Now the Parrot, quite unbending,
Has a meeting been attending,
Sitting on a Sheffield platform 1
With some others of his corps.
And he planned to win successes,
Interrupting the addresses
By the squawk he loves to utter,
That “Your food will cost you more.”

He applauded Winston, 2 Cecil, 3
Also Gorst, 4 an ancient vessel 5
Full of wrath at Joe, whose projects
He did mournfully deplore.
But the bird grew sickly yellow
For he found no other fellow
Save this little lot, to echo
That “Your food will cost you more.”

As they cheered for “Joe”, the strong man,
“Joe”, “the won’t-be-very-long” man,
Thought the bird “This demonstration
Is becoming quite a bore.
I will write the ‘Mail’ a letter,
As its columns are far better
For the airing of my reasons
Why ‘Your food will cost you more.’”


This refers to a meeting of delegates to the annual conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations in the Artillery Drill Hall, Sheffield, on 1 October 1903. The main feature of the meeting was a speech by the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, who was heard by an audience of nearly 7,000 in the hall and, by a wonderful feat of telectrophony, reported the Daily Express excitedly,

by a large company of London journalists [. . .] The only occasions on which any little difficulty arose was when the Prime Minister [. . .] rapped the table with his hands, causing the six trumpet-eared receptacles to tremble.

Several other delegates spoke before the Prime Minister, including the three mentioned in the poem. According to the Daily Express’s partisan account of the meeting,

The name of Mr Balfour was cheered but a speaker had only to cry “Chamberlain” to draw upon him a tumult of applause.


Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1865) had been elected as a Conservative member of parliament for Oldham at the 1900 general election. He quickly associated himself with the Hughligans, a group of backbench Conservative MPs who were dissatisfied with the leadership of Arthur Balfour. Churchill was an outspoken critic of Joseph Chamberlain’s proposals for tariff reform and in 1904 this led him to leave the Conservative Party and join the Liberals; he rejoined the Conservatives some 20 years later.

Then came Winston Churchill, very much in earnest on the losing side. He spoke well, gaining and holding the ear of his audience, the Express acknowledged.


Lord Hugh Cecil (1869-1956) was the youngest of eight children of the Marquess of Salisbury (Prime Minister from 1895 until July 1902) and a first cousin of Salisbury’s successor, Arthur Balfour. Despite this relationship, Cecil, who had been elected to parliament as the MP for Greenwich in 1895, was a vocal opponent of Balfour and was one of the leaders of, and gave his name to, the Hughligans (the name being a play on ‘Hugh’ and ‘hooligan’).

Lord Hugh, said the Express,

grew bitter with the hostile men before him, gesticulating wildly with long arms and thin hands, as he asked for a hearing. Lord Salisbury’s son was granted a round of cheers as he rose, [his father had died just six weeks earlier] but Mr Chamberlain’s opponent sat down in silence.


Sir John Eldon Gorst (1835-1916) was a long-serving Conservative member of parliament. He was first elected to parliament in 1866, but lost his seat at the general election two years later. He gained re-election in 1875 as the member for Chatham, which he represented until 1892. Thereafter, he sat as one of the two MPs representing Cambridge University until the 1906 general election, when he contested the seat on a Free Trade platform and came third, behind the two official Conservative candidates. In 1910, he sought election as a Liberal candidate at Preston, but was unsuccessful.

In the 1880-85 parliament, Gorst was one of four backbench Conservative MPS—the others included Lord Randolph Churchill (father of Winston Churchill) and Arthur Balfour, the future Prime Minister—who gained the nickname “Fourth Party” on account of their maverick behaviour. The later Hughligans (see above) consciously modelled themselves on the Fourth Party.

The Express reported that

Sir John Gorst tried to force a free-trade speech down the throats of a howling audience, and failed.


Gorst was 68 years old at the date of the meeting. Joseph Chamberlain was just 13 months his junior.

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