Wednesday, July 25, 2018

When Boris Says Turn

When Boris Says Turn

It was a time of political chaos, when the Government of Britain was wracked by internal divisions and factions. Cabinet meetings were characterised by open hostility and serial resignations, and the Prime Minister seemed to stand back and watch the fighting so as not to alienate one faction or another. The issues being argued about were Britain’s place in the world and it’s trading relations with other countries – issues that were essentially economic but which had become lost beneath a jingoistic cloak of patriotism and colonialism. Leading politicians involved in the struggle would change positions with alarming regularity, creating confusion amongst their supporters and a degree of dismay amongst the wider electorate. It would all eventually end in political tears for many of the people involved.
Sounds familiar? It was, of course, the summer of 1903. Joseph Chamberlain – that champion of Liberal free trade who had recently become a convert to the idea of tariffs and Imperial Preference – had resigned from the Government. Whilst he was no longer a member of the cabinet, he was still a powerful political player and his son, Austen Chamberlain, remained in the cabinet to represent his cause. The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, content to stand back and try to gauge which way the wind was blowing, was rendered useless and went on to lose the General Election in 1906.
Now, we tend to look back on the events of 1903 and ask, “What on earth was it all about?” When the country should have been concentrating on modernising its industrial structure and improving the social conditions of its population, it wasted its time with a sterile argument between politicians who were championing their own fanciful ideas. We can look at old vintage postcards of the period like the one above, and shake our twenty-first century heads and say, “what a waste“.
I am not trying to suggest that current events are an exact repeat of the ridiculous arguments of 115 years ago. After all, there is one big difference: there are no political postcards this time around.
Vintage Post Card : When Father Says Turn


  1. A very appropriate mockery now, just as it was then. When I looked up both Joseph and Austen I was surprised to learn they both wore monocles, and both on the right eye too. This must have made a big challenge for political cartoonists to distinguish one from the other. It reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt's Pince-nez spectacles which along with his mustache, and grin, became a shorthand for making his caricature.

    The bedfellow's caps are also interesting to decipher the code. I think I get the references to admiralty, monarchy, Irish, Indian, and High Street. But the ladies nightcap next to Joseph escapes me. Guess you had to be there to understand.

  2. Great card which is still humorous, though it takes knowledge of the events political to understand the meaning. Alan, just a hint, but could you put the SS post up for this week? I've been waiting to contribute to it!


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...