Pot Snr and Kettle Jnr

David Cameron, in PMQs, avoiding the questions over the shoddy sale of the Post Office:

You are right, Mr Speaker, that there is a lot of history in this shouting, because of course in the past with all these privatisations we had the shouting of the Kinnocks, the shouting of the Prescotts and the shouting of the Straws. Over Easter, I was looking at Labour’s candidates and I saw that son of Kinnock is coming here, son of Straw wants to get here and son of Prescott wants to come here. It is the same families with the same message—it is literally the same old Labour. That is what is happening.

There is some small merit in Cameron’s quackings. It was also there in Neil Kinnock’s well-known (and ripped off) speech to the Welsh Labour Conference in May 1987:

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick? Did they lack talent, those people who could sing and play and write and recite poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions. Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could wake work eight hours under ground and then come up and play football, weak those women who could survive eleven child-bearings? Were they weak? Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.

Well, Stephen Kinnock, Will Straw, and David Prescott have inherited platforms upon which they could stand. As does Emily Benn. This being Labour Party politics, though, they still have to prove worth and merit (and hard work) to climb through the ranks.

A whiff of hypocrisy

Cameron’s canard [*] has a privileged quack.

He delivered that dynastic dig with the Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, beside him. Francis Maude is MP for North Warwickshire 1983-1992 and retreaded MP for Horsham since 1997. Francis Maude is the son of Angus Maude, MP for Ealing South 1950-58, and retreaded MP for Stratford-on-Avon 1963-1983 (a seat he inherited from the disgraced John Profumo).

On the Tory benches we find a couple more surviving political dynasties:

  • Nicholas Soames is the son of Christopher Soames MP, grandson of Winston Churchill MP, and thereby a line all the way back to the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The marriage of Georgiana Cavendish (of the Devonshires) to Earl Spencer involves a whole mesh of entanglements, including Anthony Eden and sundry other worthies, and unworthies.
  • Nick Hurd, son of Douglas Hurd MP, grandson of Anthony Hurd MP, great-grandson of Sir Percy Hurd.

I have to admit defeat in unravelling the various marriages and connections of

  • the Pitts and Stanhopes,
  • the multitudinous Longs,
  • the intertwined Greys, Lamptons, Warings, not forgetting the Douglas-Homes.

And the man himself

Cameron’s great-grandfather was Sir William Mount, Tory MP for Newbury 1918-22, a post inherited from his father, MP for Newbury 1885-1918 and so Cameron’s great-great-grandfather. But there’s more:

On the day a young unknown called David Cameron was due to attend a job interview at Conservative Central Office, a curious phone call was received from Buckingham Palace.

‘I understand you are to see David Cameron,’ said a man with a grand voice. ‘I’ve tried everything I can to dissuade him from wasting his time on politics but I have failed.

‘I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.’ …

The mystery Palace caller who smoothed Cameron’s path to Conservative Central Office has, frustratingly, yet to be unmasked.

It might be fair to assume it was Captain Sir Alastair Aird, then Comptroller and later Equerry to the Queen Mother and husband of Fiona Aird, Cameron’s godmother. That was Cameron’s belief, but the Airds vigorously deny it.

Cameron’s office suggested the caller might have been Sir Brian McGrath, a family friend who was private secretary to Prince Philip. But he, too, though named as a referee for the job, denies it firmly.

Nonetheless, thanks to the phantom string-puller, when Cameron reported for duty at Conservative Central Office on September 26, 1988, he stepped on to a fast track to political office.

There’s a touch of the MRDAs in those denials.

Countess-of-Erroll-and-Lord-HayYet Cameron has a direct link to the greatest in the land. So I feel entitled to repeat myself, yet again:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
  • William IV was third son of George III.
  • William’s liaison with Dorothea Jordan produced eleven children, given the surname FitzClarence. Elizabeth FitzClarence (right, as Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll — the son died at the Battle of Waterloo, aged 17) married the 18th Earl of Erroll, and the subsequent descent makes David Cameron a fifth cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

[*] Malcolmian aside

Yes, canard is directly borrowed from French.

Let’s hear it from the authoritative OED:

An extravagant or absurd story circulated to impose on people’s credulity; a hoax, a false report.

Littré says Canard for a silly story comes from the old expression ‘vendre un canard à moitié’ (to half-sell a duck), in which à moitié was subsequently suppressed. It is clear that to half-sell a duck is not to sell it at all; hence the sense ‘to take in, make a fool of’. In proof of this he cites bailleur de canards, deliverer of ducks, utterer of canards, of date 1612: Cotgrave, 1611, has the fuller vendeur de canards a moitié ‘a cousener, guller, cogger; foister, lyer’. Others have referred the word to an absurd fabricated story purporting to illustrate the voracity of ducks, said to have gone the round of the newspapers, and to have been credited by many. As this account has been widely circulated, it is possible that it has contributed to render the word more familiar, and thus more used, in English.

Littré was Émile Maximilien Paul Littré, the lexicographer who produced his Dictionnaire de la langue française, after 30 years of effort, in 1873. His entry for canard is here, and includes:

Populairement, conte absurde et par lequel on veut se moquer de la crédulité des auditeurs. Cette nouvelle n’était qu’un canard.

Je suis fâché de ne vous avoir pas traité comme mon enfant ; vous le méritiez mieux que ce donneur de canard à moitié qui nous promettait tant de châteaux en Espagnela Comédie des proverbes, III, 7

How to finish here?

In honour of the canard, let’s apply the duck test:

Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.

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Filed under Daily Mail, David Cameron, History, Labour Party, prejudice, Tories.

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