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Have I Got News For You

By Philip Cowley

I have made it. I can rest easy now, having appeared (if fleetingly, and anonymously) on Friday night’s edition of Have I Got News For.

I was the author of this quote about Ed Miliband’s performance in any TV election debates, which was read out to much amusement.

The thing is: this is (or was meant to be) a pro-Miliband point. It came from an interview I’d done with Channel 4 News earlier in the week, most of which focussed on the debates in 2010 (although none of that made the eventual broadcast), but which also discussed the role expectations play in these events.  The point I was making is that Ed Miliband’s abilities are often under-estimated. This is the full quote (you can watch it in this package) is:

…people have such low expectations of Ed Miliband that when Ed Miliband comes on stage and doesn’t soil himself on camera and  actually presents a very coherent and articulate case, because whatever else you think about him he is a very coherent articulate person, that he will out perform expectations.

The bit about him soiling himself was picked up by the Standard who ran it in their diary column (although they said it was unbroadcast), and then by Have I Got News For You (by which point it was attributed to ‘one person’ saying it, perhaps just as well).

Anyway, this joins a list I am compiling of political quotes that don’t quite mean what people think they mean.

The top two entries currently are Enoch Powell on whips and Nigel Lawson on the NHS. Enoch Powell’s description of the whips as a prerequisite for civilization “like a sewer” is often quoted approvingly by opponents of the whipping system, without realising that Powell’s point was exactly the opposite. (I cannot find the original of this quote; and it appears in many variants).

And Nigel Lawson’s quote about the British love of the NHS is also much more complicated than it is presented. You always see it as ‘the National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion’. This is curiously often quoted approvingly by people who otherwise are not religious themselves and who look askance at those who are.  But the full quote is more instructive: ‘The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform. For a bunch of laymen, who called themselves the Government, to presume to tell the priesthood that they must change their ways in any respect whatever, was clearly intolerable. And faced with a dispute between their priests and ministers, the public would have no hesitation in taking the part of the priesthood’.

Both are a bit more sophisticated than mine.

Philip Cowley is a Professor of Parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham and is the co-editor of the book ‘Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box‘. 

Published inBritish PoliticsLabour

One Comment

  1. Mark Stuart Mark Stuart

    Perhaps Prof. Cowley’s comments about Ed Miliband ‘soiling himself’ come from being a new dad, used to changing nappies. Cowley’s previous career high involved a question from his research being used on ‘The Matthew Wright Show’ on Channel Five: ‘Gordon Brown suffered the shortest honeymoon of any Prime Minister since the war in terms of parliamentary rebellions?’ True or False? The answer was true. Forty-five minutes, to be exact. Brown had barely kissed hands with the Queen before Austin Mitchell MP had rebelled in the House of Commons.

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