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,” a friend remarked 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 a dozen books to find more of what they said back then. (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] had 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.