Soapbox: publisher's perspective |

The Great Art of the Insult

Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 13 November 2020


I am sure that you, like me, are thoroughly enjoying—well, perhaps not enjoying—but certainly fascinated, appalled, disgusted, amazed and well, totally floored by the ease with which the politicians and their supporters in elections (at this point in time, the USA, but it isn’t long till Indonesia follows suit!) have no problem in dispensing with any form of truth, honesty or even ethics or indeed morality as they bravely lie their teeth off, both about themselves and their opponents to try to take offices, which rely entirely on them being 100% honest and trustworthy! I am amazed but I am also disappointed, no, not because I expect them to be moral and ethical, they are politicians after all and that basically rules those particular virtues out, but because they have not learned the real art of the insult!

They obviously haven’t heard enough of or learned from, the absolutely poisonous quotes that politicians have thrown at each other over the ages. Here is a selection of them which will illustrate how poorly our current contenders are in the high art of character assassination.


Harold Wilson

William F. Buckley Jr. on Harold Wilson (UK Prime Minister):
All facts and no bloody ideas

“Talk about a credibility gap. Harold Wilson is undoubtedly the world’s most unbelievable politician. Indeed, one could have made a handsome living over the past three years betting on the opposite of everything Harold Wilson has averred, whether on Rhodesia, the common market economic controls, or—most recently—the value of the pound.”


Sir Robert Walpole

Jonathan Swift on Sir Robert Walpole (UK Prime Minister):
Achieving of nothing - still promising wonders

“By dint of experience improving in blunders,
Oppressing true merit, exalting the base,
And selling his country to purchase his place,
A jobber of stocks by retailing false news - 
A prayer at court in the style of the stews: 
Of virtue and worth by profession a giber,
Of injuries and senates the bully and briber.
Though I name not the wretch, yet you know whom I mean -
‘Tis the cur-dog of Britain and spaniel of Spain”.


Margaret Thatcher

Clive James on Margaret Thatcher (UK Prime Minister) :
“She sounded like the book of Revelation read out over a railway station public address system by a headmistress of a certain age wearing calico knickers.”


Anon on John ​Profumo: 
On the Profumo Scandal 

“What have you done?” cried Christine,
“You’ve wrecked the whole party machine!
To lie in the nude, maybe rude, 
but to lie in the House is obscene!”


Harold Macmillan

Bernard Levin on Harold ​Macmillan (UK Prime Minister) : 
“It was almost impossible to believe that he was anything but a down-at-heel actor resting between engagements at the decrepit theatres of minor provincial towns.”


Horace Walpole on George Grenville (UK Prime Minister): 
“A fatiguing orator and indefatigable drudge; more likely to disgust than offend. As all his passions were expressed by one livid smile, he never blushed at the variation in his behaviour; scarce any man ever wore in his face such outward and visible marks of the hollow, cruel and rotten heart within”. 


And here is the greatest of them all: 


William Gladstone

Benjamin Disraeli on William Gladstone (UK Prime Minister) : 
“A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and glory himself.”

“Posterity will do justice to that unprincipled maniac Gladstone - extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition and with one commanding characteristic—whether preaching, praying, speechifying or scribbling—never a gentleman!”

This is the true art of the insult, raised to the highest level, but sadly the use of the English language is so good that perhaps very few will understand it... even those that it is aimed at!

So, as we approach the US presidential elections and then move on to the Indonesian regional and provincial elections, let us hope that amongst the empty promises and appalling lies, we will find some gems like those to brighten our dark days.