Monday, 13 April 2015

The Welcome Return of The Political Duel.

On the morning of March the 21st 1829 two gentlemen, attended by their seconds, arrived at Battersea Fields intent on restoring their honour. One of those, the Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley the First Duke of Wellington, will be familiar to you. The other, George Finch-Hatton the 10th Earl of Winschilsea, will not.

The great men had fallen out over the 1829 Catholic Relief Bill, with the chumpish Finch-Hatton spectacularly accusing the Iron Duke of "Popery". A remark, I am afraid, typical of a man who had an irrational hatred of all things 'Continental' and who had married three women called Georgina in quick succession. 

With steady hands, the two duellists, standing some twenty feet apart, slowly raised their flint-lock pistols, took careful aim, fired - and missed. The Duke was later to claim that he had 'shot wide on purpose' and as a Tory one is inclined to believe him; but Wellesley was a notoriously bad marksman, famed as much in his time for bagging fellow guests while out shooting grouse as he was for his victory over the diminutive Napoleon "Bonaparte".

Political duelling of course has a long and noble history. In 1762 the MP Samuel Martin peppered political rival John Wilkes with a brace of pistols. Wilkes died at the scene; Martin went on to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Thrice. In 1798, after a heated Commons exchange, William Pitt the Younger demanded satisfaction from George Tierney MP. Honour was restored on Putney Common the following morning and the two men forgave each other over a pie and a glass of warm ale, but theirs was not an uncommon clash.

Indeed, at one time sword fighting was so prevalent in the House of Commons that two red bands had to be painted between the front benches. The lines were calculated to be precisely two drawn sabres apart to prevent Whigs cutting off Tory noses. While some might see this as an early example of "health and safety gone mad" it did at least have the effect of improving debates and dispensing with the need for The Prosthetic Limb ante-chamber that now serves as a waiting room for visiting 'foreign dignitaries'. 

One was put in mind of all of this by the news that the rather magnificently named "Prince John Zylinski" has today sensationally challenged Mr Nigel Farage to a duel. At time of writing it would seem that Mr Farage has (rather meekly) declined. Perhaps Nigel has decided that he has better things to do with his mornings in the run up to a make or break general election than parry in Hyde Park with a member of the Polish aristocracy. I for one feel this is a missed opportunity. 

UKIP's "unique selling point" is that they are 'different' from the other parties and that they are the standard bearers for an older kind of Conservatism and a gentler England of the past. One in which one might very well call a spade a spade, or shoot a political rival in the chest before breakfast. UKIP are also of course the only party that openly calls for the restoration of personal firearms in Britain and this might be rather a good moment to demonstrate the positive consequences of such a policy. 

If Mr Farage were to rise to the occasion one can well imagine that the good people of "South Thanet", impressed by his swordsmanship, would be all the more willing to vote him into office and go along with his rather interesting agenda.

Indeed, if "Todd" Foreman wishes to take inspiration from Prince Zylinski and settle this matter in a simpler and perhaps more elegant way and to the satisfaction of all the good people of North East Somerset, I will be waiting for him by the bandstand in Keynsham Park, tomorrow morning - at dawn. I am even willing to lend him a spare rapier. 

Consider the gauntlet very much thrown "Todd".

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