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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Churchill, ju-jitsu, armed mobs and Johann Hari

Reading Richard Toye's enjoyable Lloyd George & Churchill: Rivals for Greatness, I was startled to read that, when successfully seeking election in 1906 as the Liberal candidate for Manchester North-West, "Churchill was seen as the star of the campaign: he not only gave ju-jitsu demonstrations but...also wore interesting hats". Hats I can take or leave, but ju-jitsu sounds like a splendid idea. How have we managed without it? Is there time for the Lib Dem Candidates' Office to arrange some training sessions for this year's party conference? What I would love to know is, on whom did Churchill demonstrate ju-jitsu? Did Churchill, in the manner of William Hague and his judo sessions with Sebastian Coe, have a trusted retainer with whom he wrestled on public platforms? Not that Hague and Coe ever did their judo-ing on public platforms, but you know what I mean. Upon arriving home from a long day's campaigning, was Churchill sometimes set upon by said retainer in the manner of Inspector Clouseau being attacked by Cato? "Not now, Inches! Not now!"

Anyone who thinks that today's politics can be a bit rough-and-tumble might also be interested, as I was, to learn from this book that, when Lloyd George addressed a meeting in Birmingham in 1901, so extreme was the animosity generated by his views on the Boer War that 30,000 people, many of them armed, turned up and tried to kill him. Had he not been smuggled out of the hall disguised as a policeman, the future Prime Minister might have died that night and would now be but a footnote, along the lines of the tragic Evan Durbin (who I think might have gone all the way to the top). Had Lloyd George been killed in 1901, would the Liberal Party have split so grievously during World War I? We shall never know.

One person who is today on the mat having just been thrown in the air ju-jitsu-style is Johann Hari. I have never met Mr Hari, who may, for all I know, be a wonderful guy, but I don't always enjoy reading his journalism. He is right to have apologised, as he has much to apologise for. It is unbelievable that any journalist would report someone saying something to him (including even an account of the interviewee's body language at the moment at which the words concerned were reportedly being said), when those words had in fact been written elsewhere on another occasion. If I wrote here about a conversation that I had once had with, say, former US Senator Russ Feingold, you'd think that the quotes attributed to Senator Feingold were the things that he had said to me when I met him, right? Unless I said otherwise, that's what you'd think, and you'd be entitled to feel short-changed if it turned out to be otherwise.

UPDATE on Thursday 30 June 2011: BBC Radio 4's Media Show was very good on Johann Hari yesterday; well worth a listen about seven minutes, fifty-five seconds in.

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