When Ed Miliband was branded a back-stabber in the heat of the general election battle, it generated a furious reaction from Labour who called it a deeply personal attack from a Tory party which really was the “Nasty Party”.
Michael Fallon, writing in The Times, accused Ed of stabbing his brother David in the back over the leadership of the Labour Party and said he was prepared to stab the country in the back by doing a dirty deal with the SNP over the renewal of Trident.
It was a pretty pathetic attempt to portray Miliband as evil, ruthless and capable of fratricide when, previously, they had attempted to paint him as the opposite; a weakling who was not strong enough to stand the pressure of being a Prime Minister. Can’t the Tories make up their mind?
The slur was more cheap abuse than evisceration because it lacked the essential quality of the memorable political put down…sparkling wit.
So here’s 20 of the best ever political put downs, which include a couple that are so good that they may not even be true.
The master of the art was, of course, our old friend Winston Churchill but Benjamin Disraeli also had the ability to conjure up an image and a killer line from which even those on the receiving end had little option but to admire.
- When Lady Astor told Churchill: “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea”, the Great Man replied quick as a flash “Madam…if you were my wife, I’d drink it”.
- Disraeli: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune and if anybody pulled him out that, I suppose, would be a calamity.”
- The late Alan Clark, the Tory MP most scathing about his own colleagues described Douglas Hurd as “pompous, trite, high-sounding, cautiously guarded… he might as well have corn cob up his arse.”
- Churchill on Clement Atlee, his deputy prime minister during the wartime coalition: “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street and when the door opened Atlee got out.”
- Clement Freud on Margaret Thatcher: “Attila the Hen”.
- Churchill when he was accused of being drunk by the MP Bessie Braddock: “My dear… you are ugly but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”
- Denis Healey on being attacked by Geoffrey Howe: “It was like being savaged by a dead sheep”.
- Disraeli on Robert Peel: “The Right Honourable gentleman’s smile was like the silver plate on a coffin.”
- The late Tony Banks MP described Margaret Thatcher as having “the sensitivity of a sex starved boa constrictor.”
- Adolf Hitler reputedly said of Neville Chamberlain: “He likes to take a weekend in the country …I like to take a country in a weekend.”
- Lloyd George on a rival politician, Sir John Simon: “The Right Honourable and learned gentleman has twice crossed the floor of the house, each time leaving a trail of slime”.
- Churchill on Atlee: “He is a modest man with much to be modest about.”
- Harold Wilson on Ted Heath, his rival for Prime Minister in 1974, who he said was “a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”
- Anne Widdecombe effectively ended Michael Howard’s bid for the Tory Party leadership in 1997 with the description: “There’s something of the night about him.”
- Alan Clark said of Michael Heseltine, when the latter was attempting to challenge Mrs Thatcher, as an “arriviste who buys all his own furniture”.
- Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit: “A semi-house trained polecat.”
- Disraeli, when asked to withdraw his comment that half the cabinet are asses, said:”Mr Speaker, I withdraw. Half the cabinet are not asses.”
- Alan Clark, when Ken Clarke refused to support Mrs Thatcher in her attempt to retain her premiership in 1991: “He’s a pudgy puffball.”
- Ken Livingstone on Mrs Thatcher: “I’ve met serial killers and assassins but nobody scares me as much as Margaret Thatcher.”
- Harold Wilson on Tony Benn: “He’s the only man I know who immatures with age.”
There are, of course, some rules when referring in derogatory terms to opponents in Parliament. The following words are banned: blackguard, coward, git, idiot, ignoramus, liar, pipsqueak, rat, tart, traitor and… sod.