Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Tweet Inspired Diversion on Iain Macleod

In one of those politically neeky moments that do occasionally come about, even for the most suave and sophisticated members of the lesser suburbian intelligentsia, I was struck by a tweet from Times columnist and Conservative Home founder Tim Montgomerie.  Montgomerie had asked who originated the line "liberals may dream their dreams, socialists may scheme their schemes, but we have work to do."  Since it would be well known to Mr. Montgomerie  - a man one suspects of being thoroughly immersed in Conservative folklore - that the line was famously uttered by Iain Macleod in 1960, I assumed he was inferring that Macleod had stolen the line from someone else.  In the replies to his tweet, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson - who referenced the Macleod speech in a blog post just recently - did indeed imply that his famous predecessor might have 'borrowed' the line.  Could it be?  Could one of the Tory Party's greatest orators have done a Joe Biden and nicked a terrific line for his soaring oratory?

Determined to avoid the pile of marking in front of me, I started on an internet search of Iain Macleod's great speech.  There were plenty of references to it, but nothing to suggest it was anything other than original.  However, in the course of my all too brief career as a political researcher - amounting to little over 5 minutes - I did find a couple of curious facts about the late, great Iain Macleod nonetheless.  Macleod is, of course, one of the One Nation Tory breed's greatest modern heroes, and the party fighter who, in a stirring article in his own magazine, "The Spectator", famously denounced the infamous 'magic circle' of aristocratic influence that saw the selection of Alec Douglas Home as Tory leader in preference to the more socially liberal R. A. Butler in 1963.  Yet it turns out that Macleod had himself voted for Home as leader in a Cabinet vote undertaken by Lord Dilhorne (I am indebted here to an extract from the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).  Macleod believed that Home would refuse the leadership, and voted for him in an effort  to stop a bandwagon for Butler or Hailsham, intending then to come forward as the compromise candidate for the leadership himself.  Such machiavellian motives are at least ascribed to him by another Spectator editor, Nigel Lawson.

Even more entertainingly, it was actually Macleod who posthumously gifted Margaret Thatcher - often seen as the antithesis of his own brand of Tory politics - with the soubriquet "Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher", since the decision to cut free school milk from primary schools had been one of the details of a forthcoming budget left by him at the the time of his untimely death after just a month as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in July 1970.

A chance tweet has thus uncovered, for me at any rate, a machiavellian politician par excellence and Margaret Thatcher's unwitting nemesis beyond the grave.  Such are the joys of political neekery.  And I'm still going to use Macleod's sentimental lines about his schooldays at the leavers' assembly.

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