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"It's fine. There's really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad, swivel-eyed loons."How did the word "swivel-eyed" enter the British political lexicon, and when did we first get "swivel-eyed loons"? Here's a preliminary report, armed with access to the Lexis database, and the help of some friends on the Twitter with very good memories. As long ago as 1983, Michael Meacher was described in the unlamented Punch as a "swivel-eyed Leftie lunatic", so the term has been in circulation for a while. In 1987, Seamus Milne, writing in tehgraun, wrote that it was common to portray Robespierre as "the swivel-eyed high priest of political violence". And in 1991, in a couple of columns, Simon Hoggart used the term, on one occasion to pick out politicians who had a "swivel-eyed belief in privatisation". And it's in the early 1990s that the word more or less attaches itself to a certain kind of Tory politician. In fact, we can be more specific: John Redwood is clearly the key figure here. When he was first appointed to the Cabinet in the May 1993 reshuffle, an unnamed and disgruntled Tory politician said, "we want fewer swivel-eyed ideologues not more" (interestingly, one of the stories in the press reporting this view carried Ruth Kelly's by-line). And the term, having attached itself to Redwood, from there migrates to his key political allies--such as Tony Marlow and, especially, Teresa Gorman. Tim Collins--a hero of the Stoa in years gone by--described the Tories who backed Redwood's campaign for the Party leadership in 1995, for example, as the "swivel-eyed barmy army, from ward eight at Broadmoor". So: "swivel-eyed" was most commonly used in this period to pick out the kind of Conservative politician who ceaselessly plotted to undermine the leadership and, in David Cameron's later words, was forever "banging on about Europe". (As Hegel presumably remarks somewhere, all great Tory crises appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as farce, the second as farce.) So much for "swivel-eyed". Where, specifically, do "swivel-eyed loons" come from? The answer seems to be that Euan Ferguson first used the phrase in the national press, in his Observer column of 2 March 1997, specifically to describe Tim Montgomerie's mob. Back in those days, long before ConservativeHome, Montgomerie ran something called the Conservative Christian Fellowship, about whom Ferguson was quite sceptical--the column was published under the headline, "The Lord deliver us from the loony right". Various right-wing Christians were quoted in the course of the article, which ended like this:
It would be ludicrous to suggest the CCF could make much of a difference. But is it so wrong to imagine it having an effect in a marginal seat between votes for a genuine candidate and votes for, well, let's say, just for the sake of argument, a swivel-eyed loon who glories in pious deceit, or a holier-than-thou moral crusader who still backs policies expressly designed to widen inequality, encourage intolerance and promote greed?And to take us briskly up to the present, the last thing we need to remember is the Anthony Wells-inspired Google-bomb (remember Google-bombing?) that ensured that, around the end of 2004, anyone who entered the phrase "swivel-eyed loons" was immediately directed to the UKIP home page. (This was mentioned at the time on the Virtual Stoa here.) But that is all history. The rest, as we might say, is politics. [Thanks to Anthony Wells and Matthew Turner for assistance with this post.] UPDATE: Jamie K: "I’d say it’s more ‘the first time as farce, the second time as panto'."
I HAVE, I hope, raised a prima facie presumption that the Times was labouring under some delusion. It had omitted some element from its calculations, sufficient to distort the whole history of the struggle. The story, to use its own words, was "a mystery and a marvel;" it was a mystery and a marvel simply because the Times was not in possession of the one clue which led through the labyrinth. A foreigner looking on at a cricket-match is apt to think the evolutions of the players mysterious; and they will be enveloped in sevenfold mystery if he has a firmly preconceived prejudice that the ball has nothing whatever to do with the game. At every new movement, he must invent a new theory to show that the apparent eagerness to pick up the ball is a mere pretext; that no one really wants to hit it, or to catch it, or to throw it at the wickets; and that its constant appearance is due to a mere accident. He will be very lucky if some of his theories do not upset each other. As, in my opinion, the root of all the errors of the Times may be found in its views about slavery...From "The Times on the war: a historical study", by Leslie Stephen (London: William Ridgway, 1865), pp. 18-19.
- el_crawford: They fall across and in different ways/ And that figure will progress, if you like.../that figure is evolving somewhat. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:34
- el_crawford: Two roads diverged in a wood and I-/I took the one less travelled by/And that has helped households and businesses. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:35
- el_crawford: For reasons which are interesting in themselves/the figures are interesting in themselves. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:36
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- el_crawford: I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox/and which you were probably saving for households and businesses/Forgive me #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 13:11
- chrisbrooke: It’s an aggregate figure / If you look at the data / It’s an aggregate figure / And I think that’s what’s important here. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:47
- chrisbrooke: On Tuesday's Newsnight / A slogan was unfurled: / Jeremy, I don’t think many things / Are certain in this world. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:49
- thhamilton: In front of Parliament we revealed to Parliament / As is right and proper, by the way, to Parliament / Help #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:07
- chrisbrooke: When I am not sure what to think / I find it helps to say / "The figure is evolving somewhat / As per the data today." #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:16
- woodscolt79: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Listening to families and businesses. Alas! #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:19
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- chrisbrooke: I woke up in this morning / And know actually that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay... [etc] #chloesmithblues Wed Jun 27 14:23
- chrisbrooke: In a world that we’re facing / Where things are very hard / You have to do what you can / In these hard times. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:28
- chrisbrooke: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / They fall across / And in different ways. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:32
- chrisbrooke: We had a collective discussion / Of that in due course / Although I can’t tell you / The ins and the outs. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:47
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- chrisbrooke: As Chloe Smith was fumbling with fuel duty / Old Aaro, watching, thought, "You gorgeous beauty." #chloesmithpoetry https://t.co/RYsfh1IK Wed Jun 27 15:24
- chrisbrooke: The question being asked in May / Was about full cancellation /But as you'll be aware today / We’re talking about deferral #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:39
- chrisbrooke: That is of interest perhaps / In a different conversation / But the fact is here / We are sticking to the overall plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:05
- chrisbrooke: It’s not just a Westminster Village / Story, Jeremy / It’s real money / In real people’s pockets. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:12
- el_crawford: @chrisbrooke I find her turn of phrase Audenesque. Almost chillingly so. Wed Jun 27 16:15
- chrisbrooke: As a Minister / In the Treasury / I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time / As a Minister in the Treasury #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:15
- chrisbrooke @el_crawford Yes: some of the rhythms of her speech esp. at the end of sentences & the partial repetitions are very twentieth-century verse. Wed Jun 27 16:17
- chrisbrooke: It’s not that, I’m afraid, Jeremy. It's not that I'm afraid, Jeremy. It's not that. I'm afraid, Jeremy. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:22
- chrisbrooke: Mortal, guilty, but to me / Rightly what we seek to use for the credibility of our fiscal plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:34
- chrisbrooke: I think the point to be made out of that / And out of what’s been said today / Is that it’s important to do what you can #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:44
- microlambert: I love you Twitter, because you did this: #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 20:08
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