On which basis, the present ConDem policy is damned, and double damned.
Quite why Smith (left, the Spy caricature) came to Malcolm’s mind is inexplicable. It must have been a combination of different factors.
Praying upon the week
For example, last week we have the little bit of froth over prayers before council meetings, and the over-the-top response from Eric Pickles (whose svelte frame, as right, could never be compared to that of Smith):
We are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.
Malcolm was about to suggest that Pickles had reinvented himself as a prophet new inspired, only hesitating over this royal throne of kings, but — believe it or not — Pickles was up for that as well, as near as dammit:
While welcoming and respecting fellow British citizens who belong to other faiths, we are a Christian country, with an established Church in England, governed by the Queen.
Another contribution to Malcolm’s F.E. Smith epiphany could well have been reading Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian:
… why is Cameron being so stubborn [over the Health Bill]? Why does he declare himself “at one” with Lansley, whose attempts to explain the bill have been techno-mumble of the most desperate kind, and expend yet more political capital on a further attempt to persuade the doubters? If it were simple oldfashioned loyalty to a colleague in trouble, one might almost admire it. But nobody who knows the Tory party or this prime minister would reckon that was the real motivation.
No, it goes back to that sublime self-assurance and the way of playing Westminster politics as if it were the Eton wall game, where, however dirty you get, it’s your job to push the other chap’s face in the mud and keep it there. Losing the bill would give Miliband a good day. It would be “a loss”. So it mustn’t happen. More important to push on at all costs, and deny your opponent a moment of satisfaction.
Cameron is undoubtedly in one of those self-created excavations to which Denis Healey’s famous First Law refers:
The first law of holes is that when one is in a hole one should stop digging.
So, somewhere around that moment of recognition, ideas conflated, and into Malcolm’s mind sprang “Chuck it, Smith!”
Perhaps, too, Malcolm had spotted Paul Flynn deploying Smith in the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee last month:
Is there not a lesson in what happened with the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, where F.E. Smith, as the leader of antidisestablishmentarianism, gave us not only the longest word in the English language, but a good lesson to follow? He said that the disestablishment of the Church in Wales is a Bill that will shock the conscience of every Christian community in Europe. There was hyperbole about in politics-we have not invented it in our generation-and as G.K. Chesterton said in a poem, talk about the Church and steeples, “And the cash that goes therewith: But the souls of Christian peoples… Chuck it, Smith.” Is there not a lesson in there? We have part of our constitution now, where the Prime Minister may not believe in God or be a Christian, but actually is responsible for appointing the head of the Church of England and the whole Anglican community. When there is an absurdity and an indefensible situation like that, public opinion will go along with it, and change and reforms are possible and probably popular.
In actual fact, on re-reading that, Malcolm still isn’t sure where it’s going.
However, it does bring Malcolm to the point:
‘A Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe.’ —Mr. F.E. Smith, on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill.
Chuck it, Smith
F.E.Smith was as OTT in 1913 as Pickles is this last week. Did the Commons not have other matters, perhaps more pressing, than the Church in Wales to debate at that historical moment? They had, after all been gnawing at that bone of contention since 1804. Jarndyce and Jarndyce is no match for this lot. Meanwhile, they were making a dog’s dinner of Home Rule (updated: what’s Doric, Lallans or Ullans for Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?)
Still, it’s an excuse for Malcolm to rattle off G.K.Chesterton’s Catholic and comprehensive put-down of Smith (which could, by extension, be applied to many, too many, other parliamentarians, on many,many topics and occasions):
It would greatly, I must own,
Soothe me, Smith!
If you left this theme alone,
For your legal cause or civil
You fight well and get your fee
For your God or dream or devil
You will answer, not to me.
Talk about the pews and steeples
And the Cash that goes therewith!
But the souls of Christian peoples . . .
Chuck it, Smith!