“The Respectable Tendency” and the New PM, 1940-2019

“The Respectable Tendency” and the New PM, 1940-2019

Anent the new PM

My friend Steve Hay­ward had the wit to para­phrase, in reac­tion to the arrival of Boris John­son at 10 Down­ing Street, some com­ments about anoth­er incom­ing PM, eighty years ago next May. “Cam­bridge Cute,” says anoth­er friend of Steve’s good piece.

Speak­ing of Cam­bridge Cuties, I imme­di­ate­ly thought of what Andrew Roberts described as “The Respectable Ten­den­cy,” the British estab­lish­ment, in his great book, Emi­nent Churchill­lians.  So I dug into the sources to find more of what they said back then about the new Prime Min­is­ter. (Light­ly paraphrased.)

“Coup of the rabble…”

“Even whilst the new PM was still at Buck­ing­ham Palace kiss­ing hands, the junior pri­vate sec­re­tary and Chamberlain’s PPS, Lord Dun­glass [Alec Dou­glas-Home] joined Rab But­ler and ‘Chips’ Chan­non at the For­eign Office. And there they drank in cham­pagne the health of the ‘King over the Water’ (not King Leopold, but Mr. Chamberlain).”

“Rab said he thought that the good clean tra­di­tion of Eng­lish pol­i­tics, that of Pitt as opposed to Fox, had been sold to the great­est adven­tur­er of mod­ern polit­i­cal his­to­ry…. The sud­den coup of the rab­ble was a seri­ous dis­as­ter and an unnec­es­sary one. The ‘pass had been sold’ with a weak sur­ren­der to a half-breed Amer­i­can whose main sup­port was that of inef­fi­cient but talk­a­tive peo­ple of a sim­i­lar type.”

“Since the new PM came in, the House of Com­mons had stunk in the nos­trils of the decent peo­ple. The kind of peo­ple sur­round­ing him are the scum and the peak [bot­tom? -RML] came when Bren­dan [Brack­en] was made a Privy Coun­sel­lor! For what ser­vices ren­dered heav­en knows. The PM’s adven­tur­ism is sus­pect, and his pro­mo­tion of those  in whom he detect­ed the buc­ca­neer­ing spir­it, dou­bly alarming.”

“A bright blue suit, cheap and sensational looking…”

“He has not put his own hench­men in the high­est offices. That does not pre­vent his detrac­tors from con­vinc­ing them­selves oth­er­wise. But­ler is one of a num­ber who con­tend with the fact that they are serv­ing in an admin­is­tra­tion led by the man they have spent the best part of a decade brief­ing against and cat-calling.”

“His appoint­ment sent a cold chill down the spines of the staff at 10 Down­ing Street…. Our feel­ings were wide­ly shared in the Cab­i­net Offices, the Trea­sury and through­out White­hall. Sel­dom can a Prime Min­is­ter have tak­en office with the Establishment…so dubi­ous of the choice and so pre­pared to find its doubts justified.”

“He sees no way of putting his ideas into prac­tice at present and is not ashamed of admit­ting the fact. Lloyd George was after­wards offered the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture (for which the cheap press has always tipped him). He refused it because he thinks the coun­try is in a hope­less posi­tion and he is gen­er­al­ly despondent.”

Jock Colville: “I spent the day in a bright blue new suit from the Fifty-Shilling Tai­lors, cheap and sen­sa­tion­al look­ing, which I felt was appro­pri­ate to the new Gov­ern­ment. But of course Winston’s admin­is­tra­tion, with all its faults, has dri­ve, and should be able to get things done….”


Thus spake the Respectable Ten­den­cy of new Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill in 1940. Flash for­ward sev­en­ty-nine years. Nobody, of course, knows what Mr. John­son will make of his hon­or­able and ancient office. Friends of Britain must wish him well. What hap­pens now is up to him. But opin­ion can change rapidly.

Back in 1940 Jock Colville soon shed his cheap blue suit. June 1940 found him in con­ser­v­a­tive pin­stripes, an ardent admir­er of his new Prime Min­is­ter. Cor­rect­ly he sur­mised that the PM’s admin­is­tra­tion would “get things done.”

On get­ting things done today, refer to a thought­ful piece by John O’Sullivan on the now-near­ly-com­plete John­son Cabinet.

We report, you decide. And for his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive on the British estab­lish­ment in days gone by, read Andrew Roberts’ book.


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