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Political Characters

All these men and women could not get enough of politics - sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. But all of them had character, that almost indefinable 'something' that made them stand out.

Winston Churchill

Churchill is famous for many things, not least his 'character'. Witty, passionate, lachrymose and 'honourable', he is not likely to be forgotten.

His politics were not without controversy, but all agree that he was a witty man. At a dinner with Lady Astor the following exchange took place:

Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband I'd put poison in your tea.

Churchill: And if I were your husband I'd drink it.

and at another dinner,

Bessie Bradock: Winston, you're drunk.

Churchill: Bessie you're ugly and I'll be sober in the morning.

He once described the distinctly unferocious Clement Attlee as "a sheep in sheep's clothing".

On another occasion in the House of Commons gents, Attlee was relieving himself at a urinal. Churchill entered, spotted Attlee and made his way to the far end of the stalls. "Feeling a bit stand-offish today Winston?" said Attlee, to which Churchill replied, "Humph! Every time you see something big you want to nationalise it!"

Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Whether he deserved such an accolade is open to debate, but his six-volume history remains eminently readable, as are his account of The Second World War and his Early Life.

Churchill rarely hid his feelings and if he felt like weeping he did (doing so more than once when visiting the ruins of the East End of London during the Blitz). It was this sort of openness that led him to publicly fight appeasement and not to hide from the British people the full extent of the danger they were in during WWII.

He hated war but loved soldiery and was always drawn to the sound of gunfire. Nevertheless, one of his best quotes was "Jaw jaw, not war war".

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher loved nothing more than a good argument and, despite appearances, couldn't stand yes-men, as a number of her acolytes discovered to their cost. Alan Clark (see below) records a conversation about furs and vegetarianism. 

Clark wanted to support a bill labelling furs that was designed to limit certain kinds of fur-trapping. Thatcher argued for the rights of indigenous peoples to hunt traditionally and sensing some hypocrisy brought up the question of hunting and meat-eating. Much to her surprise, Clark revealed himself as an anti-hunt vegetarian. Somewhat on the back foot the PM pointed out that Clark was wearing leather shoes. "I don't think you would want your Ministers to wear plastic shoes," was his reply. After a little more of this sort of thing Clark, in his own words, realised that he had 'lost.'

Thatcher was something of an innocent. For the first few years of her premiership she was supported by an old hand, Willie Whitelaw. Being the UK's first female PM only added a special piquancy to her remark that "every Prime Minister needs a Willie."

Alan Clark

Alan Clark was a one-off - passionate about his own brand of right-wing politics, he was something of a bon viveur (wine especially), a serial philanderer (a mother and her two daughters were one notable conquest), a vegetarian, owned a castle and was a bit of a hypochondriac (sadly he died of a brain tumour, possibly brought on by worrying that he might have one).

Clark was rarely afraid of saying what he thought, including remarks about Hitler and National Socialism that many of his colleagues imagined were tongue in cheek. His remarks about 'Bongo-Bongo Land', an imaginary African republic, his public drunkenness at the dispatch box and his combative but insouciant style all served to make him a controversial public figure.

As an historian he was no less controversial - his opinion of the Great War Generals ('The Donkeys' who lead the lion-hearted troops to disaster) found general favour, whereas his opinion that Churchill led the British nation to disaster was hardly popular.

His greatest book may be his own Diaries in three volumes - a candid, entertaining and illuminating insight into 20th-century Tory politics.

Lyndon B. Johnson

LBJ as he was known was a distinguished American president, noted for hard work, long hours, a passionate commitment to eliminating poverty and a highly personal political style. 'The treatment' involved getting up close and personal with whichever politician he wanted to persuade, his face inches from that of his quarry and his hands all over them. LBJ almost invariably got what he wanted often with startling results. "Watch this," he said as a Congressman got to his feet to oppose one of the President's bills. Outlining his objections to Johnson’s policy, the Congressman suddenly exclaimed, “Wait a minute! Everything I've just said is wrong!”, and promptly voted the other way!

LBJ spoke movingly on a number of occasions; on other less public occasions, he was a little blunter. On whether an individual should be included in his administration he opined: "It's better to have him in the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in." Here are some more remarks in a similar vein:

"Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else."
"Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked good ...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last long..."
"If the circumstances make it such that you can't fuck a man in the ass, then just peckerslap him. Better to let him know who's in charge than to let him think he's got the keys to the car."

Denis Healey

Denis Healey was most famously British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. A double-first from Oxford, a former member of the Communist Party, and beachmaster at Anzio, he was well-known for impromptu renditions of popular tunes on the piano, and less well-known for using some very ripe language in private.

He is best remembered (he's still alive by the way) for his wit, likening being attacked by the mild-mannered and softly-spoken Geoffrey Howe to being "savaged by a dead sheep." He may also be remebered for his First Law of Holes - "When you're in one, stop digging."

A right-wing 'socialist' he was probably one of the best Prime Ministers we never had (if it's 'character' and Hinterland you're after).

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