Another Perspective

The Patron Saint of Small Government

Where are you, Colonel Sibthorp, when we need you?

By 8.6.13

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Our trillion-dollar-spending, multiculture-obsessed, political leaders might do worse than be reminded of the colorful British Victorian politician, Colonel Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp, Member for Lincoln, from 1826 to 1855.

Sibthorp was probably the most passionate foe of government spending any Parliament has ever produced.

It was Sibthorp’s fate that his political career should coincide with the first beginnings of the Welfare State and the extension of the vote to the working classes through the great Reform Bill.

Sibthorp was a conservative of conservatives, a reactionary so far right as to be virtually in outer space.

Michael Wharton (“Peter Simple” of the old Daily Telegraph), one of his admirers, once described him as having “the gift of speaking on any subject but always making the same speech.” That same speech was a passionate condemnation of anything that might be described as progress and also of government expansion. He was a lonely warrior for aboriginal Tory values. Of the Reform Bill, he claimed:

I oppose the Bill, the whole Bill and every part of the Bill. I say it must go -- go to the Devil. I believe it will give political power and electoral franchise to the very dregs of the community. If the Bill does pass, then all I have to say is, God save my country; may God have mercy on it. May God protect it from revolution and may He preserve all proper respect for the aristocracy. 

Colonel Sibthorp (he had served in the Peninsular War and retained a militia commission) was a short stocky man of military bearing, his face almost concealed by a whispy, straggling beard and a high stuck-up collar. He wore a bottle-green frock coat, Wellington boots, a tall white hat, a great deal of jewelry and stared at the changing world he detested through an antique quizzing-glass. One of his less orthodox Parliamentary debating tactics was to crow like a rooster during his opponents’ speeches.

Defeated on the Reform Bill, he turned his guns on the new-fangled railways which were changing the face of the country:

I have always considered all railways public frauds and private robbery by gambling speculators.… It is my decided opinion that these nefarious scoundrels will ere long appear before the public in their true light and that all the railway companies will be bankrupt, and that the old and happy mode of travelling on turnpike roads, in chaises, carriages and stages, will be restored.

The thing about this was, Sibthorp was at least partly correct. The great railway boom was followed by a collapse, ruining thousands of speculators. (Were he alive today, he would probably be campaigning for the restoration of little branch-line railways.)

When it was proposed to provide public libraries for the working classes in industrial towns, which he called sinkholes of cholera, he said he could not see why they wanted to read, and that “I myself always hated reading while at Oxford.” He believed the British Museum was a waste of money and that it would be much better to pull down the National Gallery than complete it. What would he have thought of the National Endowment for the Arts and public broadcasting and television? Better not ask.

When a land survey was proposed, he ranted that:

The idea of a gang of schoolmasters coming around upon your land and surveying its productive properties is one which I never expected to hear proposed. How can we know that these people may not actually invade a gentleman’s cellar and tilt his wine? Certainly we live in very extraordinary times when these dictatorial measures are made to invade the sacredness of private property.

International trade fairs, in particular the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace of 1851, summed up everything he hated -- Progress, Industry, Democracy and International Understanding. It was “that obscene and insanitary structure which has been offered as a supreme insult to the people of England to the delectation of foreigners who are pouring over this unfortunate country in their thousands to debauch our daughters and swindle our trades-people.”

Income tax was “That odious and delusive mode of taxation.” It was speaking on income tax that Sibthorp actually uttered some immortal good sense. It was not the only time a clown has spoken out as a hero when no others dared. The Obama administration and its followers might take note:

The government who propose this tax call themselves Liberals. Liberals! There never was such a misnomer. Who, I would ask, have been more disposed to cut up the liberties of the people than those who call themselves Liberals, whom I call revolutionaries and levellers, men having no feeling for Church, King, State or people, or anything which has hitherto made England a great nation.

With the Crimean War, he proposed that that be sent out as Colonel of the Royal South Lincolnshire Militia, but had a stroke and died.

Today Colonel Sibthorp is almost but not quite forgotten. The parliaments of the English-speaking world might benefit from having a few more such sworn and outspoken foes of Political Correctness on their benches.

Michael Wharton wondered, in an essay in the Salisbury Review, how, if he came back to life today, the Colonel would have dealt with the liberal “thinkers” and “hypocritical jackanapes” of the modern media. Wharton thought he would have held his ground, quoting one of the Colonel’s own favorite sayings, “Holdfast is a good dog.” He might also have said, like Gilbert and Sullivan’s jester: “Winnow all my folly and you’ll find/A grain or two of truth among the chaff.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.