Daily Express, Thursday, November 5, 1903

Poem 32

(Attribution uncertain)



  [When Mr. Chamberlain was speaking of Mr. Asquith last night, he was interrupted by friendly cries of “The Parrot!” and imitations of that bird. The words in which he introduced the dishonesty of the “Daily News” posters were loudly cheered. 1]

Chuckling with internal laughter,
Sat the Parrot on a rafter.
Never at a speech of Joey’s
Had he felt so proud before.
Since with laughing acclamation
Interrupting the oration,
Had they cried “Squawk! Squawk! The Parrot!”
With his “Food will cost you more.”

“This is game,” the bird was thinking,
And he set himself to linking
Name to name till his supporters
Came to something like a score.
Asquith had he not converted? 2
Had not Harcourt too asserted, 3
In the very words he favoured,
That “Your food will cost you more”?

But his happy meditation
Soon was lost in perturbation
When Joe proved the “D.N.” posters
And the pair of loaves they bore
To be party falsehoods posing 4
As the truth, and thus imposing
On the readers of the paper
With its “Food will cost you more.

Squawked the bird, “Alas! Oh, ‘Daily
News!’ Your posters I have gaily
Quoted as a proof decisive
That our food will cost us more.
Now you’ve been caught out, you duffer,
Think how I, poor bird, must suffer!
Why, our cause is well-nigh bursted
Just because the ‘News’ can’t draw!”



On 4 November 1903, Joseph Chamberlain spoke before an audience of around 10,000 people in Bingley Hall, Birmingham. During the speech, he responded to Asquith’s assertion that the Colonies showed no inclination to respond to his proposals. The Times, in its account of the speech, mentioned the parrot: “Now, how does he know (laughter)—it is news to me—whence does he derive this astounding information? (A voice, ‘From the parrot’, and laughter)”. The Daily Express, modestly, did not.


See poem 10


Sir William Vernon Harcourt (1827–1904) was one of the more important Liberal politicians of the 19th century. He served as Home Secretary under Gladstone and as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gladstone and Rosebery. In October 1896, when Rosebery resigned as leader of the Liberal party, Harcourt became the party’s leader in the Commons, but he received little support from his fellow Liberals (he and Rosebery—still the Liberal’s leader in the Lords—were not on speaking terms) and resigned in December 1898, being replaced the following February by Campbell-Bannerman. Harcourt had initially been one of the Liberals who opposed Home Rule for Ireland, but whereas Chamberlain and Hartington (later Duke of Devonshire), split from the Liberal party over the issue, Harcourt did not, and he subsequently became a lukewarm supporter of Home Rule. On most other issues—imperialism, the Boer War, tariff reform—he and Chamberlain held opposing views and Harcourt continued to speak out against Chamberlain’s fiscal proposals until just a few months before his death, in October 1904.


During his speech, Chamberlain produced two loaves of almost identical size. He knew that one was smaller, he said, because it had been made with less flour, to reflect the cost of the proposed tax on corn, but he could not tell them apart.