Thursday, 4 June 2009

Brown the Historian

It is alleged that former Prime Minister Anthony ‘Tony’ Blair voiced to his mentor Roy Jenkins the regret that he had not studied history. He thought a greater engagement with the past might have made him a better politician. It is a claim made repeatedly by historians, most recently and most eloquently by John Tosh in his Why History Matters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). It is mirrored in another appeal of historians, that the study of their subject produces a more critical and engaged electorate. It’s a view I generally endorse.

But what to make of Gordon Brown? He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a first class degree in history yet he has become, by some stretch, the worst prime minister in living memory. John Major (who had no university education at all) looks positively Churchillian in comparison. Brown went on to gain a PhD, also from Edinburgh, for his study of Labour politics in Scotland in the interwar years. Is that the clue, the parochialism of Brown’s interest in history?

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