I cannot think why, but politicians take themselves very seriously indeed. I thought I might see what the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (obtained at Austin’s excellent bookstore which every thinking citizen should visit at least once a week) has to say about them. Here are some of my findings:

­­● Attlee is said to have remarked that Herbert Morrison

was his own worst enemy:

Not while I’m alive he ain’t.                         –                           Ernest Bevin 1881-195

­­● Question: What are the desirable qualifications for

any young man who wishes to become a politician?

Mr Churchill: It is the ability to foretell what is going

to happen tomorrow, next week, next month,

and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to

explain why it didn’t happen.            –                 Winston Churchill 1874-1965

­­● Having been dissuaded from writing a story which

would have been soundly based:

I decided that for Peter Mandelson the truth was like

a second home: he didn’t live there all the time. –      Trevor Kavanagh

­­● Demosthenes: The Athenians will kill thee, Phocion,

should they go crazy.

Phocion:  But they will kill thee, should they come to their

senses.                         –                                                Phocion c402-317bc

­­● explaining to his fellow columnist Simon Hogg why he avoided meeting MPs:

If I knew them, it might spoil the purity of my hatred. – Norman Shrapnel 1912-2004

­­● A politician is a man who understands government,

and it takes a politician to run a government.  A statesman is a politician

who’s been dead 10 or 15 years.          –                       Harry S Truman 1884-1972

­­● When the political columnists say ‘Every thinking man’

they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to

“Every intelligent voter” they mean everybody who

is going to vote for them.         –                            Franklin Po Adams 1881-1960

­­● annotation to a ministerial brief, said to have been

read out inadvertently in the House of Lords:

This is a rotten argument, but it should be good enough

for their lordships on a hot summer afternoon.   –         Anonymous

­● [The War Office kept three sets of figures:]

one to mislead the public, another to mislead the

Cabinet, and the third to mislead itself.        –               Herbert Asquith 1852-1928

­­● Vote for the man who promises least;

he’ll be the least disappointing.           –                  Bernard Baruch 1870-1965

­­● Politics: a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of

principles. The conduct of public affairs for private

advantage.                          –                                  Ambrose Bierce 1842-c1914

­­● In politics you must always keep running with the pack.

The moment that you falter and they sense that you

are injured, the rest will turn on you like wolves. – RA Butler 1902-82

­­● There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling,

and waiting, for traces of blood to appear

in the water.                       –                                   Alan Clark 1928-99

­­● There’s nothing so improves the mood of the

Party as the imminent execution of a

senior colleague.             –                                  Alan Clark 1928-99

­­● The duty of an Opposition [is] very simple: to

oppose everything, and propose nothing.   –          Lord Derby 1799-1869

­­● When in that House MPs divide,

If they’ve a brain and cerebellum too,

They have to leave that brain outside,

And vote just as their leaders tell ʼem to.   –           W S Gilbert 1836-1911

­­● Boswell: So, Sir, you laugh at schemes of political


Johnson:   Why, sir, most schemes of political

improvement are very laughable things.      –          Samuel Johnson 1709-84

­­● Gratitude is not a normal feature of political life. – Lord Kilmuir 1900-67

­­● If you want to succeed in politics, you must keep

your conscience well under control.       –              David Lloyd George 1863-1945

­­● As usual the Liberals offer a mixture of sound and original ideas.

Unfortunately none of the sound ideas is original and none

of the original ideas is sound.        –                    Harold Macmillan 1894-1986

­● It has always seemed to me more artistic, when the

curtain falls on the last performance, to accept the

inevitable E finita la commedia. It is tempting, perhaps,

but unrewarding to hang about the greenroom

after final retirement from the stage.      –               Harold Macmillan 1894-1986

­● I have never found in a long experience of politics

that criticism is ever inhibited by ignorance.  –       Harold Macmillan 1894-1986

­● Politics are, like God’s infinite mercy, a last resort. – P J O’Rourke 1947

­● Being an MP feeds your vanity and starves your

self-respect.                                               –             Matthew Parris

­● He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything.

That points clearly to a political career.     –          George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950

­● Minorities…are almost always in the right. – Sydney Smith 1771-1845

­● on why he did not become a politician:

I could not stand the strain of having to be

right all the time.                             –                  Peter Ustinov 1912-2004

­● Distrust of authority should be the first

civic duty.                                        –                 Norman Douglas 1868-1952

­● People must not do things for fun. We are not

here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any

Act of Parliament.                           –                  A P Herbert 1890-1971

­● Office tends to confer a dreadful plausibility on even

the most negligible of those who hold it.   –       Mark Lawson

­● I don’t mind how much my Ministers talk,

so long as they do what I say.            –             Margaret Thatcher 1925 -2013

­● on his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister:

An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders

and they wanted to stay and discuss them.  –     Duke of Wellington 1769-1852

Well, one must admit these are not very flattering reflections on the tribe of politicians. But, after all, they are taken from the Oxford book of humorous quotations. If, less cynically, I had chosen to consult the larger Oxford Dictionary of All Quotations I am sure it would have had much nicer things to say about politicians – reflecting the honourableness, intelligence, incorruptibility and civic devotion of those who dare to try to govern us.

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