The general election is tomorrow but an incredible 38% of us are still deciding for whom to vote. The economy is shattered and we’re fighting two unpopular wars but many people are more preoccupied with the expenses scandal, Bigotgate and the general inter-party bickering.
A few choice pieces of political scatology may help to focus the mind by reminding us that bad behaviour is nothing new. And remember - only the Lava-Tory Party can turn floating voters into voting floaters.
For example, if anyone thinks that the modern crop of politicians dishonour their office by hurling abuse at each other, they should consider this piece by the Whig politician Charles James Fox (1749-1806). Although Fox published An Essay upon Wind anonymously, it was very publicly dedicated to the Tory Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow (1731-1806).
I have heard, from several of your brother peers, that your lordship farts, without reserve, when seated upon the woolsack, in a full assembly of nobles. This is honest and impartial in Your Lordship, and you merit the thanks of the nation at large… Now this is manly – I admire great Nature in all her operations, and detest the wretched affected being who would check or counteract her in any of her sublime and beautiful works. Fame, my Lord, with her shrill loud trumpet, reports that Your Lordship’s farts are as STRONG, and as SOUND, as your arguments – as VIGOROUS as your intellects – as FORCIBLE as your language – as BRILLIANT as your wit – and as SONOROUS and MUSICAL as Your Lordship’s voice… May Your Lordship continue to fart like an ancient Grecian for many years.
(Charles James Fox – An Essay upon Wind 1787)
Politicians were still making cheap scatological jibes in the 20th
century. F.E.Smith, Lord Birkenhead (1872-1930), a one-time Tory Lord Chancellor and a confidant of Winston Churchill, used to pop into the National Liberal Club in Whitehall Court to use the urinals on his way to the Houses of Parliament. Having done this for years, he was eventually accosted by a porter who pointed out that he was in a private club of which he was not a member. "Good God!" replied Birkenhead. "You mean it's a club as well?".
Churchill himself, it is said, was once standing at the urinals in the House of Commons when the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967) walked in. Churchill turned his back on him. “Feeling stand-offish today, Winston?” asked Attlee. “No,” Churchill replied, “scared. Every time you see something big, you want to nationalise it.”
However, sexual fraternity could sometimes overcome political antipathy. The Labour MP Tom Driberg (1905-1976) was renowned for his promiscuousness. Churchill allegedly said that “Tom Driberg is the sort of person who gives sodomy a bad name.” In his autobiography, Driberg described his entry to the House of Commons in 1947 and how he was assisted by the bisexual Tory MP, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958). The suggestion that cottaging went on in Parliament between knowing members of rival parties should give today’s puritans pause.
Only a few hours after I had been introduced to the House, when I was still wondering about in a daze, and lost, Chips kindly showed me round the most important rooms – the Members’ lavatories. This was an act of pure, disinterested, sisterly friendship, for we had no physical attraction for each other.
(Tom Driberg – Ruling Passions 1977)
For his part, the Conservative Enoch Powell (1912-1998) urged restraint. The documentary maker Michael Cockerell (b.1940) once asked him if it was true that he always liked to make a speech on a full bladder. “Absolutely,” Powell replied. “You do nothing to decrease the tension. If anything you seek to increase the tension before you speak… I speak with more passion on a full bladder.”
However, the greatest piece of political scatology dates back to the seventeenth century. It is often said that the House of Commons today resembles a bear pit – but it is a shadow of its former self.
In 1607, Henry Ludlow farted in Parliament during a debate about the naturalization of the Scots. This may have been an accident – his father Sir Edward Ludlow was renowned for having farted in a committee meeting – but the House fell about and Ludlow’s farting Nay-vote passed into folklore. Endless poems were written about the fart – the best-known being The Censure of the Parliament Fart from the 1620s which begins thus:
Never was bestowed such art
Upon the tuning of a Fart.
Down came grave ancient Sir John Crooke
And read his message in his book.
“Very well,” quoth Sir William Morris, “So.”
But Henry Ludlow’s Tail cry’d “No.”
Up starts one fuller of devotion
Then Eloquence; and said a very ill motion.
“Not so neither,” quoth Sir Henry Jenkin,
“The Motion was good; but for the stinking.”
“Well,” quoth Sir Henry Poole, “it was a bold trick
To Fart in the nose of the body politic.”
“Indeed I must confess,” quoth Sir Edward Grevill,
“The matter of itself was somewhat uncivil.”
“Thank God, quoth Sir Edward Hungerford
“That this Fart proved not a Turd…”
It is too long to reproduce in full but those who are interested – or have still to decide which way to vote – can view it here.