logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: British-political-history
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-29 01:19
Power for the sake of power
Disraeli - G.I.T. Machin

Of the great political figures of Victorian Britain, none have captured the popular imagination like Benjamin Disraeli. A converted Jew from a family of merchants and the son of a noted literary scholar, he rose in an aristocratic age to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. While numerous biographies have been written about him, most concentrate on his ostentatious personality, the style that characterized the man. Ian Machin's brief study, a volume in the "Profiles in Power" series, focuses instead on the political side of Disraeli's life, examining the positions and tactics he adopted over the course of his long career in public life.

 

Machin's book offers a good introduction to Disraeli and his politics, examining both his rise through the Tory ranks and his attitudes towards the prevailing issues in mid‑Victorian politics.. His contention is that the quest for power is the dominant theme running through Disraeli's career. To achieve it, Disraeli adopted an opportunistic approach in advocating policies or principles, trimming his sails to catch the prevailing political wind. This is most readily apparent in his economic policy, where Disraeli's advocacy of protectionism (which led to the destruction of Sir Robert Peel's government in 1846) was abandoned six years later in an attempt to improve his party's odds of winning seats in Parliament. Even after the Conservatives finally took office with a majority government in 1874, Machin notes, Disraeli possessed no legislative agenda beyond pursuing reform measures that would appeal to the public in an increasingly democratic age.

 

Though some might object to Machin's interpretation of Disraeli's career, this should not overshadow the overall qualities of the book. Balanced and insightful, it does a remarkable job of surveying Disraeli's life and career in such a short number of pages. For readers seeking to learn about this larger‑than‑life political figure, this is a good place to start.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-28 04:48
A disappointing addition to a great series
A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England, 1783-1846 - Boyd Hilton

All too many surveys of history start with soaring language that stresses how the period being examined was one of great change. Refreshingly, Boyd Hilton’s contribution to the New Oxford History of England series does not do this, focusing instead on the continuities of English history from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century. While acknowledging the dramatic demographic growth of this period and the economic transformations it spawned, he argues that the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century fueled an embrace of neo‑conservative ideologies that proved remarkably enduring throughout the period.

 

Hilton's argument shapes not just his interpretation of these decades, but his presentation of it as well. Arguing that a "politicization of society" took place during this period, he provides more political narrative than previous authors in the series have for their volumes. These chapters provide an insightful analysis of the period, particularly with regards to the political ideologies of the period. He supplements this with a superb bibliography at the end, one that offers a stimulating analysis of the historiography on the period.

 

Yet judged by the standard of the series, the book is something of a disappointment. The predominance of the political narratives crowds out other aspects of the era, most notably the dramatic technological changes so critical to it; these are usually addressed only in their consequences, and incompletely even then. A more persistent problem, however, is the author's presentation of historical arguments in the text. Often Hilton presents the varying interpretations of a topic or a personage with little sense as to his own opinion on the issue. While some may value the opportunity to make their own assessments, his effort at even‑handedness deprives the reader of the sort of informed judgments that have made the series such a valuable tool for understanding English history.

 

These flaws do not detract from the book’s many strengths so much as contrast them in stark relief.  Boyd’s sections on politics and (especially) political ideology make this book an essential study of the period.  It is only when compared to the other volumes in the New Oxford History of England series that its deficiencies become apparent.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-23 19:05
An outstanding account of a major British suffragist
Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography - June Purvis

The Pankhurst family is indelibly associated with the British suffragist movement, thanks in no small part to their tireless activism on behalf of women's rights. Yet while the matriarch Emmeline is commemorated with a statue at Westminster and her second daughter Sylvia has been the focus of numerous printed works (including her own 1931 book The Suffragette Movement) Emmeline's eldest daughter Christabel has not received the same degree of recognition for her efforts. Part of the reason for this, as June Purvis explains in her superb biography of the orator and activist, is because of the sibling rivalry that existed between the two sisters and the role that Sylvia's history-cum-memoir played in shaping our perception of their roles in the suffrage movement -- a role that has overshadowed the vital role Christabel played in winning British women the right to vote.

 

In many ways Christabel's activism was a product of her upbringing. A barrister and activist, Richard raised his children to advocate for social and political reform. Even before completing university Christabel was doing just that, as she joined with her mother in forming the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Breaking away from the mannered and respectable agitation of older women's rights organizations, the WSPU disrupted speeches, vandalized property, and engaged in hunger strikes and other activities in prison to promote their cause.  Christabel was a leading figure of this effort, thanks to her abilities as an orator and her commitment to her cause.

 

Exiled to France in 1912, Christabel returned to Britain with the start of the First World War. Unlike her pacifist sisters she joined with her mother in championing the war effort, renaming the WSPU's newspaper Britannia and calling for a more vigorous prosecution of the conflict. Though her conviction that such efforts would be rewarded with the vote were partially vindicated in 1918, she shared the despair many of her contemporaries felt at the loss of so many lives, A chance encounter in a bookstore led Christabel to embrace the Second Adventist movement, and in the early 1920s she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent her later years as a preacher and author of religious books.

 

Exhaustively researched and well-written, Purvis's book is a model of what a biography should be. Her efforts serve to rehabilitate Christabel's image from the diminishment of it that her sister and other scholars have so often unjustly inflicted. It is a book that everyone interested in the suffrage movement should read, both for its celebration of Christabel's achievements and the insight it provides into how she and other activists fought for and won the right for millions of women to be heard.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-10 16:40
Highlighting an overlooked aspect of Lloyd George's career
Lloyd George and Foreign Policy, Volume I: The Education of a Stateman, 1890-1916 - Michael G. Fry

Up until the First World War David Lloyd George was regarded as a politician focused predominantly upon domestic issues. Having championed issues such as old age pensions, Welsh Disestablishment, and women's suffrage, he was more commonly associated with national issues than the foreign policies that would define his tenure as prime minister and shape much of his legacy. As Michael Graham Fry demonstrates, though, this impression is a misleading one. His book, the first half of a two-volume study, traces Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy prior to becoming prime minister in an effort to chronicle the development of the views he would apply once he won the highest of offices.

Fry beings by situating Lloyd George in the world of his youth, showing him to be a product of the Nonconformist and Welsh nationalist currents rushing through Wales in the late 19th century. From this he developed a view of international affairs that framed issues in moral terms, a perspective that was subsequently reflected in the public rhetoric he used in framing issues for his audiences. He first came to national attention with his criticism of the war in South Africa, the nuance of which was obscured with his labeling as a "pro-Boer." When the Liberals formed a government in 1905 Lloyd George took office first as President of the Board of Trade, then in 1908 as Chancellor of the Exchequer. While these offices were focused more on economic and fiscal matters, Fry draws out his subject's role in shaping foreign policy during these years, finding within them an ongoing evolution of his views on international issues. He highlights Lloyd George's goring concern about Germany during this period, which was reflected both in advocacy for a naval agreement and in his speeches and Cabinet efforts in 1911 during the Agadir crisis. This puts his support for joining the war in 1914 look less like a betrayal of his earlier views and more a product of the development of his views over time, with his subsequent embrace of a vigorous war effort paving the way for his assumption of the premiership in 1916.

By detailing the development of Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy, Fry provides readers with an invaluable study of his subject. Yet the value of Fry's analysis is hampered by his writing, as it oscillates between extremes of sweeping generalizations and a morass of detail. A better balance between the two would have allowed Fry to make his arguments more effectively, but those willing to take their time with Fry's text will be rewarded with an astute examination of the intellectual and political development of a key 20th century statesman.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-09 16:30
A comprehensive study of Lloyd George's life and career
David Lloyd George: A Biography - Peter Rowland

Though often overshadowed by his Second World War counterpart Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George had a political career that was nearly as long and just as impressive in its accomplishments. Born in Manchester in 1863, the young David moved with the rest of his family to Llanystumdwy after the death of his father, where they were taken in by David's uncle Richard Lloyd. Excelling in school, he embarked on a career as a solicitor, though this soon proved to be a stepping stone into politics. Rowland depicts the young politician as actively focused on Welsh issues, particularly disestablishment and land reform. Yet his ambitions soon propeled the young MP beyond the boundaries of regional concerns, and beginning with his active - and controversial - stand against the Boer War he emerged as an increasingly prominent member of the `Radical' wing of the Liberal Party.

With the formation of the Liberal Government in the aftermath of Balfour's resignation, Lloyd George took office, first as President of the Board of Trade, then as Chancellor of the Exchequer after Asquith's promotion to the premiership in 1908. As Chancellor he supervised the passage of a bill granting old age pensions and championed the cause of a comprehensive land valuation as a prelude to taxing the great landlords of Britain. The increased financial burden caused by the pensions, coupled with the growing expenditures on the navy, led to the introduction of the famous `People's Budget' in 1909 and the political showdown which resulted in two general elections and the emasculation of the House of Lords.

Soon after his success in this battle, Lloyd George began his long-term romantic relationship with Frances Stevenson, who went from being tutor to his daughter Megan to his private secretary. She proved to be the most enduring of the many affairs Lloyd George embarked upon during his lifetime. Rowland does not downplay Lloyd George's habitual philandering, and the relationship between Lloyd George and his first wife Margaret is depicted as having reached a mutual understanding on the matter. Despite these affairs, Lloyd George retained a deep affection for Margaret, and Rowland notes that the maintenance of their marriage ensured his political survival.

Like million of other Britons, Lloyd George's life was changed by his country's entry into the First World War. Initially hesitant about involvement, he soon chafed at the government's conduct of the war. As a result of the `shells scandal' he became the head of a new Ministry of Munitions, where he circumvented War Office inertia in equipping Britain's growing army. Rowland states that these efforts to transform Britain into a nation at war were Lloyd George's greatest contribution to Britain's victory, and they increasingly marked him out as the most dynamic member of the government. In spite of his continued dissatisfaction with Asquith's conduct of the war, however, Rowland argues that Lloyd George would have preferred to work as a `power behind the throne' rather than as Asquith's replacement. Yet when Asquith resigned in December 1916, Lloyd George took office as the only person capable of maintaining the governing coalition.

As prime minister, Lloyd George presided over a government composed of the Unionist Party and the Liberals who chose not to follow Asquith's example in resigning. His greatest battles at this time were with the military, particularly with General Haig and his command of British forces on the Western Front. Rowland is good at recounting the political infighting that comprised this struggle, noting the limitations to the Prime Minister's authority even at this stage of the war. Perhaps the greatest limitation on his power, though, was the Unionist domination of his government. While Lloyd George worked well with the Unionists with whom he governed, his dependence on their parliamentary support - which only increased after the postwar `coupon' election of 1918 - left him dangerously vulnerable to their goodwill for his continued survival.


The end of the war thus left Lloyd George in a dominant yet tenuous position. As a key participant in the Paris peace negotiations he relished his role as a world statesman, though his belief in conciliation was hampered by French intransigence. Back home Lloyd George faced a number of crises, particularly with skyrocketing unemployment and the increasingly violent opposition to British rule in Ireland. Though Lloyd George ultimately cobbled together a solution, the resulting partition alienated many of the rank-and-file in the Unionist parliamentary party, and this, coupled with his blatant sale of honours and his efforts to manipulate public opinion, ultimately cost him his premiership. Lloyd George rejoined the weakened Liberals in opposition, but his continued tension with Asquith's supporters diminished his influence in the party, while his dynamic solutions to the ongoing unemployment problems of the interwar period were ignored by both the Conservatives and the Labour Party.


Faced with a career as long and accomplished as this, Rowland was faced with a challenge to compress everything into one volume. Often this forces him to pass over events by noting that the details were recounted elsewhere - a regrettable but understandable device considering the scope of his project, though it would have been helped if he noted which volumes the reader could turn to for additional detail. More problematic is his heavy reliance on the diaries of Lord Riddell for much of his information, a source that most historians treat with skepticism. Nevertheless, the overall result is the best one-volume biography of Lloyd George available, a valuable summary of the life and times of a dominant political figure in modern British history.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?