Clichés, Dear Boy
Deaglán de Bréadún
You can’t turn on a radio or television programme on politics at the moment without hearing a reference to Harold Macmillan’s response to a query from a journalist who asked what was the greatest threat the Government faced.
“Events, dear boy, events,” was his classic response. Now it has become the stock-in-trade of political journalists when they are asked how long the Fianna Fail-Green administration is going to last.
I think I may even have used it myself. Sometimes the journo wrongly attributes the quote to someone other than Macmillan (for younger readers, he was a British Tory prime minister in the 1950s and 60s and belonged to the Macmillan family of publishers; one-nation chap, not at all like Thatcher; his dates were: b. 1894-d.1986).
The Macmillan comment has now become a cliché and I, for one, hereby undertake never to use it again (well, not for a wee while anyway.) What it really means in the current Irish context is that, the way things are going in government lately, even the gods themselves could not foretell how things will turn out.
Macmillan had a nice turn of phrase. Another piquant remark was his description of the role of the British Foreign Secretary – a job he once held himself – as being “forever poised between a cliché and an indiscretion”.
He also coined the expression that “a wind of change” was blowing across the continent of Africa with the rise of independence movements. And he came up with a very effective election slogan: “You’ve never had it so good.” That’s one we don’t hear these days!