That Leo Amery quote gets trotted out from time to time.
You can expect it from the opposition benches. But David Davis’s use was true to the original spirit – a devastating blow from a Tory backbencher, directed at a Tory Prime Minister.
David Davis is a former chairman of the Conservative Party, a former Tory leadership candidate, a former Brexit secretary.
“Like many on these benches I have spent weeks and months defending the Prime Minister against often angry constitutents and reminded them of his success in delivering Brexit, and vaccines, and many other things,” he began ominously at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. I will remind him of a quotation which will only be too familiar to him, of Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain. ‘You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go’.”
And until then it had been going all so well, relatively speaking, for Boris Johnson.
While last week he had struck an abject figure, repeatedly apologising to an angry House, at PMQs this week he seemed to have recovered his mojo in a much more rowdy atmosphere.
Apologies were on ration – two. In fact, he came up with a new, remarkable, and ingenious defence. All together now, let’s stand and raise a glass to the partying heroes of Downing Street. They have worked hard – in the breaks from their parties and work-related gatherings with suitcases of booze and nibbles – to deliver the vaccine programme and help steer the country through the Covid crisis.
“I’m proud of them,” said Boris.
And stand and raise a glass to the British public, heroes of the pandemic, by obeying the rules (not like people in Downing Street) and, getting jabbed.
Down with Labour. If it had all been left to Labour we would still be in lockdown, and there would be rules to stop us holding parties which broke the rules. In the meantime let’s all wait for this report and not make any pre-judgements on whether parties during lockdown are a good thing or bad thing.
Leo Amery’s speech containing that famous “in the name of God, go” quote came in May 1940 in the aftermath of the Norway debacle, in which the British military operation to try to save Norway from the invading German forces was a complete disaster. Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister, so carried the can, although in reality the fingerprints of Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, were all over the failed operation. Chamberlain did indeed go a few days later, to be replaced by Churchill.
How did Boris Johnson respond to this sensational invocation of Leo Amery’s words by a 2022 Tory backbencher?
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” he said.
That has to be a fib. Anybody who has written a biography of Churchill will know exactly what he was talking about, although it’s probably not worth launching a new inquiry into this latest transgression.
The Prime Minister added: “I take full responsibility for everything done in this government and throughout the pandemic.”
That’s “full responsibility” as in there are “some things that are nothing to do with me”. He did accept the rationale that those who make the rules should follow the rules, but let’s all wait for the result of the inquiry, by which time it will be time to “move on,” a favourite tactic of Tony Blair.
Leo Amery’s 1940 quote was made in the context of a raging European war, David Davis’s in the context of Downing Street drinks parties.
Currently Putin’s troops stand at the gates of the Ukraine in what could be the greatest threat to peace in Europe since 1939, and Britain has sent shipments of defence weaponry to help fight the prospective Russian invasion.
With Europe on the brink in 2022, there was not a single question about that at PMQs.
In a dramatic development just before the session began, Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour. So Bury South voters who voted Conservative in 2019 now have a non-elected Labour MP.
Will he resign and stand for re-election? Trust in politics, eh.