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Where did Ed Miliband get ‘Happy Warrior’ from? (Clue: not Wordsworth)

7 April 2015

6:18 PM

7 April 2015

6:18 PM

William Wordsworth, sad to say, may not after all have a significant role in the 2015 election campaign.

His name was taken in vain repeatedly this weekend, after someone passed the Sun Ed Miliband’s preparatory notes for the seven-way election debate. Prominent in these were the words ‘Happy Warrior’, which every news source gleefully traced back to Wordsworth’s 1806 poem Character of the Happy Warrior:

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright


…and so on.

The idea that the leader of the opposition psychs himself up by reading the Lake Poets is a delightful one. It’s a great pity, then, that the phrase has a long post-Wordsworthian life in the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt famously applied it to Alfred E. Smith, the 1928 Democratic nominee for President (he lost, to Herbert Hoover, by 444 electoral votes to 87). It was then transferred by many hands to Hubert Humphrey, LBJ’s vice-president (he lost the 1968 presidential election to Nixon), and finally borrowed by Barack Obama for his own vice-president, Joe Biden (he has yet to decide if he’ll stand in 2016, but no one seems to think he’d win).

Does that seem a likely inspiration for Ed Miliband, with his Harvard background and his trophy adviser from the Obama campaign? A more likely one than the original poem? Hell yes. Sorry.


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