Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove recently grabbed the headlines by claiming Britons mistakenly think the 1914-18 conflict a ‘misbegotten shambles’ partly because that’s what Blackadder told them it was. To rather less fanfare, last autumn Defence minister Andrew Murrison and Jeremy Paxman said very much the same thing. And before Gove turned the issue into a party spat, Dan Jarvis, Labour’s shadow Justice minister, argued Blackadder promoted an erroneous ‘pointless futility’ narrative about the war.
Blackadder is not alone in constituting that which Gove described as the ‘fictional prism’ throughRead More
I’ve spent the last few years of my life immersed in stories of various kinds, stories about British democracy. So metaphor and simile have been my meat and drink, as it were.
Perhaps I’ve done a bit too much of all that, as I was watching Deal or No Deal recently and had something close to an epiphany. As I was in the gym when it happened, doing my nut on a cross-trainer while watching the show thanks to subtitles, perhaps too much oxygen had also got into my brain.
Because, to my addled mind, it struck me that the Channel 4 quiz show Deal or No Deal is a metaphor for Britain.Read More
On Twitter recently, Ben Page of Ipsos MORI compared levels of public trust in judges, civil servants and politicians in 1983 and 2013, findings that form part of his organisation's ongoing survey of popular trust in various professions' ability to tell the truth.
As you can see below, he points out that judges are slightly more trusted today while politicians still lurk at a very low level indeed.
But something remarkable has happened to trust in civil servants: it has more than doubled.Read More
During an email exchange with Richard Kelly, Head of Politics at Manchester Grammar School and author of a highly regarded study of how Conservative Party conferences actually work, recalled:
Back in 1979, when I was campaigning for the Tories, I remember talking to some party officials about their attempt to sell Margaret Thatcher to a society still unaccustomed to women at the top. They told me that, though Gordon Reece et al had helped, the biggest helping hand had come from the popular TV series The Good Life, and one of its central characters, Margo Leadbeater.
Penelope Keith's portrayal of this quintessential suburban Conservative, who managed to beRead More
I recently spotted this wine bar in what is now called the 'Northern Quarter' in Manchester city centre. A hundred years ago - in fact ten years ago - the area would have been known as Ancoats, one of the poorest parts of the city and bordering on Angel Meadow - whose name at the time was ironic given the terrible conditions found there - but whose name has been retained by developers presumably because they associate it with that Robbie Williams song.
I didn't go in the bar as I had something else to do but apparently it's not bad. If do patronise the placeRead More
If anybody still thought British history wasn’t a heavily politicised subject then the current skirmishing between some of our leading political figures over the meaning of World War One should have disabused them of that.
Admittedly no expert in the 1914-18 conflict, I have however written about Britain during the Second World War and have been fascinated by how members of our political class are trying to gain advantage as the country prepares to commemorate the centenary of what used to be called the Great War.
These political manoeuvres began during Radio 4’s Start the Week on 30th December. On the programme Michael Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary, discussed the teaching of British history in schools with a variety of historians. The discussion was fairly anodyne: nobody appearedRead More
In 1930 George Arliss won an Academy Award for his starring role in the film ‘Disraeli’. The film’s interpretation of Disraeli offers an interesting insight into the way in which Prime Ministers were viewed in the early half of the 20th century.
As part of the Picturing Politics series hosted by the University of Nottingham's School of Politics and IR, I looked at what the film reveals about our changed attitudes towards political leaders.
The podcast can be heard here.Read More
In November 2012 I participating in Radio 4’s The State of Welfare. This marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services – better known as the Beveridge Report, something that is generally regarded as laying the foundations of the post-war welfare state.
The State of Welfare took up most of Radio 4’s morning schedule and I helped kick if off - withRead More