Freed from Ministerial fetters,
Writing contradictory letters,
I observed the ducal Parrot,
And a worried look he wore. 1
And to every well-meant query,
Looking sore perplexed and weary
He returned the same old answer,
That “Your food will cost you more.

And I said: “This vacillating
Is extremely aggravating;
Is it Liberal or Tory
You’re supporting in the war?
Do you think the Free Food Leaguer
Will for long be with you, 2 eager
To back up your shifty tactics,
Shouting, ‘Food will cost you more’?

“While his moral Joseph teaches
In inimitable speeches,
You are fluttering round in circles,
Asking which side you are for.
Cease these mystifying reelings:
Have you no decided feelings?”
Food,” said he, “I think most likely
Will, I fancy, cost you more.


The “ducal parrot” is the Duke of Devonshire (pictured) and the “contradictory letters” are two letters from the Duke that were published on 20 and 28 October. In the first, addressed to the honorary secretary of the Durham County and North Riding Liberal Unionist Association and read out at the Association’s annual conference, meeting at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Duke wrote:

Mr Balfour said in June that it would be perfect folly on the part of the Conservative party or the Unionist party to make particular opinions on economic subjects a test of party loyalty. Matters have no doubt progressed since that time, but I do not think that this declaration has ever been explicitly withdrawn. So long as it remains in force, it appears to me that it would be unwise to attempt prematurely to define the position of the party organisations in regard to fiscal policy.

This letter was written with a view to forestalling a resolution that had been tabled for consideration at the conference. Ignoring the Duke’s intervention, the meeting resolved that:

the time has now come when the fiscal policy of this country should be reconsidered, with a view to promoting a closer union of the Empire and of securing a modification of the hostile tariffs of foreign countries.

The second letter was sent on the Duke’s behalf to a correspondent who had asked whether it would be desirable for Free Trade Unionists to rejoin the Liberal party. The Duke’s reply reflected a change of attitude in that

having regard to the proceedings at the conference at Newcastle, it may be necessary to reconsider the position of Liberal Unionists towards the question referred to.

In purporting to speak for “Liberal Unionists”, Devonshire ignored the fact that many Liberal Unionists, including Chamberlain and the delegates at Newcastle, did not share his views.


The Daily Express, reporting on what it described as an “amazing letter”, asked

what will become of the Unionist Free Food League [of which Devonshire had recently been elected president] should the proposed reunion of Liberals and Unionists take place?

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