Monday, 1 September 2014

Et tu, Douglas? The noble art of back stabbing

The morning of March the 15th 44BC, was much like any other spring day in Rome. The sun shone brightly on the cobbled streets and red topped roofs of the city and as gladiators practised and parried inside the great Colosseum and the Vestal Virgins went about their nonsense, few could have suspected that a violent act of tyrannicide would soon play out in the capital.

Since being named "Dictator Perpetuo", Julius Caesar had increasingly lost touch with the concerns of the common slaves and citizens of his great Empire and had taken to strutting about the place with new chum, the "Vince Cable like", Lucius Cornelius Balbus. Much disliked by the General's core supporters, Balbus was from a different party of knights altogether who had, up until this point, had very little influence or power in Rome. 

The new coalition had alienated most of Caesar's former allies and while the great man had got away with crossing the Rubicon, many remained furious that he had crossed it in the first place.

Just after lunch, that fateful day, Caesar decided to take in a spot of Gladiatorial combat at the Theatre of Pompey but before he even had a chance to buy his popcorn, he was stabbed repeatedly by his own back-benchers and with a cry of "Ista quidem vis est?" breathed his last. Shakespeare later imagined that the final assailant in this bloodied assault was his 'close friend' Brutus, at the sight of whom Caesar reportedly enquired: "Et tu, Brute?"

Some two thousand years later, in the streets of Frinton and Clacton a latter day insurrection of possibly far greater consequence is afoot. Douglas Carswell, may carry a leaflet where Marcus Junius Brutus carried a knife, but his endeavour is no less thankless or noble for it. Douglas is, as so many others have already pointed out, a man of considerable honour and charm; possessed of a great intellect, a subtle wit and an enormous sense of fun, he has a habit of roaring with laughter at himself and is famously one of the most 'ordinary' people at Westminster. Some have wrongly labelled him weird and eccentric; from my perspective he is anything but. One doubts that the good people of Frinton and Clacton could find a man more worthy of representing them.  

Liked and admired across the political spectrum, Douglas follows in the great tradition of enigmatic Eurosceptics such as Bill Cash, Bernard Jenkin or John Redwood. Normal men all, who for years have been warning about the dangers of the EU. 

You are no doubt aware, gentle reader, that I too have my doubts about Europe. Like many Englishmen, I like my bananas bent, my rulers more regal and my laws less metric than the EU allows and have dedicated my political life to preserving the integrity and charm of this delicate isle. I do however feel that this end can best be achieved by sitting on the government benches and choosing one's moment to whisper in the PM's ear, rather than skulking about the place with a lot of oddballs.

Douglas has stuck his neck out. He has ripped the toga of David's prevarication asunder and with Farage at his elbow, has plunged a dagger of intent into the heart of the coalition. Gruesome analogies aside, that is a rather noble thing to have done. 

There are some who suggest that Douglas, like Brutus before him, has miscalculated and that a swift and early victory in the by-election will be followed by pitiful humiliation at the general election. I am not one of them. Few politician rise above the fray of petty party politics and if anyone in the current crop can it is Douglas Carswell (and possibly "Rory" Stewart). I have little doubt that he will regain his seat in the short term.

Whether UKIP itself will be able to achieve momentum beyond a seaside town packed full of ill educated crackpots, yahoos and social misfits remains to be seen.

After Caesar's death, Brutus fled eastwards towards Macedonia. There his forces clashed with the avenging armies of Octavian and Mark Antony. Early triumph was followed swiftly by defeat at the Second Battle of Philippi. Realising that he had spent the latter part of his life on a fool's errand Brutus committed suicide. 

Plutarch tells us that his friend Antony covered the dead Senator's body in a purple garment as a sign of respect. His legacy rests on a single act of regicide and a throwaway line in an Elizabethan play. His career had peaked at just 43. 

Good luck Douglas. And a very happy 44th birthday in May.


  1. I think you sound like an ill educated crackpot, a pompous yahoo type and you come across as a social misfit, if you don't mind me saying.