The Top 10: ‘You haven’t thought that throughs’

A collection of those analogies that seemed fine at the start of the sentence but had fallen apart by the end

John Rentoul
Saturday 26 October 2019 14:26
Labour will not vote for general election unless Boris Johnson takes no-deal Brexit off the table, warns Jeremy Corbyn

Thanks to Niall, who spotted Flick Drummond’s fairytale, No 1 on this list.

1. “He’s incredibly popular; he’s like the Pied Piper.” Flick Drummond, Conservative former MP, defended Boris Johnson last month, saying: “They are all out to get him at the moment.” There are several versions of the mediaeval legend of the “Pied Piper of Hamelin”, but they tend to end badly, with the piper leading the town’s children into a cave or the river, after which they are never seen again.

2. “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a Titanic success of it.” Boris Johnson at the Spectator awards in November 2016. Thanks to Rafael Behr.

3. “Nigel Farage is the Brexit Icarus. Here’s how he can see us fly out of the EU to freedom.” Tweet from Telegraph Politics advertising an article by Hunter DuBose last month. The article itself got the story right, warning Farage against hubris. Nominated by David Lister and Trevor Greetham.

4. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Chris Rowland nominated “FDR’s recursive rhetoric from his first inauguration” in 1933.

5. “The French president has more influence over the length of our extension than the British prime minister.” David Lammy, Labour MP, on Thursday. He voted for the Benn Act and the Letwin amendment, and against any Brexit deal, which meant Boris Johnson was required to agree an extension with the EU leaders, any one of whom had a veto. “This is a teeny bit like Tostig accusing his brother of losing control of the Humber to Harald Hardrada,” commented Tom Holland, the historian. Thanks to Tom Harris.

6. “We will do precisely what the British nation has done all through its history when it had its back to the wall – turn round and fight.” John Major really said it, after poor local election results, 5 May 1995. From David Boothroyd.

7. Nominating Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader to “broaden the debate”, as Margaret Beckett and others (including Sadiq Khan) did in 2015, although only she was honest enough to admit afterwards that she had made a mistake. Nominated by Max Calo.

8. “You can’t win anything with kids.” Alan Hansen, Match of the Day presenter, in August 1995, criticising Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United. Often mocked for getting it wrong, but it qualifies for inclusion here because it is also self-refuting.

9. “Getting seriously worried that HMG will pull the bill if the programme motion is defeated. Surely best for all of us who regard this deal as the least of the evils to vote for the programme motion, whatever we really think of it.” Sir Oliver Letwin, independent Conservative MP, on Tuesday, three days after his amendment to delay the Brexit vote was passed. According to Matt Chorley of The Times, Sir Oliver received his knighthood for “services to overcomplicating things”.

10. “If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there.” John Prescott, deputy prime minister, explained his worries about academy schools in December 2005.

Next week: TV series that changed lead partway through, starting with Doctor Who.

Coming soon: Telegrams, such as Lord Charles Beresford declining an invitation from the Prince of Wales: “Can’t possibly stop lie follows by post.”

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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