Last week I gave a lecture as part of my final year undergraduate Fictionalised Politics course, which looks at how representative politics - let's just call it 'democracy' - is depicted in Britain and the United States.
The basic proposition is that fictional representations matter because they do more than (imperfectly) reflect how we imagine our our real democracy: they can also shape how we come to think about it. I develop some of the themes in the course in my book A State of Play, which focuses just on British political fiction.
In the lecture I talked about gender as the ‘social organization of sexual difference’, the meanings of
Most of the reactions to the death of Tony Benn have focused on the man who turned left in the 1970s, embraced union militancy and became ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’. That was, however, Benn Mark II, arguably the less interesting version, and certainly the one less relevant to our own times, when the parties are desperately seeking to regain a connection with the people.
A while back I wrote a book about how Labour responded to the many cultural changes generated in the 1960s. In that decade Benn emerged as one of the party’s few leading figures who tried to seriously think though how the party might engage with at least some of them.
Benn Mark I was a fairly conventional politician. In the 1950s he was something of a revisionist and in the 1960s an enthusiastic if idiosyncratic member of Harold Wilson’s inner circle.
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’ through
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.
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.
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 be
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 appeared
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.