret Thatcher
“Glorying in slaughter.”
7) Margaret Thatcher on male politicians
“In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”
8) The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury on electioneering and voters
“The days and weeks of screwed-up smiles and laboured courtesy, the mock geniality, the hearty shake of the filthy hand, the chuckling reply that must be made to the coarse joke, the loathsome, choking compliment that must be paid to the grimy wife and sluttish daughter, the indispensable flattery of the vilest religious prejudices, the wholesale deglutition of hypocritical pledges.”
9) Sir Alec Douglas-Home on Harold Wilson
“As far as the 14th Earl is concerned I suppose that Mr Wilson, when you come to think of it, is the 14th Mr Wilson.”
10) Henry Kissinger on Henry Kissinger
“The main advantage of being famous is that when you bore people at dinner parties they think it is their fault.”