Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Westminster's Fiercest Whip

And I can tell you this, you utterly contemptible little shit. On every morning that you wake up for the rest of your life you will be ashamed of what you did last night.

– Chief Government Whip David Margesson in a letter to John Profumo, M.P.* following the Norway Debate, May 1940. Mr. Profumo had the temerity to vote down the government after the military botch at Norway.

If you ever wonder how Neville Chamberlain kept his coalition government going for so long after the spectacular and humiliating failure of Munich, which became devastatingly apparent as early as March 1939, yet the government survived more than a year thereafter, suffering defeat after defeat as the Nazis shook hands with the Soviets and blitzkrieged across Europe, a good deal of credit must go to the Government's Chief Whip, one Henry David Reginald Margesson. David Margesson (1890–1965), a stern disciplinarian, was without a doubt one of the harshest and most effective whips in British Parliamentary history.

Margesson's mission was to stand in the way of Churchill and his small but vociferous band of anti-appeasers. His position was in many ways unprecedented, having the task of keeping in power a grouping composed of the Conservatives, National Labour and two groups of Liberals - the official Liberal Party and the Liberal National Party all behind a single government that sought to stand above partisan politics. With the government as a whole commanding the support of 556 MPs, as opposed to just 58 opposition members, his main task was to ensure that the government stayed together and was able to pass contentious legislation without risking a major breach within the government. In several areas this proved tricky as different sections of the National combination came to denounce areas of government policy, nevertheless Margesson adopted a method of strong disciplinarianism, combined with selective use of patronage and the social effect of ostracism to secure every vote possible.

But things finally came to a head with the debacle of Norway and Leo Amery's morale busting thunderclap to the Commons, pleading for the government to "In the name of God, go!". Even so, Chamberlain still managed to squeak out a win thanks to the hard hitting Margesson, though poor John Profumo (1915-2006) found himself singled out by the man 25 years his senior. Remember, this was no sudden outburst but a deliberately contrived letter, so once more with energy:

And I can tell you this, you utterly contemptible little shit. On every morning that you wake up for the rest of your life you will be ashamed of what you did last night.


Far from being ashamed *, the young MP no doubt considered this to be his finest hour. Although Chamberlain won the vote, days later he would resign given the growing divisiveness his leadership was proving across the country. When Churchill entered 10 Downing he magnanimously kept Margesson in Cabinet, even though he was perhaps the greatest obstacle to the anti-appeasers. Despite his methods of whipping members into line, Margesson remained a much liked individual, with many members expressing personal admiration for him. Away from his duties he was known to be quite sociable and within the parliamentary party few bore him ill. But as whip he was not to be crossed.

* Until he died in 2006, John Profumo, C.B.E. was the last surviving member of that historic 1940 Commons. In the 1960s he was involved in a prostitution scandal, but fully redeemed his character with a life of charity in the forty years that followed.


Bolingbroke said...

He certainly looks like he means business. But in 1940, I would have had no bones in crossing him.

Beaverbrook said...

I like the link to you utterly contemptible little shit. Hilarious touch. Mick Hume deserves it big time.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Nice to see the Kingdom of Norway mentioned.

I second "Lord Beaverbrook"'s comment.

As a subject of the King of Norway, my sympathies go with Mr. Profumo though. :-)

(Although I primarily would have preferred Norwegian politicians to have listened to their King – who was a son-in-law of Edward VII – and kept a higher level of defense, which probably would have kept Hitler from risking his fleet to the wet grave of Norwegian fjords.)

Shaftesbury said...

Margesson and Chamberlain elevated Party Discipline to a whole new level - something that has destroyed the very idea of Representative Democracy in our time.

Margesson put party loyalty over loyalty to his King and Country.

He is surely one of the "Men of Munich."

Shaftesbury said...

... and thus one of the "Guilty Men."