Most Interesting Politicians

I forgot to specify that I meant “British” and “active”, so I am afraid I had to rule out some fine nominations. John Stonehouse, the Czech spy and Labour MP for Walsall North who disappeared to Australia in 1974 having staged his own death, suggested by Arieh Kovler, would have been a candidate. We’ll do former politicians another day.

  1. Ed Balls Quad-core intellectual processor who was Gordon Brown’s spare brain capacity for 16 years; a better economist than the Chancellor.
  2. Andrew Adonis With academies and HS2 (even if it never happens), he has achieved more than all but a handful of elected ministers. Now he wants to be mayor of London.
  3. David Cameron Too easily dismissed as a privileged smoothie, he is an instinctive politician and fitfully ambitious thinker.
  4. Stella Creasy Talks so fast and is so busy on Twitter it’s easy to overlook how deeply she is steeped in political and psychological theory and Labour history.
  5. Michael Gove Once a fierce Thatcherite, his conversion to advocate of comprehensive excellence for poor pupils is a lasting Blairite gain.
  6. David Laws The only Lib Dem on the list. The job in the City pre-politics lends some depth.
  7. Boris Johnson The combination buffoon and polymath is sufficiently dazzling to obscure a thin record as London mayor.
  8. Grant Shapps It’s unusual to have a front-rank politician who has traded under an assumed name (writing books such as How to Bounce Back from Recession under the pseudonym Michael Green).
  9. Nicola Sturgeon After long being seen as an extra in Alex Salmond’s film, turned out to have a mind of her own: insisted on a simple Yes-No referendum on Scottish independence.
  10. Anna Soubry Deserves our lasting gratitude for banning civil-service jargon as health minister.

Originally published 9 February 2014 in The Independent



Unsung Villains

Tom Doran started this one with his suggestion for historical figures who don’t get as bad a press as they should, and nominated the first on the list. One of my correspondents suggested each one ought to have ‘profited from their sociopathology and have at least one Cassandra in their story’. I’m not sure I’ve kept to that rule, but here is what we came up with:

  1. Erich Ludendorff – Lost the First World War almost single-handed; blamed Jews and Marxists, originating the ‘stab in the back’ myth; undermined Weimar; and ended up an obscure lunatic too deranged even for Hitler.
  2. Guy Fawkes – ‘Terrorist and ally of continental absolutism. Now a cuddly folk hero,’ said Matthew Forrest.
  3. Winston Churchill – Nominated by Pete Deveson: ‘His successes are well known, but many people don’t know about the Bengal famine, or setting troops on miners in the General Strike.’
  4. Che Guevara – ‘Mass murderer,’ said Dan Fox. ‘A megalomaniac who agitated from ideology for a nuclear war that would have killed millions of his own people,’ according to Robert Kaye.
  5. Hugo Chavez – In a similar vein to Guevara. ‘Absolutely horrific man and pretend-democrat, who many on the Left still idolise,’ said Rob Marchant.
  6. Henry VIII – Nominated by Will Cooling: ‘Remembered for his wives but his tyrannical self-obsessed rule leading to more than a century of religious strife is often overlooked.’ The only doubt about Henry VIII is whether his villainy is unsung enough.
  7. John F. Kennedy – ‘An appalling, sleazy, dangerous bastard held up as some kind of hero,’ suggested Chris Mochan.
  8. Augustine of Hippo – For the corrosive guilt, self-doubt and shame he embedded, by elaborating the doctrine of original sin so firmly in the Western mind, according to Matthew Tomalin.
  9. Richard I – ‘Useless king who spent zero time in England during his reign, and bankrupted the country fighting in the Holy Land,’ according to Neil Powell.
  10. Eamon De Valera – ‘A terrible human being who is somehow remembered as an Irish hero. And he signed the book of condolence for Hitler’s death purely to annoy Britain,’ said Kevin Feeney.

Genuine Shop Names

A letter in a Sunday newspaper recently contested the claim that Junk & Disorderly was the best punning shop name in Britain, claiming the title for a butcher in Tooting called Halal – Is It Meat You’re Looking For. Sadly, there is no such shop. But these are all genuine.

  1. Wok This Way Chinese take-away in Newcastle.
  2. Sun Tan Drews Tanning salon, now closed, in north-east Fife university town.
  3. Curl Up and Dye Hairdresser in many places, including Kingston.
  4. Melon Cauli Greengrocer in Pheasey, Birmingham (the sign also says ‘funeral work undertaken’).
  5. Kumquat Mae Vegetarian restaurant, Sheffield.
  6. Napoleon Boiler Parts Alton, Hampshire. ‘It almost makes us want our boiler to be repaired,’ said Pauline and Bernard Sheridan.
  7. Lawn Order Gardener’s van.
  8. Sellfridges A fridge shop in Stoke Newington, north London, recently closed.
  9. B-Side The C-Side Record shop in Herne Bay.
  10. Maison D’Etre Restaurant, Highbury Corner, north London.

Most English Remarks of All Time

Boris Johnson once said of his Anglican belief: ‘My faith is a bit like Magic FM in the Chilterns, in that the signal comes and goes.’ A lot of people, including David Cameron who likes to quote it, have been very taken by this most English of sentiments. So I asked for other candidates.

  1. ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ – Captain Oates.
  2. ‘I think it’s easing.’ (Of the rain.)
  3. ‘Old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning.’ – George Orwell, ‘England Your England’. Often misquoted as ‘biking’ to Holy Communion, and even, by another very English prime minister, John Major, as ‘bicycling’.
  4. ‘Who you looking at, mate?’ – Nominated by Sean Kenny. ‘Usually as spoken in a pub, in a market town, on a Saturday night. But can be used any time.’
  5. ‘Sorry.’
  6. ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!’ ‘By God, sir, so you have!’ – Lord Uxbridge and the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.
  7. ‘Why don’t you fall into two very lovely lines?’ – Sergeant Wilson, Dad’s Army.
  8. ‘Well, you know me, I ain’t one to gossip.’ – Dot Cotton, EastEnders.
  9. ‘It looked a tad sticky at Dunkirk.’ – Eddie Cozens, nominated by his grandson Mark Wallace, who had asked, ‘Did you ever think we might lose the war?’
  10. ‘Crashed slow-rolling near the ground. Bad show.’ – Douglas Bader’s logbook, on the accident that cost him his legs.