DCSIMG

Something to Say with Keith Newbery: Invective of the highest class remains with the victim forever

The art of the political insult is not yet dead, but it is on life-support.

Unfortunately, there’s precious little hope of a full recovery while Messrs Cameron and Miliband are spluttering at each other over the Despatch Box.

Both favour the vituperative blunderbuss, where discourteous little pellets are blasted in all directions and the damage caused is rarely more than skin-deep.

Neither man wields the stiletto of the finely-crafted taunt, which can be plunged in with relish and leaves the person thus perforated struggling for his or her political life.

Invective of the highest class remains with the victim forever and enters into Westminster legend.

Winston Churchill is acknowledged as its greatest exponent, and though his jousts with Nancy Astor have been recalled with relish down the years, it was his excoriating observation about Clement Atlee which did lasting damage.

There is simply no way back for any politician who has been described as ‘a modest man with much to be modest about.’

But oddly enough, it is when colleague rounds on colleague that the insult is most effective.

This is because the perceived closeness of any political relationship tends to give added credence to the calumny. No-one knows you better than your friend.

It’s why Ann Widdicombe’s description of Michael Howard – that he had ‘something of the night about him’ - is destined to linger around the former Conservative leader like a bad smell for the rest of his days.

Geoffrey Howe – always considered the most inoffensive of men – actually precipitated the removal of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative leader.

When making his resignation speech, he said her hostility towards the single currency (about which she was proved to be entirely correct) made discussing the issue with other European countries impossible.

“It was,” he said, “like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find as the first balls are being bowled that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”

Nine days later, Thatcher was gone.

It’s something Cameron and Osborne might bear in mind should they be tempted to laugh off the lacerating description of them by Conservative back-bencher, Nadine Dorries.

‘Arrogant posh boys, who don’t know the price of milk,’ has a distinct air of permanency about it.

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Russell Brand’s appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee to discuss the perils of illegal drugs turned out to be a virtuoso performance in the use of the glottal stop.

This trendy affectation (Tony Blair still deploys it when the occasion demands) means the letter ‘t’ is pronounced from the back of the throat rather than the roof of the mouth.

It is a spin-off of estuary English, so Brand (who is an Essex boy) has an excuse for being so irritating.

But the glottal stop can be difficult to sustain throughout an entire conversation.

Indeed, there was a moment during his pronunciation of the word ‘legislative’ that I thought Brand was going to choke to death on his own phlegm.

 

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