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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 22, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: A Friday Night Surprise — Prime-Ministerial Thunderbolts

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 22, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: A Friday Night Surprise — Prime-Ministerial Thunderbolts

Mr. Coates, in the role of Jupiter Pluvius,478 that irascible old pagan deity who used to wander about the universe hurling thunderbolts with the speed and accuracy of a member of the hoi polloi throwing dinner plates, is a novel, an impressive, almost an awe-inspiring spectacle. Feet apart, shoulders squared in a way which must once have been the wonder and astonishment of his raw recruits, he assumes the good old Napoleonic attitude, and, facing a somewhat nervous Opposition, "lets 'em have it." In ten minutes the running fire of interjections all but subsides, and at the end of the hour a decidedly wilted Opposition looks almost sorry for its sins and quite sorry for itself.

Our good tempered Prime Minister usually prefers the suaviter in modo to the fortiter in re.479 On Friday night he surprised everyone. He especially surprised the Opposition. Jove-like, he hurled facts and figures at the head of an Opposition which was quite too startled to dodge what was in every sense coming to them. He delivered a policy speech—a speech which left upon the countenances of the Opposition that startled expression which usually accompanies the exclamation, "Du [sic] tell!"480 We all know perfectly well that the very word "policy" is to an Oppositionist as a red rag to a Revolutionary Socialist. It impels him to stand up and make speeches. Indeed, we have heard so very much of the policies of the various parties in opposition that we are forcibly reminded of Kipling's "Song of the Bandarlog":

Here we sit in a solemn row,
Thinking of beautiful things we know,
Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do
All complete, in a minute or two
Something noble, and wise, and good,
Done by merely wishing we could…

And in conclusion

By the rubbish in our wake, and the noble noise we make,
Be sure, be sure we're going to do some splendid things.481

(N.B.—The Bandarlog, just in case you don't know, are a species of monkeys who live in the North of India.)

There are policy speeches—and policy speeches. There is the sharp, crisp, efficient, straight-to-the-point statement by Mr. Coates when he declares the policy of the Government. Then there is the speech which, every time I hear it, reminds me of Sir Maui Pomare's descriptive pleasantry, "Snivelling George."482 And then there is the Labour-Socialist's gramophone record with a statistical flutey obbligato by Mr. McCombs, which emits hideous scratchings and "blastings."

We shouldn't, from the vasty [sic] deeps of our Parliamentary experience, put Mr. Coates in the class labelled "Talkers—voluble." He has not yet mastered the fine art of talking for hours, or, if necessary, for weeks, without saying anything in particular. Never once, to the best of our recollection, has he driven his point into the undoubtedly well-protected cerebellums483 of his opponents by smiting his fist upon the table. Nor do his speeches in any way resemble the oratorical efforts of Mr. Isitt, whose gestures sometimes move the beholder to wonder, in a dazed sort of way, whether the honourable member intends to cap an already remarkable speech by turning a hand-spring. But notwithstanding these little drawbacks (which may, perhaps, be overcome with time and lots of practice), the Prime Minister, on the rare occasions when he decides that somebody will really have to do or say something about these Oppositionists, somehow "gets there."

It was, therefore, quite a pleasant little change for the onlooker to realise that the Prime Minister has a somewhat different and quite, quite unparliamentary method of dealing with that stereotyped class of complaints with which the Opposition has made us familiar. Something—we don't just remember what—was said about—guess which? The dangerous speed at which our limited expresses are run. You remember, of course, they story of the little boy who threw some melon seeds out of the train window while journeying to Auckland, and was able to dine on juicy water-melon on the return journey? So, apparently, did the Prime Minister, who is also, of course, Minister of Railways. He simply smiled a discreet little smile and said, very politely: "If you want to stick at the same old pace, do it. I'm going to speed 'em up."484 Most unparliamentary, of course—but so effective.

Then there is this matter of party policy. The Labour-Socialists accuse Reformers of having a policy which can be written on a postage stamp. Well, at least, a postage stamp is a thing which comes into everyday use, has a definite purpose, and gets there. Mr. Coates summed up in a single sentence the sentiments that everyone else in the House has been trying hard, loud, and long, to express ever since the very first days of the session. "The policy of this party is the country first, the country always, and the country only."485 What more could we want?

478 The Roman god Jupiter is sometimes referred to as Jupiter Pluvius or "sender of rain."

479 "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re" is a Latin phrase meaning "gentle in manner, resolute in execution."

480 See Coates's speech (Hansard 208: 501-07).

481 Rudyard Kipling, "Road-Song of the 'Bandar-Log'," from The Jungle Book.

Here we go in a flung festoon,
Half-way up to the jealous moon!
Don't you envy our pranceful bands?
Don't you wish you had extra hands?
Wouldn't you like if your tails were--so—
Curved in the shape of a Cupid's bow?
Now you're angry, but—never mind,
Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!

Here we sit in a branchy row,
Thinking of beautiful things we know;
Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,
All complete, in a minute or two—
Something noble and grand and good,
Won by merely wishing we could.
Now we're going to—never mind,
Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!

All the talk we ever have heard
Uttered by bat or beast or bird—
Hide or fin or scale or feather—
Jabber it quickly and all together!
Excellent! Wonderful! Once again!
Now we are talking just like men.
Let's pretend we are…never mind,
Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!
This is the way of the Monkey-kind.

Then join our leaping lines that scumfish through the pines,
That rocket by where, light and high, the wild-grape swings.
By the rubbish in our wake, and the noble noise we make,
Be sure, be sure, we're going to do some splendid things!

The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 11 (New York: Ams Press, 1970).

482 See the column for 29 August 1925.

483 Dominion: cerebrellums.

484 This exchange does not appear in Hansard, but Coates certainly made the comment; see “In Chamber and Lobby,” Dominion, 19 September 1925, p. 8.

485 Cf. Coates: "…this Government has a policy for the real national interests of the country—the country first, the country always, and the country only" (Hansard 208: 506).