The French phrase ‘ faux pas ’ translates to ‘false step’. A political equivalent happened last Friday when Sir Christopher Chope OBE, MP (Con: Christchurch: first elected 1983: majority 2017: 25,171) committed Westminster suicide. A barrister, he blocked a private member’s bill. He’s done that many times. This time his political antennae were out of action.
Lib-Dem Wera Hobhouse MP (Bath: 2017: majority, 5,694) was promoting the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill. Put simply, it was an attempt to stop sexual perverts looking or photographing up women’s clothing (‘Upskirting’). It is a criminal offence but the police have great difficulty achieving successful prosecutions. As the Prime Minister has shown an interest the bill may now succeed using Government time.
You Stupid Boy!
For Sir Christopher Chope (71) it almost certainly ends his career as a politician such is the outrage within his own party. As Captain Mainwaring says to Private Pike in ‘Dad’s Army’: “You stupid Boy”.
One of the greatest ever political blunders, or faux pas, occurred in September 1938 when the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Adolf Hitler waving a piece of paper and proclaiming “peace in our time.” His reputation was shattered by subsequent events when during the following year the Germans invaded Poland. In fact, the PM had been playing for time and trying to give his country space to re-arm against the bellicose Nazis. But history is unforgiving and his legacy was trashed by those four words. He resigned as PM in May 1940 and as leader of the Conservative party in October, dying a month later from bowel cancer. This event is used by Robert Harris in his fast-paced book, ‘Munich’, covering the four days leading up to Chamberlain’s proclamation.
Doing a Ratner
“Doing a Ratner’ summarises one of the worst corporate ‘faux pas’. Gerald Ratner had built up a hugely successful global group of jewellers including buying H. Samuel and opening 1,000 shops in the United States. On 23 April 1991, in a speech to the Institute of Directors, he explained how his stores were selling cut-price sherry decanters for £4.95. “Because they are total crap,” he revealed. Worse was to follow as he became caught up in the misplaced laughter. He described how a set of Ratner earrings were cheaper than a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich but wouldn’t last as long.
The Ratner Group share price collapsed as the popular press ridiculed the chief executive. The new chairman sacked him and he disappeared. Now 68, he has been trading jewellery from India.
Perhaps one of the worst cricketing howlers took place on 1 February 1981 at the Melbourne ground. Australia were playing New Zealand in a one-day international. NZ could tie the game if their batsman hit a six off the last ball. Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructed the bowler, his younger brother, Trevor, to roll the ball along the ground (then quite legal). It was impossible for the NZ batsman to hit the ball any distance and so he threw his bat down on the ground. Outrage followed with both Prime Ministers involved. The reputations of both Greg and Trevor Chappell never recovered.
Blunders or faux pas can come quickly, perhaps in a sentence. The Duke of Edinburgh on being told that Madonna would be singing the 2002 Bond theme ‘Die Another Day’ asked: “Are we going to need ear plugs?”
It’s too late for Sir Christopher Chope, who is likely to disappear from the political scene, but perhaps he might have remembered the words of Oscar Wilde:
“Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes.”
Finally, a faux pas that needs no words…