David Lloyd George. The Great Outsider. by Roy Hattersley

This biography was not written by a fan of the Prime Minister who tore up the rules of the political game. The pragmatism, cynicism and occasional unpleasantness of the Liberal orator are viewed through quite a censorious lens. Nonetheless, the achievements of Lloyd George as a pioneering Chancellor are not forgotten. The result is a complex text which is marked by the envy that a politician can harbour for a statesman.

Ideologically Roy Hattersley has few issues with the centrist Lloyd George. They both wanted to help the poor without bringing about a genuine social transformation. However, the admiration Lloyd George had for Keynesian economics and his contempt for the aristocracy meant that the Liberal did have a radical content. It was his antipathy to the socialism of the Labour Party which meant that some of his egalitarian rhetoric was deceptive.

As a biographer, Hattersley has the advantage of knowing some political realities. For example, he showed that he was aware that the electorate will not be told what an election is about. Theresa May should have consulted this text before losing her majority unnecessarily in the ‘Brexit’ general election. As a social historian, Hattersley is much less acute. This is evidenced by the sections on Irish Home Rule. Hattersley provocatively wrote:

“A negotiated peace might still have been possible if the Republicans- some of whom clearly killed for killing’s sake- had not been afraid that the leadership would settle for too little.”

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“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Mario Cuomo

Jeremy Corbyn has clearly realised the power of the poem. At Glastonbury, he harnessed Shelley to inspire his audience. While the Conservative Party has been slow to form an awkward coalition with the DUP, the Labour leader has been quick to communicate his message of hope with large numbers of people.

It is uncertain if Corbyn will ever ascend to the summit of politics in the UK. However, he has already confounded a great many of his critics. Along the way, he has revealed a love of reading. His passion for Joyce made several people sit up.

If governing is a prosaic activity, does it have to be a fraudulent one? Is it possible for politicians to craft narratives which will take us to a fairer future? Will we continue to be led by Machiavellian monsters like Trump and Putin? The art of political studies is to live in the world of the possible. This does not mean we should be cynical, defeatist or neutral. Nonetheless, it does imply we must avoid making predictions.

Britain Since 1918 by David Marquand

This learned discussion of democracy in the UK received a positive review from moderate Labour’s Roy Hattersley. It is hard not to be impressed ┬áby a text which informs and entertains. The democratic process might not always have delivered the goods for ordinary people in Britain, but appreciating the statecraft and ideologies which have led to negative results can be educative.

For Marquand, politicians should not be seen as cynical hypocrites. They have often been trapped by tradition just when they hoped to be innovative. Old influences like Edmund Burke have seemingly shaped some of their choices in the modern era. While political theorists may have been thinking in terms of Machiavelli, Marx, Althusser or Foucault, the behaviour of those they have been ruled by could have been shaped by less inspirational philosophy.

Nonetheless, Burke should not be viewed as a pure reactionary. His excessive distaste for the French Revolution did not make him into a simple conservative. This kind of complexity means that politicians have sometimes misread the lessons of the past. On other occasions, pressure from the people has obliged politicians to assume more collectivist ways of thinking. Marquand ends his narrative on a note which is not devoid of optimism:

“As petrol blockades, the Countryside Alliance and, most of all, the huge anti-war demonstration in February 2003 all showed, the ancient British tradition of peaceful protest was alive and well.”