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92Rewind: Frit and run?

Updated Thursday, 8th April 2010

One of Thatcher's sharpest barbs found itself being used again as the leaders disagreed TV debates.

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This blog is coming to you as part of Open2.net's 92Rewind Twitter stream in the lead up to this year's General Election.

As campaigning got under way, Labour leader Neil Kinnock used the last Prime Minister's Questions of the parliament to call for a leader's debate on TV. John Major, Conservative Prime Minister, refused:

Kinnock: "Why doesn't he join with me and Mr Ashdown and say to the broadcasting organisations 'We have nothing to fear from the British people'. Let's have a debate, let's fix the date, let's get on with it."

Major: "We have better than a debate. We have a general election at which the case can be taken to the people. If I accurately recall my Shakespeare: 'You draweth out the thread of your verbosity finer than the staple of your argument' - appropriately from Love's Labour's Lost, and Labour will lose."

As the Conservatives showed their delight by laughing heartily, Kinnock hit back: "The Prime Minister read a quotation from Shakespeare. Let me give him one from Mrs Thatcher: 'He's frit.'"

Margaret Thatcher [Image: Steve Punter under CC-BY licence] Creative commons image Icon Steve Punter under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license
An insult which echoes down the years: Margaret Thatcher, who introduced the word 'frit' to Commons debates

Kinnock was referencing a rebuke thrown by an earlier Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Although it's commonly believed that Thatcher was directing her charge of 'frit' at the then Labour leader Michael Foot, she was actually responding to an interjection by Foot's deputy Denis Healey. Healey had predicted that she would "cut and run" before the economy got too bad.

For those of us not lucky enough to have had a Lincolnshire upbringing, "frit" is a colloquialism meaning "afraid", and it wasn't the first time it had echoed around the Commons chamber since Thatcher introduced the term to MPs. Conservative back benchers had yelled it at Kinnock during the run-up to the 1987 election.

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