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This election day, let's look at the greatest political insults in British history


Published on 7 May 2015 11:42 : 10 comments : 6778 views

750 years ago, English parliament met in Westminster for the first time. Ever since then, politicians walking the corridors of power have done whatever it takes to keep the country running smoothly and expense every meal they possibly can, from larks’ tongues to Boots meal deals (bizarrely both of those were John Prescott). Over the past seven centuries, Westminster has hosted the people who have had perhaps more sway over our society than anyone else.

It has also played host to more offensive rhetoric and back-biting than every Christmas special in the Queen Vic.

Strict rules are in place, banning the use of unparliamentary language, including words like ‘git’, ‘tart’, ‘coward’ and ‘blackguard’, meaning that politicians throughout history have had to resort to imaginative comebacks to convey their contempt.

Here’s a list of politicians and their affiliates leaving no doubt over their feelings for their adversaries from the golden age of clever rich people beating each other over the head with the full extent of the English language. To see more of these insults in action, explore our newspaper archive. 

 

 John Wilkes, the man responsible for history's greatest comeback

 

  • “That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress.” – The retort of John Wilkes after the Earl of Sandwich informed him that “Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows, or of syphilis”
  • A retail mind in a wholesale business. – David Lloyd George (1863-1945) on Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) 
  • He brings to the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match. – Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) on Clement Attlee (1833-1967)
  • He did not seem to care which way he travelled, as long as he was in the driver’s seat. – Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964) on David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
  • He is a self-made man and worships his creator. – John Bright (1811-1889) on Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
  • He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened. – Winston Churchill (1874-1965) on Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)
  • He spent his whole life in plastering together the true and the false and therefrom manufacturing the plausible. – Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947) on David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
  • He would kill his own mother just so that he could use her skin to make a drum to beat his own praises. – Margot Asquith (1864-1945), wife of PM Herbert Asquith, on Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
  • His impact on history would be no more than the whiff of scent on a lady’s handkerchief. – David Lloyd George (1863-1945) on Arthur Balfour (1848-1930)
  • I think Baldwin has gone mad. He simply takes one jump in the dark; looks around and then takes another. – Lord Birkenhead (1872-1930) on Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)
  • I thought he was a young man of promise; but it appears he was a young man of promises. – Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) on Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
  • If a traveller were informed that such a man was the leader of the House of Commons, he might begin to comprehend how the Egyptians worshipped an insect. – Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), British prime minister and author, on Lord John Russell (1792-1878), British prime minister

 

  • If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune, and if anybody pulled him out that, I suppose, would be a calamity. – Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), British prime minister, on William Gladstone (1809-98)
  • If Kitchener was not a great man, he was at least, a great poster. – Margot Asquith (1864-1945) on Lord Kitchener (1850-1916)
  • It was said Mr Gladstone could convince most people of most things, and himself of anything. – Dean William R. Inge (1860-1954) on William Gladstone (1809-1898)
  • The right honourable and learned gentleman has twice crossed the floor of this House, each time leaving behind a trail of slime. – David Lloyd George (1863-1945) on Sir John Simon (1873-1954)
  • The Right Honourable Gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests and to his imagination for his facts. – Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) on Henry Dundas (1742-1811)
  • Winston has devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches. – E. Smith (1872-1930) on Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

 

Comments

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by James on 13 May 2015 13:48 :
Clement Attlee appears to have lived a remarkably long time.
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by Christine on 13 May 2015 14:49 :
Then there's probably the most famous put down of recent times. Denis Healey in 1978 .likening a verbal attack on himself - the then Chancellor - by Geoffrey Howe - the then Shadow Chancellor - to 'being savaged by a dead sheep'.

Interesting to see that some of the put downs of yesteryear are every bit as damning - in some cases more so - than anything we might hear today!
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by Robert on 13 May 2015 14:51 :
The Hon. Robert Reginald DOWNING, LL.B (1904 - 1994)**
Mr Speaker, the member has the brains of the sheep
Speaker : Please withdraw that comment.
Downing : With respect , I withdraw the comment. The member has not got the brains of a sheep.
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by Chris on 13 May 2015 17:07 :
Bessie Braddock MP to Winston Churchill -- Winston, your drunk!
Bessie, your ugly -- but tomorrow I'll be sober!
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by Valerie on 14 May 2015 09:38 :
Clement Atlee (1833-1967). Some mistake, surely.
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by Ann on 14 May 2015 16:30 :
We still get all the old shit and no real work cos they don't know how to work.
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by Brian on 14 May 2015 16:37 :
Who was it who said that debating with Douglas Heard was like being savaged by a dead sheep?
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by Philip on 14 May 2015 22:09 :
Disraeli on Gladstone:"an inebriated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity."
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by Anthony on 18 May 2015 13:02 :
No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/aneurin_bevan.html#svefX5BfA9kvmIMa.99
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by Shelagh on 21 May 2015 21:01 :
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3