The headline is from Love’s Labours Lost, V.i.13: the word “thrasonical” is used again by Shakespeare in As You Like It, V.ii.34. Not many people know that.
All those words that seem to have slipped out of currency — like that “thrasonical”, or “vainglorious” — are epitomised in the personality and actions of the Rt Hon David Michael Davis. It may be that he has a lot to be arrogant about, but arrogance accompanies him as the “great smell of Brut” pervades a cheap gymnasium.
Yet, as Michael White is suggesting in the Guardian, he has attracted a significant following in British Bloggerdom:
David Cameron’s whips are so cross that they only half-joked about delaying the contest until November, to teach Davis a lesson for what they still regard as a reckless, egotistical stunt. That is the overwhelming Westminster verdict (“attention-seeking,” says one shrewd Labour judge of character), not shared by bloggers, letter writers and activists in all parties who proclaim him a hero.
This is a piece that, typical of White’s polished style, is neatly topped and tailed with the brutal and unspoken truth of modern British political life: living with the near-certainty of unannounced imminent atrocity. Take just the opening and closing sentence of White’s piece together, and one has this:
But what if there’s a bomb in the London Underground before [Davis's] byelection? … What [Davis] needs is luck.
The truth is that Davis’s bubble reputation, among a certain cyberspatial underclass, stems from the fawning admiration of the likes of Iain Dale (who was Davis’s major domo in the disaster of the Tory Leadership campaign) and Paul Staines, the all-purpose attack-dog and general smear-merchant.
In many ways, it is very much in the interest of the Government, pursuing its 42-days detention policy, to have Davis continuing what would otherwise be settled Commons policy. On one level Davis (along with the Conservative Party line, and indeed the LibDems as well) is faced with having to explain why 42 days is so wrong, if 28 days is “acceptable” even to Chris Huhne:
I am very happy with a period of 28 days. We should stick with that period because that is what we voted for…
At another level, the whole point of 42 days is that it relates specifically to the most serious, the most heinous offences imaginable. As Jackie Smith asked:
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that one of our amendments would limit the use of an extended period of pre-charge detention to the most serious terrorist offences, which would carry a life sentence for those found guilty?
We need to remember here, as always, how fragile the Tory line on 42 days has been, and remains. There is a not-inconsiderable number of Tory MPs who would settle for 90 days. We have heard rumblings that Osborne and Michael Gove tried to dissuade Davis from opposing 42 days. The Politicshome panel reckons on 37% of Tory MPs actually favouring 42 days, despite being whipped into opposing the measure. Tim Montgomery’s Conservativehome weblog warned that opposing 42 days was misguided. CentreRight was as consistent. The bell-wethers of Rightist opinion — Norman Tebbit, Melanie Phillips — also favour of 42 days.
Against these views stands Davis:
Alexander: They say he is a very man per se,
And stands alone.
Cressida: So do all men, unless they are drunk sick, or have no legs.
[Troilus and Cressida; I.ii.15]
A clean liberal conscience is a nice warming feeling; but for once the tabloid press, and the general public mood have it right. The right of my wife and family, and millions like us, safely to use the London underground and British airports is superior to the rights of a few individuals to exploit present law.
The DUP, despite the last minute theatricals, were doing the proper thing, in policy as well as short-term advantage. The Opposition Tories were, and are playing partisan politics: but don’t worry—in a similar situation the Tory Whips will be prepared to pay the Ulster pipers in even-more devalued currency. Politics is a grubby business.
Malcolm stands by that.
- It isn’t fear (but Malcolm’s lady came home on 10th September 1973, with whiplash injury from the IRA bomb at Euston Station).
- It isn’t illiberal bloody-mindedness (but Malcolm’s eldest daughter was at Hoboken station, trying to reach the World Trade Centre for 9 a.m. on 9/11).
It’s what Michael White’s piece was all about: calculating the luck.
For those who have forgotten, it was the morning after 12th October 1984. Five were dead and several dozen had to be dug out of the ruins of Patrick Magee’s bombing of the Brighton Grand Hotel. The IRA announced:
Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.
Malcolm started with Shakespeare on vain boasting. Let him end there, with Parolles in All’s Well; IV.iii.370:
Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this, for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.
This post also appears on Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service.