Peter Riddell

Peter Riddell is Political Editor of the Financial Times. A revised and updated edition of The Thatcher Government has recently been published by Blackwell.

The Crumbling of Camelot

Peter Riddell, 10 October 1991

In his memoirs Roy Jenkins describes John Kennedy as the best President of the USA in the past four decades. It is a curious, not to say unfashionable verdict. The demolishers of the Kennedy legend have been carrying all before them in the past few years. So battered is the Kennedy reputation that it is almost time for a new school of revisionist historians to rehabilitate the myth of Camelot on the Potomac. Almost, but not yet. Michael Beschloss’s absorbing and authoritative study of US-Soviet relations from January 1961 until Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 adds significantly to the case amassed by the demolition squad.

The new select committee system was launched in 1979 with a characteristic flourish by Norman St John Stevas, then Leader of the House of Commons. MPs were ‘embarking upon a series of changes that could constitute the most important Parliamentary reforms of the century’. The proposals were ‘intended to redress the balance of power’ – as between Parliament and the executive – ‘to enable the House of Commons to do more efficiently the job it has been elected to do’. This rhetoric and the expectations it raised have coloured all subsequent discussion of the role of select committees, 14 of which now monitor the work of various government departments. The New Select Committees, a collection of essays by the Study of Parliament Group, provides a sober corrective to the early euphoria in adding to the growing literature on the subject. The authors are mainly academics, though with a sprinkling of House of Commons staff.’

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