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Witty political quips always win out over dull rhetoric

Clement Attlee "looks like a female llama surprised while bathing". That was one of his. "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last." That was his, too. And this one: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

It hardly seems fair. Not only did Winston Churchill lead Britain to victory in a world war. Not only is he their most popular prime minister. Not only was he awarded the Nobel prize for literature. But on top of all that, he's also Britain's finest political wit.

Churchill's offerings, and those of many others, are contained in the newly published 'Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations'.

Open it at random – indeed, open any book of quotes at random – and chances are you'll find some choicest Churchill, or at least, a line that's been attributed to him because it sounds too good to be by anyone else.

The book's quotes were divided by subject, but they could just as easily have been divided by type. For example, the pun (Clement Freud calling Margaret Thatcher "Attila the Hen"); the rueful self-deprecation (Malcolm Rifkind: "You realise you're no longer in government when you get in the back of your car and it doesn't go anywhere"); The simile ("The House of Lords is like a glass of champagne that has stood for five days." That was by our old friend, the surprised female llama).

Then there's what I'll call the Molotov cocktail – not so much a witticism as an incendiary weapon lobbed in the direction of the enemy. For example, the headline on a column by the gleefully provocative Republican commentator Ann Coulter: "Liberals Love America Like OJ Loved Nicole."

For an insult to score, it must be specific. It's no use just calling people thick. Take this American bumper sticker: "If ignorance is bliss, then you must be one happy liberal!"

On the face of it, neat enough. Trouble is, you could change "liberal" to "Republican" (or whatever else you like) and it would make no material difference: it's still the same joke. Unlike, say, "The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people's money" (attributed to Mrs Thatcher). That could apply only to the named ideology.

Yes, political quips are reductive – but reductive in a good way. So much in politics is long, pompous and dull. A decent witticism reduces it to something short, sharp and amusing. More than that, it makes politics seem graspable, in a way that rambling rhetoric doesn't.

To quote that deathless wit, Anon: "A Communist is someone who has nothing and wishes to share it with the world."

Those 15 words say more than most half-hour speeches. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent