This, and the next, post is Malcolm in full-on Autolycus mode, snapping up whatever ill-considered trifles others discard or mislay.
First, then, John Harris in The Guardian, with the Tory Party Losing the plot. At least that was the newsprint title: on-line it’s:
Can David Cameron see off the Tory troublemakers?
The same-sex marriage bill has opened up deep rifts between the different factions within the Tory party. So how do insiders view the crisis that threatens to engulf David Cameron?
A bit Rentoul, Questions To Which The Answer Is No, there, Malcolm feels. Still, the essay included three of those political quotations that Malcolm cherishes:
… until the arrival of Thatcher, the Tories were a party of power: pragmatic, flexible, supremely confident – and rarely moved to the extent of passion by much more than vague patriotism and a sense of their own importance … The party-at-large was more of a giant social club than a political organisation, and the people at the top often cleaved to the mindset beautifully captured by Arthur Balfour, the Tory prime minister between 1902 and 1905: “Nothing matters very much, and most things don’t matter at all.”
At a quick guess, Harris purloined that from Geoffrey Wheatcroft, whose The Strange Death of Tory England gets mentioned elsewhere in the article. Quite why that one, of so many Balfour gems, is the most cited may be explained in that it so perfectly matches the laid-back ennui that, unfairly, typifies Edwardian England between the Boer and the Great Wars.
Harris follows that, in the very next paragraph with:
For most of the past century, it was Labour that was most often distracted by internal strife, something that prompted the senior party figure and political diarist Richard Crossman to bemoan the different ways that each of the titans of British politics responded to political difficulties. “When the Tories are in trouble,” he wrote in 1956, “they bunch together and cogger up. When we get into trouble, we start blaming each other and rushing to the press to tell them all the terrible things that somebody else has done.”
Malcolm has the faintest suspicion that Harris is inverting Andrew Marr’s 1999 article for the New Statesman, Fear and Loathing on the Left, which is where one can also find that tit-bit from Crossman’s back-bench diaries.
That one catches Malcolm’s attention, not just because of the palpable truth and bitterness it contains, but specifically with the word “cogger”. One feels it implies all false mateyness and chaps-together, a variant of “codger” — as Dickens has it:
‘You have been drinking,’ said Ralph, ‘and have not yet slept yourself sober.’
‘I haven’t been drinking YOUR health, my codger,’ replied Mr Squeers; ‘so you have nothing to do with that.’
Ralph suppressed the indignation which the schoolmaster’s altered and insolent manner awakened, and asked again why he had not sent to him. [Nicholas Nickleby]
Or it’s a bit of that school slang (Crossman was Head Boy at Winchester, and didn’t it show) that sticks to us through life. “Cogger” is a double-edged weapon, and typically so in Crossman’s fine Italian hand. In seventeenth-century cant, it was one who cheats at dice. Later, in Ainsworth’s Latin dictionary of 1783 it was the translation for:
Palpator, a flatterer, coger, cajoler, sycophant, glozer.
Hey! Hey! LBJ!
Harris inevitably reaches the thorny topic of ConHome:
… the website-cum-movement whose figurehead is Tim Montgomerie, the man who briefly served under Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership as his chief of staff, before going on to position himself as the voice of Tory activists. It may be some measure of the febrile state of Tory politics that Montgomerie is one of the most influential Conservative voices, who torments the leadership on a regular basis. Yesterday, he was orating from the pages of the Times, arguing that the Tories were in a ”fundamentally unhealthy” state, that Cameron’s modernisation project “has been conducted casually”, and that the prime minister’s political machine “has the attention span of a goldfish”.
Montgomerie is also a high-profile supporter of Johnson, whose most notable contributions to last year’s Tory party conference were a frenzied “Boris rally”, and a new website that crystallised his view of the correct Tory path, with its url reminiscent of the political satire The Thick of It: strongandcompassionate.com. What Cameron thinks of Montgomerie is not a matter of record, though his constant manoeuvrings may bring to mind what Lyndon B Johnson famously said of advisers to President Kennedy: “They may be just as intelligent as you say. But I’d feel a helluva lot better if just one of them had ever run for sheriff.“
Possible error there: that one is more usually accredited to Sam Rayburn, and said to LBJ (though, of course, Johnson was quite capable of recycling it). Rayburn was the Texan Democrat who was the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Representatives. His seventeen years, over three terms, in possession of the Speaker’s gavel (as well as an intimate knowledge of the dirt under the fingernails of Texan politics) gave ample chance for his earthy wisdom to be recorded.
And next, it is hoped, to booky things …