Always be suspicious when politicians use a quotation from a source you are certain they have not read personally. Thatcher told us earlier this year how affectionately she remembered that postwar chart-topper, ‘How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the wagg-ely tail.’ I dare say that, if pressed, she could repeat all the words verbatim. It no doubt tells us a lot (or, to put it another way, as much as we want to know) about young Margaret Roberts’s childhood influences.
But when she stood on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street after her 1979 election victory, she did not launch into a singalong-with-Maggie. It would have been fun if she had. Instead, we had that treacly quotation from St Francis of Assisi, about bringing peace, et cetera. St F of A has never featured much on Methodist Sunday School reading lists. In due course, it emerged that the real fan of the haloed Italian was her chief speech writer.
In his foreword to Punishing the Poor Neil Kinnock quotes from a Matthew Arnold essay. I wonder when the Leader of the Opposition last (or ever) read any Matthew Arnold, either poetry or prose? As it happens (though Kinnock does not tell us this), the same quotation appears in the