You need a thick skin to succeed in politics. But some politicians are harder than others. Let’s take a look at some of the toughest in the business.
Ex-Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown joined the Royal Marines as a teenager in 1959. He served as a Commando Officer in Borneo before being recruited by the elite and deadly Special Boat Service. Now a member of the House of Lords, Ashdown has been described as “the only Mandarin-speaking trained killer to rise to prominence in British politics”.
Respect MP George Galloway was an amateur boxer as a teenager growing up in Dundee. Described as a “thug” by the late writer Christopher Hitchens, Galloway’s never been one to back away from a fight. He defeated Labour’s Oona King in an ill-tempered race to Parliament in 2005 and won the Bradford West by-election in March 2012.
Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick is one of the few politicians to come out on top following an electoral tussle with the uncompromising Galloway, defeating his fellow Scot to claim the newly-created seat of Poplar and Canning Town in the 2010 general election. The ex-transport minister risked his life serving as a London firefighter for 23 years before joining Parliament in 1997.
Dubbed the ‘Milk Snatcher’ for banning free milk for schoolchildren when she was Education Secretary in 1971, Margaret Thatcher went on to pick on someone her own size when she became Prime Minister. Whether or not she made the right choices for the UK during her time as leader is something that continues to be fiercely debated to this day. But one thing’s for sure, her brutal battle with the Trade Union movement in the 1980s was not for the faint of heart. She’s nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ for a reason.
In 2003 former professional bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became the 38th Governor of California. He represented the Republican Party for two terms until 2011. Before that he was a commando, a cop, a supervillain, a barbarian and a time-travelling killing machine from the future. Jeez.
While leader of the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001, William Hague boasted that he used to consume 14 pints of beer a day during his youth. But it’s not his alleged drinking prowess that wins him a place on this list, it’s his martial arts expertise. The former Foreign Secretary is a black belt in Judo and trains with Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe.
US navy veteran John McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1967. He broke both arms and one leg in the crash and spent the next five-and-a-half years being tortured as a prisoner of war. Although the Republican Senator lost out to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, he remains a fearless war hero in the eyes of his fellow US citizens.
Since the 1970s, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, has tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights. She was seven months pregnant when she won a by-election in 1982 to become an MP and joined a Parliament made up of 97% men. She set up the first Parliamentary Labour Party Women’s Group and fought for the introduction of ‘women only shortlists’, which led to the election of 101 female Labour MPs in the 1997 general election. In a career spanning five decades, Harman has proved to be tougher than many of her male counterparts and remains a strong voice in UK feminism.
Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution. His fearsome guerrilla army overthrew a military dictatorship in 1959. Castro set up a Communist state and ruled over Cuba for nearly five decades until he handed over power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. But perhaps even more impressive is Castro’s ability to stay alive. After making an enemy of the United States in the 1960s, the Marxist leader is said to have survived 638 weird and wonderful assassination attempts by the American government including the likes of booby trapped scuba diving suits and exploding cigars. When the CIA recruited one of Castro’s ex-lovers to murder him, he found out about it and reportedly handed her a gun, telling her to pull the trigger. “You can’t kill me. Nobody can kill me,” he’s alleged to have said as she realised she couldn’t bring herself to shoot him.
Labour’s Dan Jarvis is an ex-army officer who went into politics after a career in the Parachute Regiment. Jarvis served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming the MP for Barnsley Central in 2011.
Vitali Klitschko used to make a living punching the lights out of some of the world’s biggest and most brutal fighters. In 1999 he became a world boxing champion and, along with his younger brother Wladimir, dominated the heavyweight division for more than a decade. These days he’s a politician in his native Ukraine and is strongly in favour of his country developing closer ties with the European Union. In May 2014 he was elected mayor of Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev.
On May 10, 1940, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi soldiers invaded Belgium and the Netherlands. The most terrifying and efficient killing machine ever was marching increasingly closer to the UK and the British people needed a man who knew how to fight. On the very same day, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
Churchill’s impassioned, heartfelt speeches to the British people during the Second World War galvanised a nation, uniting it against fascism. He insisted surrender was not an option.
On the eve of the Battle of Britain he said: “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free. But if we fail then the whole world, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age. Let us, therefore, brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say ‘this was their finest hour’.”
In possibly his most famous speech to the nation on June 4, 1940, he said: “We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
Now that’s hard.