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Ancient & Modern

The failed Hoon–Hewitt coup against the Prime Minister offers a clear Roman lesson — if you strike, you strike early and you strike hard.

13 January 2010

12:00 AM

13 January 2010

12:00 AM

The failed Hoon–Hewitt coup against the Prime Minister offers a clear Roman lesson — if you strike, you strike early and you strike hard.

The failed Hoon–Hewitt coup against the Prime Minister offers a clear Roman lesson — if you strike, you strike early and you strike hard.


When, for example, the despotic madman Caligula was cut down, the idea was that the republic would be restored. But as the senate endlessly debated the matter, the army moved in. Claudius (nephew of the previous emperor Tiberius) was hauled out from behind a curtain where he had hidden himself — a soldier spotted his feet — and taken to the barracks of the Praetorian Guard (the emperor’s bodyguard). There he promised each of the soldiers a hefty bribe and was duly proclaimed emperor. Result? No change. For the senate, read our dithering Cabinet.

But if that spinelessness is bad enough, what about Gordon Brown? In ad 65 a wide range of conspirators including senators and Praetorian Guards set out to assassinate Nero, putting up the popular young aristocrat Piso to replace him. It turned into a shambles. A slave of one of the conspirators sensed what was going on, and saw fame and fortune in telling the emperor. Nero immediately roped in the suspects. They broke down and tried to save their skins by naming names. When Nero realised the extent of the putsch, he put the whole city on alert, and the blood began to flow. Piso was urged to rally the army and people against Nero and at least die heroically in the attempt. No chance. He committed suicide, larding his will with repulsive flattery of the emperor in order to save his family.

In other words, ‘strike early, strike hard’ applies to the intended victim too. Domitian, for example, took instant action against suspects during his reign (including 12 ex-consuls), so successfully that he was able to remark ‘no one believes in a conspiracy against the emperor until it has succeeded’.

And what does Brown do? Far from sacking the conspirators, he keeps them on. Even worse, he appeases them! Where is that great clunking fist, Romans would have wanted to know? The only intelligible conclusion is that he is so loathed, so isolated, so feeble, that he has no one else to turn to. And this is the man the Cabinet could not bring themselves to remove! What a pathetic bunch they all are. Well, if they can’t put themselves out of their misery, we shall just have to.

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