Daily Express, Wednesday, December 2, 1903

Poem 43

(By P. G. Wodehouse)



  [“C.-B.” said at Newport that no man had done more for the Army than he, as Minister for War. A little later he declared himself the champion of disarmament. 1]

Incoherent-minded Polly,
Will you never see the folly
Of these contradict’ry speeches
You’ve so often made before?
They may please, perhaps, the readers
Of the “Daily News’s” leaders: 2
But to us they seem more foolish
Than “Your food will cost you more.

One would think from your orations
And your fervid protestations,
You were quite the keenest patriot
Ever seen on Britain’s shore.
’Tis but rhetoric. And, alack, ’tis
Very different from your practice;
Oh, how could you “starve” the Army,
Knowing “Food would cost them more”?

There’s a proverb (quite an old ’un)
Designating silence golden;
Thus the less you say, the better,
On the subject of the war.
When you stir that recollection
You do not inspire affection;
Better stick, my “C.-B.” Parrot,
To “Your food will cost you more.



For “C-B” (Campbell-Bannerman), see poem 16, note 1.

On 27 November 1903, the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, spoke on military matters at the annual dinner of the United Club. In his speech, he criticised Lord Rosebery and Campbell-Bannerman, who was Rosebery’s Secretary for War in 1894–5, for pursuing “a deliberate policy, so far as I can gather, of starving the Army”—he meant starving of resources, not of food, as is implied in the poem.

Campbell-Bannerman responded in a speech at Tredegar Hall, Newport, South Wales, two days later. He reminded his audience that, six months after he had left office, Balfour, in a speech at Manchester, on 15 January 1896, had declared that: “there never was a moment, I believe, in the recent history of this country when the British Empire was a better fighting machine than it is at this time, thanks to the energetic efforts of successive Governments, principally the Unionist Government, which existed between 1886 and 1892, and the Home Rule Government, which succeeded between 1892 and 1895.” In the course of his speech, Campbell-Bannerman never mentioned disarmament, and nothing in his speech resembled in any particular the statements attributed to him by the Express.


See poem 23, note 4.