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.”


19. April 2013 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres, Journalism, Politics | Tags: | Comments Off on Luke Upward on Thatcher (and other politicians he did not believe or serve)