Think about Politics for a moment. A Conservative government struggling. Divisions in cabinet as plots swirl around Westminster and knives are sharpened as rivals jostle to satisfy long held ambitions. The issue of Europe is high on the agenda causing exasperation and confusion. The economy is still unable to generate anything remotely like a feel-good factor. We have the resignation of cabinet ministers for falling short of the required standards of professional, parliamentary behaviour. There are concerns amongst the general public that the NHS is on the verge of breakdown and that the privatisation of the public sector is serving to enrich the few and leaving the many to pick up the pieces. There exists a resurgent opposition with a populist leader allegedly more in tune with the common man and woman. There is a tangible sense of despair; a concern that society isn’t working and that something has to change.
Were you thinking of 2018 and the recent political scene? Did you picture Theresa May, Carillion, the NHS winter crisis and Brexit? Did you recognise Boris and Gove and think about what might have been on Damian Green’s internet browser? Were you running through fields of wheat or at Glastonbury with Jeremy Corbyn? Or were you thinking of food banks or whether you should have left some spare change with that homeless man or at least gone and bought the poor bloke a coffee from the Starbucks across the street?
Or were you back in the 1990’s? Was it an ailing John Major that you witnessed, shovelling peas around his plate on Spitting Image and getting greyer and greyer by the episode? Did you see a country still debating our future in Europe, contemplating the surrender of the pound and noting the arrival of UKIP on the political landscape? Did you recall Neil Hamilton, Cash for Questions, Jeffrey Archer heading to prison or David Mellor and his Chelsea shirt? There was the re-emergence of the Labour Party under Messrs Smith, Blair and Brown and the prospect of the railways, the Post Office and even the NHS being sold off to the highest bidder at some point in the future. Then there was Black Wednesday in 1992, the Bulger murder in 1993 and the unnerving feeling that things were just not how they were supposed to be.
Perhaps, some of you were back in the early 1960’s with Harold Macmillan and the Etonian gentlemen clique trying desperately to run a nation that was socially leaving the familiar world of austerity and deference behind? The stop-start of the economy and the rejection of De Gaulle as we begged to join the European Economic Community and the Night of the Long Knives where the embattled PM sacked a third of his cabinet in a matter of hours including many of his closest friends and colleagues. A much younger Harold Wilson offering a revived Britain in the white heat of the technological revolution to the accompaniment of a society falling in love with the Fab Four, reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover and entertaining the end of capital punishment and decriminalising homosexuality. Did you think of Profumo and Christine Keeler and that picture of her posing on that chair? Did you experience that feeling again that we could do better and needed something different?
We could go back further but we’ll stop there. We’ll stick to the period of Modern British History that our Sixth Form girls study at A Level. History and Politics runs in cycles, almost as if there are simple routines that are repeated and played out on a nationwide macro scale every couple of decades or so. That should not be surprising; from the moment we wake up, indeed from the moment we are born, life becomes a repetition of certain rules, practices and regimes. It would be ridiculous and somewhat naive for us to think that History and Politics do not tread a similar path. Some would say that through History we learn about the past but I’d like to think it also teaches us about the future.
“They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution’s near, but to me it seems quite clear that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”
– Shirley Bassey (with Propellerheads)
“Maybe history wouldn’t have to repeat itself if we listened once in a while.”
– Wynne McLaughlin
Andy Donaldson, Head of History