The potent sweep of English history

Simon Jenkins in The Telegraph:

Churchill-elizabet_2005875b I have come to regard England as the most remarkable country in European history. While its relations with its neighbours, especially Celtic ones, have often been appalling, its ability to assimilate newcomers, reform its politics, care for its citizens and be a liberal beacon to the world, is astonishing. Its “game-changing” individuals – Elizabeth, Cromwell, Walpole, Gladstone, Lloyd George, Churchill, Thatcher – far outnumber its villains. The trouble with most history books is that they are either aimed at children and too naive, or at other historians and are too long. As a journalist, I have set out to tell England’s story as a brisk narrative to be read in an afternoon. It is intended to supply a context for the bromides of politicians and commentators, and a setting for the fragmentary histories offered in films and television series. It is a background, sometimes I hope a corrective, to the wisdom peddled by lawyers, economists, diplomats and generals.

I cannot trust any political argument, from left or right, that is bereft of historical evidence. As we repeat the mistakes of the past – in Afghanistan, in relations with Europe, in banking policy – we should wince. Surely we are not going back to the Afghan wars, or to the Entente Cordiale, or to the South Sea Bubble? Or at least if we are going back to the bubble, let us recall that, after it burst, the First Minister dropped dead in parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sent to the Tower, and the mob demanded bankers be “tied up in sacks filled with snakes and tipped into the murky Thames”.

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