Wednesday, March 12, 2008

EDW: Benjamin Disraeli

If like me you've been listening to or watching the budget you'll be struggling to stay awake now. Doubtless this ultra tedium was a deliberate tactic to mask a relative lack of policies. A pity, though, if Alistair Darling had cut out all the 'on the one hand we've done a great job, on the other things are looking bad in the global economy' and the 'I might be forced to do something about this in future' stuff he could have smashed Disraeli's record for the shortest-ever budget speech: 45 minutes.

Inevitably, the longest-ever budget speech was carried out by Disraeli's long-term antagonist Gladstone (who has already been EDW'd elsewhere). I don't offer the two as a counterpoint to contemporary politics for party political reasons – Gladstone started out as a Tory besides, whilst Disraeli was a Radical, and the idea that Brown (stern, authoritative) vs Cameron (flashy, crowd-pleasing) is some kind of replay of this Victorian antagonism is a particularly weak parallel. (Bonar Law vs MacDonald might be nearer the mark for those two). Rather, Dizzy and the Grand Old Man represent the old division between roundheads and cavaliers which once again is becoming a given in contemporary politics.

Disraeli is the quintessential political cavalier. His record as a statesman is well-enough known, I hope, as are details such as his relationship with Queen Victoria, his Jewishness and the distinction of being the only prime minister to write a novel inside Number 10.

But note that none of these diminish another distinction of his. He was, in the round, the flashiest, louchest, most flamboyant premier in British history; an as such is an ideal candidate for EDW. From his start as a young admirer of Byron, bankrupt aged 21, and the ultimate outsider in Victorian England, he is the most gloriously unlikely prime minister.

As an all-round character, Churchill had the more fascinating. life, Palmerston was probably the greater libertine (though Disraeli's youthful exploits in the Med gave rise to plenty of lurid speculation in his day) and from the time of Walpole through to our own dear Tony Blair there has been no shortage of premiers whom one would treat with caution.

No matter. Dizzy's life and career are an affront to the very concept of the career politician. Sadly, career politicians are pretty much all we get Britain these days. (Though not necessarily in America). If we are to have political quotas, an unofficial quota of wits and dandies would be a most welcome innovation.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Good choice. If a little provocative.


12:03 pm  

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