During the 2017 General Election I happened to be driving through Hastings, a town I know well and lived in for a few years. I was surprised to see a large group of Labour canvassers out in a fairly Tory part of the town. Hastings has gone Labour in the past but it was far from being an obvious target. I concluded that the folk I saw were enthusiastic but perhaps a little too optimistic. After all the media was assuring us that far from picking up places like Hastings Labour was on course to lose out badly. In fact one union leader set the bar pretty low by saying that if Labour only lost 20 seats it would be an acceptable result.
The First World War by John Keegan is history as a story. Keegan is a journalist, and it is said that journalism is the first draft of history. (The first draft of anything is usually rubbish, so that is why I don’t read the papers.) And a good way to look at this book is as a journalist going back over the previous drafts and making the story tighter. This isn’t a book that probes deeply into the causes of the war or comes to any profound conclusions about its effects. It is just the story of what happened. If that is what you want, this is what you get.
And what a story.
Elections can often be dramatic and unpredictable events. But they are often soul destroying and boring as well. The UK’s 2015 one was just dispiriting. The referendum on the EU was not much fun either. And when Theresa May called her snap election in 2017 it looked like it would simply be the worse possible example of the genre.
In previous posts we have heard a lot about the Lombards and the Gepids, a couple of troublesome germanic tribes.
We have given a lot of attention to the campaigns of Belisarius, especially those in Italy. Gibbon covers it all in sumptuous detail. I think we can assume that the court in Constantinople did as well. Big events like the recapture of Rome and Ravenna are bound to be seen as important and significant.
I wrote this back in 2015 just after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour Party leader, but before his MPs started the process of trying to get rid of him. At the time his rise seemed the most surprising and unpredicted political event. I didn’t trouble publishing it at the time. It isn’t particularly insightful or even very well written. But it does show how quickly events change how things seem.
I really really wish I had kept the slip of paper I put in my jacket pocket one Saturday night in 1978. I was 18, and was devoting considerable efforts to try and get a girlfriend. This was the height of the Disco era, so it was discos I mostly went to. But a straight forward old fashioned dance was worth a try as well. So this particular weekend I had ended up in the Conservative Club in the seaside town where I grew up, at a dance. I seem to remember enjoying it, but didn’t manage to pull anyone which was my main objective at the time. It was only the next day that I realised that by picking the cheaper admission option I had actually joined the Conservative Party and had a membership card to prove it.
I don’t think it is a great idea to use historical parallels as a guide to present day actions. Just because things played out a particular way back then there’s no reason they should do so again in the same way. And worse than that, historical parallels can be very bad guides to action. For example, the British Prime Minister Anthony Eden described Egyptian president Nasser as another Hitler to justify invading Egypt to take control of the Suez canal.
Reality turns out not to be what it seems. I have a feeling that there was never a time when people who thought about it actually believed that the Earth was flat. But we have certainly believed lots of things that are equally untrue since we evolved brains that had the capability to ponder these matters.
The Holy Roman Empire gets written out of European history to a large extent. This is despite having been founded by Charlemagne and ended by Napoleon and having played a big part in the history of wide chunks of Europe in between.
In Victorian Britain married women were firmly under the control of men. They were obliged to be obedient to their husbands and could not own property independent of him. Okay it sounds great in theory, but how did it actually work?