Malcolm is severely frustrated. He read Iain Dale’s Friday piece for ConHome:
So Nick Clegg wouldn’t form a coalition with Labour if it doesn’t back HS2. Well, that’s killed two birds with one stone then. I simply cannot understand why so many Conservatives are so keen on HS2. I’m all in favour of visionary transport projects, but this is not one of them. It is far too expensive and doesn’t give enough bang for the taxpayer buck. Even the economic studies produced by the government which were meant to inspire us all to rally to the project’s support haven’t really done the job they were intended to do. But in the end Labour needs to sh*t or get off the pot, to coin a phrase. Their current line is offering lukewarm support for the project (designed to keep Andrew Adonis from having a flounce) but saying they will withdraw that support if the cost rises to more than £50 million. It appears that Ed Miliband has told Ed Balls he will be the one to determine whether a future Labour government ends up supporting HS2. What an abdication of political leadership from the Labour leader. Does he not have a view on one of the most important infrastructure projects of our time?
There something for Malcolm to agree with there: It is far too expensive and doesn’t give enough bang for the taxpayer buck. HS2 is yet another political disaster waiting to happen, following Lansley’s cock-up on the NHS, Iain Duncan Smith screwing up welfare, and many more. It’s only public money, after all.
Where Malcolm would differ with Iain Dale is that Ed Balls and Labour, given all the trump-cards when Cameron demanded their support, are playing a long game here. Andrew Bridgen MP, a doughty opponent of HS2, has apparently spotted the Cunning Trap to catch the Heffalump:
[He] has warned Labour only intends to vote in favour of the paving Bill on Thursday to ensure the Conservative Party is fully committed to HS2 by the time of the next election in 2015.
“They want us right down the track,” Bridgen said. “Labour will support the Bill going forward so we are fully committed. Labour want to leave us shunted into political siding, very exposed. They will leave the Conservative Party in a very vulnerable position, damaged in the Shires and the marginals.”
If so, good show, both Eds.
However, that doesn’t explain Malcolm’s grief over Iain Dale’s post. No, it is because twice Malcolm composed one of his reflective retrospections, and twice the post disappeared into the aether, lost and gone forever.
So here is a third attempt, and in the first person to boot:
It’s good to meet “or get off the pot” again.
However, Iain Dale might have acknowledged the expression’s venerable and (small-c) conservative heritage.
Herbert Hoover seemingly used it against Governor Cal Coolidge, over the 1919 Boston police strike. Robert H. Ferrell’s 1998 biography of Coolidge quotes Coolidge (page 195):
For six years that man has given me unsolicited advice — all of it bad. I was particularly offended by his comment to ‘shit or get off the pot’ in reference to my delay in calling for action in the Boston police strike.
There we perceive why Coolidge was less-than-enthusiastic for Hoover as the Republican nominee in 1928.
The road to Checkers
A more-recent and more-famed occasion was 1952, when Eisenhower was having qualms over his running-mate’s probity. Eisenhower, in St Louis, telephoned Nixon, in Portland. Let’s hear from Conrad Black (Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full; page 241):
Eisenhower said the dinner he had just attended was very divided over what should be done. “I don’t want to be in the position of condemning an innocent man.” He urged Nixon to go ahead with the telecast and lay out everything from his financial affairs since he entered politics.
After a pause, Nixon asked, “General, do you think that after the television program that an announcement could then be made one way of another?” Eisenhower waffled inexplicably: “Hoping no announcement necessary … maybe … ” etc. Nixon, with the cobralike strike with which he often seized the initiative, discarded the comparative standing of his illustrious interlocutor and his own parlous condition and sharply responded, ” General, I must want you to know that I don’t want you to give any consideration to my personal feelings,” (He need have had no concerns on that score.) “I know how difficult this problem is for you,” he added with mounting irony. If he were a dead weight or hindrance to the ticket, Nixon would “get off and take the heat,” but some decision would have to be made after the speech. “There comes a time in matters like this when you have to shit or get off the pot. The great trouble here is the indecision.”
Those in Nixon’s room were flabbergasted, but Eisenhower was unperturbed and said that they would have to wait “three or four days” after a telecast. He concluded jauntily, “Well, Dick, go on the television show. Good luck and keep your chin up.”
Nobody comes out of that smelling of roses — Eisenhower, Nixon and, least of all, Black’s prose style.