Magazine article The Spectator

Dead Men Talking: What Churchill, Disraeli and Baldwin Think of the Tory Candidates

Magazine article The Spectator

Dead Men Talking: What Churchill, Disraeli and Baldwin Think of the Tory Candidates

Article excerpt

It should be possible to admire a move without condoning it. I rather admire whoever devised the stratagem by which some people were persuaded last weekend, however fleetingly, that Lady Thatcher was for Mr Portillo. She denied it. But there were still people who believed it, and will go on doing so. The waters had been successfully muddied.

It was a skilful exercise in low politics. An interest in high politics need not preclude an interest in the low. Politics being a game, as well as something more, we can with good conscience admire the low move. High politicians often need low politicians to raise them to the heights. When I read it, I thought: if this can be intruded into the public domain, why stop at Lady Thatcher? Why not claim that, on behalf of the Portillistas, a medium has polled the spirit world? Mr Portillo's team could thus have inspired the Sunday headline `Churchill Says Portillo Is The Right Leader'.

Which train of thought leads to the question: what is the thinking, on this leadership election, among the illustrious Conservative dead? Would that the nation still enjoyed the services of the late Doris Stokes. (Not that I am sure that it is correct etiquette to refer to a dead medium as `the late'.) Here on earth, it is assumed that Disraeli, wherever he is now, is for Mr Portillo. That is probably true; but only probably. He was -- is? -- cultivated. He is a man of fashion. Such figures often do not tolerate rivals in the same line. They like to stand out among the stolid. Disraeli may not care for another exotic Conservative leader. After all these years, he may still like being the only one. We cannot be sure that he is for Mr Portillo.

But it is also unlikely that he is for Mr Clarke. The beer and belly would offend him. He would have come across many such red-faced hearties when he set himself up as the brains of the Country party in order to do down Peel. He would have been tolerated only in the tap-room and at the stile. Sometimes, Clarke-like figures would detach the horses from his carriage, and draw him in triumph after one of his parliamentary successes in support of the protection of agriculture. In vain is it explained that Mr Clarke is a Queen's Counsel. That such rustics take silk would be regarded by Disraeli as proof of that aristocratic decline against which he warned.

In the early rounds, Mr David Davis would have reminded Disraeli too much of his enemy Peel; versed in the efficient dispatch of public business, but one who might subordinate the greatness of England, and the condition of the people, to the demands of the counting-house. After all, it was Disraeli who at first declined the Exchequer on the grounds that he had no head for the subject; accepting it only after the prime minister, Derby, assured him, `They give you the figures.'

Mr Duncan Smith has not been best known for figures. He has been a soldier. He served in Ireland. Disraeli was much concerned to keep Ireland in the United Kingdom. He is bound to want to keep in the kingdom that small part of it which is still there. Mr Duncan Smith fought in that cause. We may assume that Disraeli is one of Mr Duncan Smith's dead supporters.

Churchill? Difficult. He might be for whichever of the candidates is the most eloquent. That is even more difficult. Which of them is at all eloquent? Mr Portillo has given no signs of being eloquent. But he has given many signs that he admires eloquence. He has read Proust. Churchill, on the other hand, had almost certainly not. For him, Proust's is the wrong kind of eloquence. …

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