Luke Upward on Thatcher (and other politicians he did not believe or serve)
As Britain’s premier man of letters, Luke Upward was asked, at times begged, to write speeches for its latter-day Prime Ministers. Anthony den was particularly importunate, and his disappointed rage at the youthful Upward’s refusal contributed significantly to his disastrous decision to invade Egypt. Upward turned down all such requests on a completely non-partisan basis. With a rare touch of melodrama, he informed his disciple, the loyal Level: “words are my children and I will not send them out to work for thieves.”
Margaret Thatcher approached Upward early in her Premiership, and when he refused her she turned to the playwright Ronald Millar. Upward watched her on television delivering Millar’s famous zinger. Of course he recognized its origins and murmured “the lady’s not for burning but she is for frying.” He then commented “In Mrs Thatcher’s hands a joke has the same chance as a hedgehog on a motorway.” This found its way into certain media, and for some time Upward was harassed by protests on behalf of our spiky chums.
During Luke Upward’s final days, his disciple, the loyal Level, asked him to comment on all the Prime Ministers for whom he had refused to write. The frail man-of-letters rallied to deliver a string of mordant “apps”, which Level struggled to record on the back of Upward’s discarded betting-slips.
Anthony Eden: a beautiful hat, with too little underneath it.
Harold Macmillan: reinvented satire and became his own best caricaturist.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home: the “Magic Circle” reached into the top hat and pulled out – a handkerchief.
Harold Wilson: a Micawber for whom nothing ever indubitably turned up. Began with great expectations, created a few household words, returned in hard times and ended as the haunted man.
Ted Heath: pompous, pedestrian, petulant plodder. Even a three-day week of Ted Heath was too long for the British people.
Jim Callaghan: supposes he’s Moses – erroneously.
Margaret Thatcher: her high heels trod a nation underfoot.
John Major: a man with an intermission.
When it came to Tony Blair, Luke Upward for only the second time in his life was at a loss for words. He choked out a rush of epithets but Level could make out only the phrase “simpering shit-kicking sanctimony”. Finally, Upward calmed down but was still unable to find words of his own, and turned to the King James Bible. “Blair is the whited sepulchre of British politics”. Level eventually found the reference in Matthew 23:27.
After delivering this verdict on Blair, Upward sank back exhausted onto his silk-encased pillows, but for the sake of completeness Level invited him to say something about Brown and Cameron. England’s premier man-of-letters sighed deeply, as when Michelangelo was asked if he did whitewashing.
Gordon Brown: turned complacency into Britain’s biggest growth industry. Took the economy into a multiple car crash and blamed all the other drivers.
David Cameron: a gnat smeared on the windscreen of history.
Luke Upward’s jealous rival Walter Downer described his disdain for politics as a literary affectation. As always, Downer was wrong. Upward was an anarchist by conviction. He believed that as soon as government grew big enough to require professional politicians it would inevitably become a vehicle for special interest groups. He professed admiration for American politics “because people there know what they are paying for” and quoted the comment of a Texas legislator who had allowed his campaign backers to pollute the air his constituents had to breathe: “you dance with the folks that brought you.” He informed his shocked disciple, Ted Level, that “a country with unbribed politicians has lost all faith in its government.” Upward assumed that all politicians of any party were prompted primarily by payment or preferment. When objected “you must accept that there are some conviction politicians,” Upward replied instantly “Certainly – Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken.”