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Hot under the collar about the elective dictatorship?

“I’m feeling a bit strangled”, said Lord Hailsham. “Have you got any size 18s?”

“I’ll have a look, sir”, I said.

He wasn’t asking about shirts. In the late 1960s, it was still fairly commonplace for men to wear separate collars, attached to their shirts with collar studs. It was his collars that were proving to be the problem; but therein lay the great advantage of collarless shirts: rather than throw out a perfectly good shirt, one need only buy a new collar and the old tight, worn out or stained collar could be discarded. My father would routinely do without wearing a collar around the house, only attaching one when he went off to work or to meet family or friends.

I’d seen quite a few celebs strolling around my sales floor at the Army & Navy Stores on London’s Victoria Street during my Christmas holiday job as a student.

I recognised Quintin Hogg, or 2nd Viscount Hailsham as he’d become in 1950, straight away. (Actually he wasn’t a lord when I met him, as he’d renounced his peerage in the mid-‘sixties under the Peerage Act, in order to stand as an MP. He later returned to the House of Lords).

The quite eccentric Hailsham is remembered for a variety of reasons. But perhaps most of all we remember him for a phrase that redounds even to this day in discussions about government: “elective dictatorship“.

In a lecture in 1976, Hailsham suggested that governing parties held far too much power, such that they were able to – and often did – act in a dictatorial fashion, whether or not they had a large majority. Whilst there was an appearance of democracy through debate and whilst parliament appeared to be a forum in which opposing views could be aired and considered, in reality the governing party was at liberty to impose its will without any regard for the views of other parties.

So I’ve been wondering what he would make of the current situation in parliament. Not only have the Tories not got an overall majority; they are dependent on the attachment of a right-wing ‘collar’, in the shape of the DUP, in order to survive. Even so … whilst they are able to hold sway only by paying a £1bn bribe for this attachment, in theory they can dictate whatever policies they choose and enact legislation which takes no account of the views of electors who hold contrary opinions.

Yes, without a collar, a man’s shirt is incomplete. And without a majority, a government is unable to function smoothly. So the Tories clearly see paying way over the odds for a new collar as a price worth paying.

But even following the Conservative and Unionist Party‘s signing of the deal with the DUP, Prime Minister Theresa May must be feeling held in something of a stranglehold by her new Irish partners. The studs holding their partnership together may well become dislodged.

I fetched a tape measure from the drawer under the counter and slipped it around Hailsham’s neck. (Our political opinions might have been diametrically opposed, but I resisted the temptation to martyr myself in the cause of worker’s rights).

“Yes, I think a size 18 would be much more comfortable”, I said. Hailsham harrumphed and paid over the £1 2s 6d for the new collar.

In reality, it may not be the collar that brings about the downfall of Theresa May. There are many dissenting voices on all kinds of issues on her own back benches.

Whilst she may think she’s got the whole situation buttoned up for now, it probably won’t be long before things start to fall apart at the seams …




Picture credit: Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone Allan Warren.jpg by Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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With friends like Barack and Boris …

Eddie Marsh, Winston Churchill‘s Private Secretary, offering advice to the then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, said: “We should kiss America on both cheeks”; to which Churchill replied, “Yes, but not on all four”. I’m indebted to Boris Johnson for that quote, which you’ll find 19 minutes and 14 seconds into this video …

It would be very interesting to know what the British public made of Barack Obama‘s speech alongside David Cameron at No. 10 yesterday, doing everything he could to encourage the UK to vote in favour of staying in the EU.

The trouble is, the British people tend to react against being told what to do, whether by their own government or even more so by foreigners. Obama’s tone was gentle, not hectoring. He spoke in the guise of a friend, merely offering advice, notwithstanding the veiled threat that the UK would find itself at the back of the queue for trade deals with the USA if it went it alone. He has an easy manner, persuasive, analytical, with a breathtaking grasp of the geo-political landscape worldwide – and a winning smile.

But, as a Lefty who’s very much in favour of retaining EU membership – primarily because of our cavalier attitude to human rights, rather than the financial benefits which are the only meaty items on the EU menu as far as the media are concerned – it worried me a bit to see “David” sucking up to “Barack” in a way that might well have prompted another terse witticism from Churchill, were he still with us.

I’m not a great fan of Boris, but he’s such a wily campaigner, highly knowledgeable and a great communicator. He doesn’t really do gravitas, of course; but that’s a commodity that went out of fashion years ago, another casualty of the cultural revolution in the Sixties. Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson did their best to resurrect the Churchillian style of oratory; but after Wilson’s infamous “Pound In Your Pocket” speech fell as flat as a pancake, subsequent leaders have tended to adopt a more relaxed approach – with the notable exception, perhaps, of Thatcher‘s successes with her Iron Lady persona.

Every now and again, politicians with real charisma bubble up to the surface. The “surface”, of course, is that cultural ocean we all nowadays swim in, called the media – broadcast, social and print. As time goes on, it appears that charisma is becoming more and more significant as a political weapon. Logic, analysis and basic communication skills can still hit the mark. But that magical ability to use the media to inspire and engender devotion can torpedo all purely rational approaches.

So if by chance (and I for one fervently pray it doesn’t happen), Boris Johnson runs for the post of Prime Minister after leading us out of the EU’s back door, he may well find that charisma will carry him through to the winning line.

Churchill’s greatest personal quality was perhaps his ability to translate his charisma – of which gravitas was a key constituent part – into the arena of global influence and world politics.


Whether a Johnson-led government of a Britain operating in splendid isolation could command such respect on the world stage is highly debateable, in my view. And after the British public made their feelings towards one particular candidate for President of the United States very clear recently, we must all surely doubt whether charisma alone could be a Trump card in what would have become a rather “unspecial relationship”.




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