The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Legends of the Fall

'It's a disgrace,' Margaret said. 'All this about one man!'

'He was a great man,' I said.

She gave me a look of pitying scorn: 'He was a Tory.'

We were talking about the death of Winston Churchill. We were ten years old. I had read a Reader's Digest collection of adulatory articles about the great man. It honoured his finest hour, of course. It lavished attention on his bulldog recklessness - turning up with a tommy-gun at the Seige of Sydney Street! What a guy! - and his common touch - saving his cigar butts for his chauffeur to smoke in his pipe! What a gent! I can't swear they weren't mentioned, but the names of Tonypandy, the Dardanelles, Gallipoli and Dieppe weren't ones the book left burning in my mind. I doubt they were on Margaret's mind either.

Some months earlier a Labour canvasser had driven into the village, stopped where a gang of us were playing, rolled down the window, handed a sheaf of election leaflets to us, and driven on to the next village. He didn't need to knock on doors. In our house, I suspect, the Labour leaflet went straight in the trash. My parents may have voted Liberal, which was something of a tradition in the areas where they came from.

'They couldn't vote for the Tories,' my mother said, decades later, 'because the Tories took their land.'

No Highland minister ever turned down a poacher's gift of salmon or venison. They would never have touched anything stolen. They respected property. They just had the Highland theory of it.

'The land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.' Leviticus 25, 23.

In classical political economy there were three factors of production: land, labour, and capital; which begat three sources of income: rent, wages, and profit; upon which subsisted three classes: landlords, labourers and capitalists; which in the fullness of time give rise to three parties: Tory, Labour and Liberal; and then the Tarriff Question arose, and tempted Churchill, and he crossed the floor, and he did eat; and poor Adam Smith was driven from his garden, and had to live by Labour.

Well, something like that. Enough like it to put steel in the voice of a little old lady, and a sharp little girl.


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