What Donald Tusk could learn from Winston Churchill – Alastair Stewart

Winston Churchill was a master of the political burn (Picture: Reg Speller/Getty Images)
Winston Churchill was a master of the political burn (Picture: Reg Speller/Getty Images)
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After European Commission President Donald Tusk says there is a “special place in hell” for those who “promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”, Alastair Stewart laments the replacement of witty rejoinders with personal attacks in our political discourse.

Winston Churchill was hands down the master of the political burn. Asked why he didn’t send a Prime Ministerial predecessor an 80th birthday card, he rebuffed: “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”

When he was disturbed on the toilet by a call from the Lord Privy Seal, he shouted back: “I’m sealed on The Privy and can only deal with one shit at a time.”

The list of brutal putdowns is the standout joy of British politics. As demonstrated by everyone from Gladstone to Disraeli and Dennis Skinner to Alan Clark, pithy remarks can make or break household names.

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When David Cameron was appointed prime minister, he promised an end to Punch-and-Judy politics. Thank God that didn’t last.

But sadly it seems that wit is dying out. The coroner’s report was released yesterday when European Council President Donald Tusk said there was a “special place in hell” for those “who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”.

These are serious times, but once the political class could be counted on to liven the mood with an underlying sense of bonhomie.

This is not a romanticised past and it’s a sad reflection of the hydrogen-filled danger of Brexit and the plethora of titanic issues in danger of wrecking the national uniqueness of British politics.

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Members of Parliament are not exempt from criticism, thankfully, but those subjecting Anna Soubry to Nazi chants or Diane Abbott to racist threats are beyond the real red lines in the country today.

Donald Tusk telling elected Brexit-backing MPs to go to hell – and, in my opinion, by proxy their supporters – is as symptomatic as it is telling that something is very wrong with our politics.

Ad hominem is the new norm, and that’s sad pause for reflection.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart.