Finding the sweetest way to be insulting to someone is one of the few consolations left to us

All things considered, calling someone a "swivel-eyed loon" isn't so bad

Share

Why all this mollycoddling of swivel-eyed loons? I take the point that Mr Cameron can’t be seen to endorse such a view of those who toil in sleepy villages and hamlets to keep the country sleepily Conservative, and might prefer his senior colleagues to speak more respectfully of them, at least in the hearing of the wazzcock rubbernecks of the press. Discretion, lads. But I don’t doubt that in the carpeted hush of home, enjoying conversation with his Eton chums – Eton is not, by the by, a term of disparagement in this column, though we were not fortunate enough to go there ourselves – he will from time to time invoke the swivel-eyed loony wing of the party he must sometimes wonder why he bothers to attempt to lead. That swivel-eyed will be among the least offensive descriptions to be banded about over brandy – particularly when discussion turns riotously to the Social Democrats – I also have not the slightest doubt.

Of the consolations that remain to modern man – pressed on all sides by pressures to conform to unreasonable standards of behaviour and speech – finding the most idiomatic way of being insulting to somebody, in private, is very nearly the sweetest and the last. Hence our enjoyment of that hurricane of vitriolic invective that is The Thick of It. Since this is a pleasure we all indulge at some time or another – when I recall what I said about lecturers when I was a student, and what I said about students when I was a lecturer, I could weep with the longing to be rude again – we should not censure it in others. Even a senior Conservative deserves a break.

And swivel-eyed loons isn’t lacking in invention as abuse goes, is it? Take a look at what passes for killing comment on the internet, you st***d f****** c***, take a look at what might very well follow this column, you st****d f****** Z****t c***, and you will have a good case for thinking that swivel-eyed loons is not only witty and well reasoned, but affectionate.

But there is still more to be said in its defence. Reader, it’s accurate.

I have some very good friends beavering away in the Shires on behalf of conservatism, little C and big. Meet them in the ordinary way of civil social intercourse and there is nothing remotely swivel-eyed or loony about them. They look you straight in the face. They are not devious or Machiavellian. And they are eminently sane. But this is because they are not in every waking minute of their lives unpaid party activists. Once in politicking mode, they become unrecognisable from themselves. They lose their sense of the ridiculous. They make poor judgements, read character as though they’d never met a good man or a shyster, and embrace policies which, when they are not medieval, are Byzantine.

There is a reason for this, over and above the obvious fact of politics making chumps of everybody. Down there, gnawing at the frost-bitten roots of influence, they meet only their own kind. They belong to associations and clubs where conversation is monotonous and identical opinions are exchanged. Their labours often go unnoticed and unthanked – being called a swivel-eyed loon is hardly what you could call thanks. Add to their bitter consciousness of ingratitude the usual ill effects of rural life (I don’t say all Conservatives live in the country, but if it’s not Manchester it’s country to me) – by which I mean what Coleridge called “a contracting and hardening of the mind by want of stimulants”, as a consequence of which men become “selfish, sensual, gross and hard-hearted” – and a disinclination for all policies but loony ones is bound to follow. Take it as a rule of thumb: the further party workers are from power, the more extreme their thoughts.

That this rule of thumb applies to workers at the other political extreme goes without saying. I have played table tennis for a Conservative Club in Cornwall and taught at a Labour-minded, union-conscious polytechnic in the Midlands, and I can attest to the contracting of minds, including my own, at both. If anything, the Conservative Club was more liberal in that the only ideology pursued bore on how to get the fruit machine to disgorge its jackpot.

There are obvious resemblances, anyway, between the way the worker bees of the Labour Party turned at last on Tony Blair, and the way the swivel-eyed are threatening to turn on David Cameron. In both cases, a sophisticated leader – these things are relative – is subjected to the suspicions of the pack for the very reason that he is open to a wider variety of views than they are. Cameron can no more do without the support of the party faithful than Blair could, but we should be wary of chivvying him into line. If there really are to be no more such excursions into unexceptionable good sense and fairness as the gay marriage Bill, it’s the mob – albeit in green wellies – that will have won.

Stuff the party faithful, I say, regardless of the party they’re faithful to. It demeans a human being to be faithful to a party, and it’s rarely ever more than fidelity to a worn-out idea anyway. Whatever you think of party leaders, at least they subject themselves to the buffetings of controversy. But we go on being soft on the industriously out of touch, as we go on being soft on the electorally illiterate. “How dare you insult people exercising their right to vote!” the cry went up when another foolhardy Tory recently called Ukip a party of “clowns”. As though there’s something sacrosanct about misjudgement so long as it takes place under the umbrella of democracy.

We lack a Coriolanus. “You common cry of fruitcakes!” Oh, to hear a leader address his party, or indeed the nation, in those terms. He’d have my vote anyway.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors and Verifiers

£24000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors ...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization has been a trusted partner t...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks