According to our correspondent Gideon Donald, writing on page 14, the feud between George Osborne, the Conservative shadow chancellor, and Nathaniel Rothschild, of the banking dynasty, stretches back to Oxford days and the Bullingdon Club. That may or may not be true. What is known is that Mr Osborne – nicknamed “Oik” because he was deemed not to be quite posh enough – allegedly encouraged media reports about the details of a private conversation at a dinner in Corfu, during which, it is claimed, Peter Mandelson poured poison into people’s ears about Gordon Brown.
Pouring poison into an ear was the means by which Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father. The intention of leaking details of the conversation may have been to murder Mr Mandelson just as he returned to the cabinet. Actions have unintended consequences, however, and, in this instance, Mr Osborne may have succeeded only in committing political suicide.
Certainly Mr Rothschild, a “Bullingdon Club colossus”, as our correspondent puts it, believes Osborne is guilty of grand discourtesy, and that he seems intent on bringing his old friend down. David Cameron, himself a former Bullingdon Club colossus, has made much of the need for our political leaders to show good character and sound judgement. Yet he well knows that, in the argot of that august institution, an oik is an oik is an oik.