Quote or misquote? MPs often get it wrong, find researchers

Faced with the daunting prospect of a speech in the House of Commons, many politicians try to bolster their arguments with a well-chosen quote from an unimpeachable hero or genius of the past.

The words of Sir Winston Churchill, Einstein, Gandhi and co have often echoed around the chamber of the Commons, and listeners would be forgiven for assuming that MPs mouthing their words have thoroughly researched their provenance.

But new research compiled by readers’ service Blinkist suggests otherwise.

Analysis of parliamentary records found many cases of MPs assigning quotes to the wrong people, with Conservatives responsible for 40% of the misattributions, compared with 23% by Labour MPs.

Here are the top 10 misquotes in the UK Parliament, according to Blinkist:

– “Let them eat cake” – Marie Antoinette

A misquote with a long history of citations, used as long ago as 1948 by Conservative MP for Canterbury John Baker White.

– “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Voltaire

Conservative Lord Balfour of Inchrye used this quote in the UK House of Lords on the May 29 1963.

– “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi (PA)

Elfyn Llywd of Plaid Cymru was the first politician recorded misquoting this in September 2001.

– “When you are going through hell, you must keep going” – Sir Winston Churchill

This quote has never been found in any of the collections of Churchill’s speeches or writings, but that did not stop Labour’s Ian Pearson using it in 2009.

– “An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte (National Maritime Museum/PA)

This quote has been used multiple times in Parliament but there is no concrete evidence to suggest the French emperor ever said it.

– “There are only two certainties in life – death and taxes” – Various

This quote has been falsely attributed to William Hazlitt, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, but was actually the creation of English actor Christopher Bullock in 1716.

– “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic” – Josef Stalin

Joseph Stalin
Josef Stalin (PA)

This was actually a satirical comment made in a 1925 essay by the less well-known German journalist Kurt Tucholsky.

– “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi actually wrote: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”

– “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (PA)

There is no evidence to suggest Einstein ever said this. It only began to be attributed to him long after he died.

– “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give” – Sir Winston Churchill

The International Churchill Society says: “It may be a nice quote, but definitely not Winston Churchill.”

The research on parliamentary debates in the UK, the US and Canada was carried out by Blinkist to mark the 130th anniversary of the US Congress.

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