Hamill’s Beats - The trouble with ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’

Conservative Party co-chairman Lord Feldman.
Conservative Party co-chairman Lord Feldman.

What about the “mad, swivel-eyed loons”? Insults aren’t generally to be admired but as insults go, it’s a cracker.

You wouldn’t expect to hear an officer in a political party applying it to his own party workers but the colourful slur was last week widely attributed to a co-chairman of the Conservative Party.

Oxford-educated Lord Feldman has denied saying it but in a sense it doesn’t really matter who coined the phrase. The official party line is that it was invented by a journalist.

It was quoted in the context of constituency associations making their MP’s do things their party establishment doesn’t like. In this particular case 116 Tory MPs voted against the Queen’s speech. “The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad, swivel-eyed loons,” was the precise quote.

Do you think we have any mad, swivel-eyed loons over here? Yes, we do. They’re everywhere. They’re like the poor – they’re always with us.

The ones referred to last week were those who’re desperate to get Britain out of the European Union (EU). They think all their problems will be over if only they can ditch the malign influence of Brussels. It may or may not be true but it’s likely to turn out to be a highly irrational notion.

That’s the trouble with politics. It’s often very irrational. The most committed people can be motivated by surprisingly unsophisticated notions. In the case of the right-wing parties this usually involves hankering after idealised notions of a glorious past.

We’re all vulnerable to simplistic ideas. Just as there are in England, so there are many over here who think almost all our problems derive from membership of the EU.

Another, local example of the same sort of thinking (and in this case it’s a deeply atavistic instinct) is the desire some unionists have to get back to one-party rule. They want to stop what they still call, “the concessions to Sinn Féin”. On the nationalist side there are those with a romanticised and unrealistic notion of an Irish Utopia. You wonder if they think they can exclude people from the New Ireland if they don’t approve of them. And, do they think it’s only other people who have to change their ways?

Yes, the expression “mad, swivel-eyed loons,” is insulting to some political activists but it’s also a warning. Even Oxford-educated top Tories can be in the mad, swivel-eyed loon category (as can opinionated newspaper columnists). We can all be completely unrealistic. That’s the trouble with politics. We all need to constantly re-examine our beliefs.

Personally, I favour the re-unification of Ireland because I believe it would provide the best long-term framework for a society at peace with itself. We will always be plagued by division while some people owe allegiance to a British nation that doesn’t want them. The New Ireland can’t, however, be an exclusive ‘club’ only for those who consider themselves more Irish than the rest of us.

The mad, swivel-eyed loons on this side of the Irish Sea can’t have things all their own way any more than the English variety can.