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Ross McKibbin on the summer of discontent

Ross McKibbin, 17 August 1989

... It was difficult over the last fortnight of July not to think about the Thatcher Miracle and what had become of it. The EEC reported that in the next two years Britain would have the lowest growth rate, highest inflation and biggest payments deficit of any of its member nations. The National Union of Railwaymen struck for the fourth week running; there was a national dock strike; the Local Government Officers (NALGO) struck for three days; the lightning strikes at the BBC continued ...

At the Tory Conference

Ross McKibbin, 22 October 2009

... The most enthusiastic moment came when David Cameron promised to end poverty and pronounced the Tories the real party of the poor. The Conservatives have, of course, always thought themselves the real party of the poor but this time the claim was accompanied by some genuine rhetoric about inequality which they may come to regret. The party, to judge by what was said in the hall, has changed; and for the better ...

Who’s on the Ropes Now?

Ross McKibbin: A Bad Week for Gordon Brown, 1 November 2007

... That a week is a long time in politics is one of those wise sayings which usually turns out to be untrue. Not now. All those articles written only a couple of weeks ago and giving entirely good reasons why Gordon Brown was on top and David Cameron on the ropes now look faintly embarrassing. But at the beginning of October Brown was on top and no one can be faulted for failing to see his impending humiliation ...

Big Acts

Ross McKibbin, 19 February 1981

Portrait of a Progressive: The Political Career of Christopher, Viscount Addison 
by Kenneth Morgan and Jane Morgan.
Oxford, 326 pp., £15, May 1980, 9780198224945
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... The Doctors Morgan had the happy idea of converting Jane Morgan’s doctoral thesis on the career of Christopher Addison into a book and the result is this important and sympathetic biography. As they point out in their preface, he has hitherto had no worthwhile study; R. J. Minney’s biography is, they rightly note, ‘very unsatisfactory’ and drawn from a narrow range of sources ...

The Anti-Candidate

Ross McKibbin: Jeremy Corbyn, 8 October 2015

... It was said​ of one of Neville Chamberlain’s ministerial appointments that it was the most improbable since Caligula made his horse a consul. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party is in the same category. Not that it is a joke; just that it was highly unlikely and almost without precedent in modern British party political history ...

If Labour Is Serious…

Ross McKibbin, 22 May 2014

... It would be a bold psephologist who predicted the result of the next general election on the strength of last week’s local and European elections. Several outcomes seem equally possible or equally unlikely: a Conservative majority; a Labour majority; the Conservatives as the largest party; Labour as the largest party; a coalition government; a minority government ...

Why did he risk it?

Ross McKibbin: Blair, Brown and the US, 3 April 2003

... Whether we agree with it or not, there was always a plausible argument for intervention in Iraq. The Prime Minister might, therefore, have fewer problems with public opinion in the future than he does now. The important political question to be asked is not whether his policy is right or wrong – that is a rather different ethical and moral question – but why a man usually so risk-averse was prepared to take so many risks with the unity of the Labour Party ...

What Blair Threw Away

Ross McKibbin: Feckless, Irresponsible and Back in Power, 19 May 2005

... Labour has won its historic third term, by the majority (about 65) predicted by the much abused exit poll, and it has done so while receiving the lowest percentage of the vote ever won by a victorious party. The parliamentary majority is much reduced, as everyone has pointed out, but it is ‘much reduced’ only in comparison with Labour’s existing majority: previous Labour leaders would have regarded it as providential ...

How to dislodge a leader who doesn’t want to go

Ross McKibbin: Where are the Backbenchers?, 8 July 2004

... Whether or not the prime minister was cheered to the rafters at the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party after the local/European elections I do not know. That he was allowed an easy run by MPs is agreed. Given the extent of Labour’s defeat (or non-victory if you are a loyalist), the continuing disaster in Iraq and the constant readiness of the prime minister to undermine what Labour is actually achieving at home, such passivity is both surprising and depressing ...

After Smith

Ross McKibbin, 9 June 1994

... Like many others I have been puzzled by the reaction to John Smith’s death. It was reported as though it were at least that of a prime minister, and his funeral was, as the BBC noted, in effect a state funeral. The decision of both the BBC and ITV to double the ordinary length of their evening news broadcasts on the day of his death could be put down to the social democratish inclinations of the programmers, but the speed with which the coverage had to be assembled suggests that it was more instinctive ...

Can Clegg be forgiven?

Ross McKibbin: 5 May, 2 June 2011

... The first anniversary of the coalition government has been and gone, and – like its members, no doubt – we have no clear idea of what its future will be. The various elections that accompanied the anniversary didn’t help. By general consent the Lib Dems had most to worry about after the counting, Nick Clegg especially. It is hard to make confident judgments about the wisdom or otherwise of their decision to join the coalition, still less their subsequent performance, given the difficulty of their position after the general election ...

Anything but Benevolent

Ross McKibbin: Who benefits?, 25 April 2013

... It seems appropriate that just as the ‘reformed’ welfare state is ushered in, Margaret Thatcher should be ushered out. Appropriate too, that she, whose policies generated so much homelessness, should end her days in the Ritz. There used to be a genre of Labour autobiography with titles like ‘From Crowscaring to Westminster’, ‘From Workshop to War Cabinet’, which expressed something admirable about their subjects ...

Not Pleasing the Tidy-Minded

Ross McKibbin: Postwar Britain, 24 April 2008

Austerity Britain, 1945-51 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 692 pp., £25, May 2007, 978 0 7475 7985 4
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... As a child in an Australian kindergarten in the 1940s one of my first memories is of wrapping up dried fruit to send to the children of Britain. Since I strongly disliked dried fruit and thought no one would eat it unless they had to, I felt deeply the level of deprivation to which British children had been reduced. These memories were refreshed by reading Austerity Britain, David Kynaston’s huge history of the country between 1945 and 1951 ...


Ross McKibbin: Thatcher’s History, 6 December 1990

... In the days since Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation I have had a strong sense, not so much of history being made, as of history being invented: all the actors in this drama seem to be declaiming their parts as much for the history books as for the audience. That is true also of those whose duty it is to watch the drama and criticise the actors. Even before the heroine expired in the night there was everywhere an assumption that the play was over; everywhere a scuttling for cover and the hasty construction of intellectual positions which put actors and critics in as good a relation to history as possible ...

Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

For the Sake of Argument 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 353 pp., £19.95, May 1993, 0 86091 435 6
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... Christopher Hitchens may not be ‘the nearest thing to a one-man band since I.F. Stone laid down his pen’, but he comes close. For the Sake of Argument records a life of action, of being in the right place at the right time. Thomas Mann could never find the revolution: Hitchens cannot help tripping over it. This is, no doubt, the privilege of the foreign correspondent, but some are clearly more privileged than others ...

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