In early childhood, the outside world only gradually began to seep through the close network of family and neighbours in which we lived. There was the war, of course, shrouding our windows in blackout curtains, and shaking the walls of our terraced house with its nightly cacophonies. Sitting by the fire was my grandfather, born in 1863, a typical Victorian male, authoritarian and dogmatic –“there’ll always be bosses” was one of his favourite sayings. On the other side of the grate sat Catherine, my fiery grandmother, with Irish blood in her veins. She disliked Churchill, the wartime prime minister, because he had once sent troops against striking miners in Tonypandy, and she despised royalty; Queen Mary had once visited the fish house where she toiled – “her face like a porcelain doll’s” and she had brought up her eight children in poverty, with little medical assistance. My grandparents both had a dread, instilled from childhood, of the Dickensian workhouse.
My father and mother never talked about politics. They read the “Daily Express”, a bright and entertaining newspaper owned by Lord Beaverbrook which promulgated a pro-Empire, Tory viewpoint. Dad was very loyal to the monarchy and, after the war, he was skipper or mate on trawlers, a shareman, and I guess he took a free enterprise view of the world, but always cared for any shipmates who were ill or out of work. Most English people had no “ideology” which gave them a fixed view of any role for the state. Privacy was important, the secret ballot supreme, and our neighbours never declared their allegiances, but there was quite a display of political posters in poorer parts of the town for the 1945 election. Voting turnout was over 80 per cent, and party memberships were huge. Even though the people had supported Churchill in the fight against Fascism, they wanted something better for their children, and voted him out as soon as the end of the war was in sight. There was a general sense of approval for the free National Health Service, and my grandparents revelled in the free glasses and dentures to which they were entitled. Before the war, grammar schools had been fee-paying, with a few scholarships for the poor. Now they were filled by a competitive examination called the eleven plus. When I went to a grammar school in 1949, the last year of fee-paying pupils was just finishing.
Politics in the post-war era were very much hands-on. Apart from the press and wireless, candidates had to rely on the public meeting or mass rally in the market place, always well-attended. Children would be cajoled to march in procession carrying posters nailed to wooden poles, there would be speeches, and interminable heckling, most of it good-humoured. Members of Parliament were distant figures, many of whom never held “surgeries”, and they had little contact with their constituents between elections. One of our local MPs was Sir Cyril Osborne, a right-wing Tory, an advocate of capital punishment and whipping, who abominated homosexuals ; his meetings were exciting affairs – he used an ex-Socialist “miner”, who claimed to have been converted by Sir Cyril’s arguments, so often that crowds began to jeer. The other was Kenneth Younger, scion of a brewing family, who was a patrician Socialist. His detractors claimed that he drove his Bentley to a spot just outside town, then changed to a beaten up Ford to endorse his proletarian image, but even Labour people liked a “posh” candidate. Party loyalties were such that candidates were elected again and again. The sitting MP gained much from the natural deference of his constituents.
There were, of course, many politicians who were manual workers, because of the strength of the trade union movement and its influence upon the Labour Party, so miners, steelworkers and the skilled trades involved in shipbuilding had a good representation in parliament. Local government was also much more independent then, and provided a route into politics for many able people, so there was less sense than nowadays of a “political class”, an elite buffered from normal life patterns. For many people, being involved in politics was not seen as a “career”, and many MPs and councillors had a bigger hinterland of life experience. Although party allegiance was seen as hugely important and remained evidence of the class divide, there was still, until the late ‘fifties, a fair sprinkling of independent or single issue party MPs.
County and Borough Councils gave plenty of powerful patronage to the ambitious local politician, with mayoralties and chairmanship of council committees. Senior ones were granted the old Saxon title of “Alderman”, with an election tenure of six years. These councillors were very powerful, controlling the management of education, censorship of cinemas, the conduct of the police, and planning issues in a way undreamt of nowadays. Local government often became a way of entering parliament. Although the English were proud of the incorruptibility of our political system compared to those of
or Italy, I do
recall that my father and mother were once thinking of having a house built. In
the austerity conditions after the war caused by the shortage of bricks and
wood, this meant that you needed a building licence from the local council.
They went to see a local councillor, who told them quite bluntly that he wanted
£50, a sizeable sum in those days, “under the counter”,
as a bribe to see the application through. They walked away, somewhat disillusioned, and kept renting.
Although civics never formed part of the school curriculum in my day, we had a strong debating society at the grammar school, and political discussion was encouraged. At every general election, we had a mock hustings in the school, with candidates representing all the political parties. In the sixth form we were encouraged to read a “quality” newspaper or magazine, and we were entered for a general studies paper, which involved wide ranging issues such as the Cold War between Communism and the West. The looming threat of the atomic bomb and the destruction it could cause was always in the background; it was during the 1950s’ that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament took off. I cannot remember how, but to my everlasting shame, the first political party with which I was involved (only for a summer’s length) was the Young Conservatives – probably because lots of pretty girls came to their dances. Very soon, partly through Dad’s increasing poverty, and partly through the attitudes of the minor public schoolboys I met at University, I became a firm supporter of the Labour Party. I once asked Clement Attlee, famous for his laconic brush-offs, a question after a speech; his reply was "I've already answered that"! By then, our local Labour MP was Anthony Crosland, another toff, but an engaging speaker with a fine analytical mind. His book “The Future of Socialism” was a revisionist view of Marxist politics, concentrating on the good life in a mixed economy and opposing the Puritanism embedded in socialist thought.
When I graduated, I joined the Labour Party, attended a torch lit rally in the
market place during the 1959 general election, and almost immediately went to America,
where political attitudes were very different. After the 1954 McCarthy hearings,
obsessed by ideas of undercover communism – “reds under the bed” – and
capitalist ideology was rampant. Many people saw a war with the Soviet
Union as inevitable, and some even welcomed the idea. The American
mainland had never been invaded or bombed in recent conflicts, so they were
much more gung ho than Europeans, who were directly in the path of the Russian
juggernaut. Our fairly tepid welfare state was abhorred, even by poor Americans
who could not afford proper medical insurance, and who referred to our National
Health Service as “socialised medicine”. At that time British politicians of
all parties lauded the “special relationship” we had with the United
States, referring to the bonds of wartime
alliance, common language and culture, but I saw little sign of this being
reciprocated by Americans. The country was so vast and powerful, it was
absorbed by itself, and Britain
was considered to be a decaying, old-fashioned island, where people spoke
English in funny accents.
married and teaching at a school in Immingham, I joined the Labour Party and
became a parish councillor. Dog control orders were being introduced all over England
at that point, and it was our duty to define the areas where they would apply.
Until then dogs could roam where they liked, sometimes in packs, and they had
become a real traffic hazard. One councillor suggested that we should only
apply the dog control order to the busy main road, as they were not a problem on
the side streets – until I pointed out to him that dogs cannot read! Belonging
to a political party is a cross between being in a tribe or a religion. We took
Labour discipline very seriously, and always voted as a block, having decided
our position on an issue before the meeting. As we were the majority party, the
independents derided us for our machinelike attitudes, although I noticed that
they always voted the same way too, contrary to our position, and I started
calling them the “Independent Party”. They were in fact Conservatives, but
would never have been elected under that label. Once you are hooked into a
political party, you are drawn into evenings of leafleting and canvassing,
particularly if there is an election in the offing. Most Labour activists are
well to the left of the average Labour voter, but I expect this applies to all
political parties, where the keenest have the more extreme views.
When I moved job to lecture in a further education college, I taught “A” Level British Government & Constitution”, and began to take a more systematic and perhaps more objective view of contemporary politics. Each year, I would take my students to visit the House of Commons during Question Time. The 1970s was a period of sharply divided political views, so we often saw some quite violent debates. Once, the Sinn Fein MP Bernadette Devlin rushed across the floor to pull the hair of the then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling. By modern standards there was surprisingly little security and, once inside you could wander around the lobbies at will.
The fishing industry in
was suffering a rapid decline at this time. There had been two Cod Wars with Iceland,
and Tony Crosland, our local MP, who was then Foreign Secretary, had decided
that the American radar base at Keflavik
was more important to NATO than guaranteeing the livelihoods of Grimsby
fisherman. I wrote a play, produced locally, called “The Price of Fish” with a
satirical ending about this conflict. Crosland was very suspicious of anyone
not obviously working class, although he himself was a public school,
Cambridge-educated intellectual. He used to refer to the group of teachers and
lecturers who were now prominent in the Grimsby
party as the “intelligentsia”, and would habitually attend Grimsby Town
Football Club games and socialise with the old Co-op ladies. His attractive American wife Susan was a
newspaper columnist, and used to attitudinise about the authentic proletariat
you met in Grimsby. A very able
politician, who brought about the revolution into comprehensive education
almost single-handedly, with his Circular 10/62, Tony had a strong
anti-royalist streak, which I always admired. His family had been Plymouth
Brethren, a very strict sect, whilst he had ended up a cigar-smoking hedonist.
In 1977 Tony Crosland died very suddenly, and there was a by election in the
constituency. I was involved in the selection process for a Labour candidate,
and we eventually chose Austin Mitchell, a Calendar TV presenter and
ex-academic, as our candidate (he was the overwhelming choice of Co-op ladies,
who watched his programme every night). As the by-election was a litmus test
for the shaky Labour government, the town was swamped by radio and TV teams. I invited the candidates to speak at lunchtime
meeting of college students, and found myself sitting next to well-known TV
interviewers for lunch. Austin had
undoubted charisma, was fiercely anti Common Market (as the EU was then known)
and absorbed himself in the intricacies of the fishing industry. Even so, he
only scraped in with a majority of 520. The next evening, he and his wife Linda
came round to a party we were giving, and celebrated their narrow victory.
I was also secretary, then chairman of my union branch of ATTI, which later became NATFHE, and so became involved with lobbying politicians over salaries. This was a time of great inflation, when salaries could lose over a tenth of their value within a year. I remember Tony Crosland telling me that it was our wage demands
which were causing this. The MP for Louth was Jeffrey Archer, who also met us in the House of Commons, but became rapidly bored with us when Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the ex prime minister, entered the Strangers’ Bar. Under the leadership of Ted Heath, some Tories were already beginning to move towards monetarism, using control of the money supply to stifle demand, but both parties still strove towards a agreed prices and income policy. Trade Union leaders, such as Arthur Scargill, were very powerful figures, dominating the media landscape and having ready access to
As Secretary of my Labour Ward, I once invited Scargill to speak at an evening
meeting, where he spoke very engagingly to a packed room. About this time, I
was given a political column in the “Grimsby News”, a local freebee weekly newspaper,
and paid the princely sum of £5 an article to comment on political events. This
part-time trade as a “journalist” gave me the opportunity to interview local
politicians and, during the 1979 election, to look at the inner workings of
their party machines, which were all unsurprisingly similar. The Tories had the
most professional machine, with a paid agent; Labour relied on masses of
volunteers to canvass and literally drive the voters into the polling booths,
whilst the Liberals were more geared up by local issues. I met their leader,
David Steele, on a visit to the Grimsby HQ; he was much shrewder than most of
his party and was looking for an eventual coalition.
The 1979 general election delivered an uncompromising Conservative government, with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, and I can remember the all-pervading gloom in the college staff room on the next morning. I had been up half the night at the
constituency polling count; these are always interesting events, as political
tribalism intensifies during the evening. Things began to change very rapidly
after this election. By 1980, I was a head of department at
Lindsey College Scunthorpe just as the steel industry was allowed to
collapse. The college was filled with swarms of disoriented steel workers who
had been made redundant, people who had highly specialised skills which were
now brutally discarded, and we used grants from the European Union to try and
help them rebuild their lives. All over the north of England,
there was massive deindustrialisation as old industries were asset stripped
with no government support – steel, shipbuilding, textiles. Two million manufacturing jobs were lost
during the 1979–1981 recession. As unemployment soared, the rules on disability
benefit were eased in order to massage the statistics.
The last on the list was coal mining. Mrs Thatcher prepared the ground carefully, and was much helped by the intransigent Marxism of Arthur Scargill, who lacked the cunning to compromise. She had gradually reduced the subsidies to coal mining, and in 1984 the National Coal Board announced a programme of pit closures, mainly in
Without taking a national ballot, Scargill engineered his coal mining strike
for March, which was a bad time, as the demand for coal fell at the end of
winter. That year I became principal of , and commuted across the Beverley
College , which was always guarded by
the sinister presence of heavily armoured police vans checking on
“unauthorised” movements. During the year long strike, the police became
heavily politicised, earning huge amounts of money in overtime, as they broke
the pickets of miners at the coal depots. They would wave wads of money insultingly
at the now desperate pitmen, who finally trooped back to work, defeated, but
with their union banners flying and brass bands playing. Humber
The philosophy of Thatcherism was neo-liberal monetarism, with an immediate relaxation of capital controls and a loathing of all forms of state control, especially local government. Competing organisations were set up to fund education and training, like the Manpower Services Commission, and I had to bid for resources to educate my students alongside private organisations. In Hitler’s
the SS and Gestapo performed a similar rivalry with the conventional army, the
Wermacht and the police. The ideology of the free market and the bidding
process governed everything. Alderman Roberts, Mrs Thatcher’s father had been a
grocer, so small businesses were idolised. I sat on one committee where we
allocated start up money for small businesses, usually window cleaners
operating out of the deprived areas of Hull;
we may have been developing thriving burglary concerns for all I knew. When I started
my career in further education, the biggest department in any college had been
engineering. By the time I finished, the biggest was usually business studies,
closely followed by social services. Huge swathes of British manufacturing
capacity had simply disappeared, to be replaced by financial services and
I remember very clearly the moment when Mrs Thatcher’s downfall began. I was driving down the autoroute towards
on my way to establish a town twinning with Nogent-sur-Oise, when the radio
announced that she was being forced to stand for re-election as leader of the
Conservative Party. I was so excited that I missed my exit, and had to be
re-directed to the town by the local fire brigade! Her surprise replacement,
John Major was an almost unknown apparatchik who soon faced the wrath of the
unappeasable, fanatic anti- Europeans, who made his life hell. The two major
achievements of his time in office were “Black Monday”, the collapse of the
pound, which had been tracking the Deutschmark, due to currency speculation,
and the disastrous privatisation of British Rail, turning it into the most
expensive and badly-run rail system in Europe. He was
remarkable only for his utter banality.
The Tories had only stayed in power for so long because the Labour Party had been riven with disputes between right and left. Gradually, first Kinnock, then Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown began to refashion the old Labour Party of nationalised industries and class solidarity, turning it into a confection called “New Labour”, which was much more capitalist – friendly and electable. After eighteen years of brutally irresponsive Tory rule, the whole country was seething with discontent. After years of disillusionment, I rejoined the Labour Party and began to go out canvassing for the 1997 general election. At the time I was partly retired but still working for the further education college inspectorate. On the night of polling we were inspecting
, and I can remember the
euphoria in the hotel late that evening as the results swept in indicating a
Labour landslide, particularly when Michael Portillo lost his seat. Ah, we
thought, bliss it was in that new dawn to be alive! Barnsley
It is certainly true that the New Labour government began well, although they had tied themselves to the previous government’s spending plans in order to appear “respectable”. Education and health received immediate boosts, and the whole government appeared more modern and accessible than the previous administrations. Tony Blair himself was certainly the most able politician in the country, presenting himself as young and idealistic and surrounded by a more gender-friendly team -“Blair’s Babes”- than either Thatcher’s or Major’s. Devolution and regional government were high on the agenda, and it did genuinely seem as if more democracy was going to be infused into peoples’ lives. However, the cracks in the image soon began to appear. The outward message to party loyalists was about openness and engagement; the reality was much darker – a closely-knit elite (at least at the beginning) ran a show where everyone was supposed to be “on message”, literally so in the case of MPs, who were issued with pagers, which bleeped them messages about the latest orthodoxy. This was a far-reaching change from the angry and tumultuous debating of the old Labour party.
The change became apparent to me when I was elected chairman of the Beverley and Holderness constituency party and was also given the role of political education officer. I used to attend regional policy forums, where we were led into carefully scripted discussions which led us down the path down which the leadership had already decided to go. There would always be a centrally appointed “facilitator” who took the spirit of the meeting in the Quaker sense, but there was never a vote or a clearly defined ideological issue. Once at the
Leeds forum, we had a spirited debate
about the House of Lords, and it was clear that most activists wanted to see it
either abolished or elected. I remember one Muslim councillor saying that he
didn’t want bishops in the House of Lords, and he certainly didn’t want the
addition of imams!
Later, I found out that many local forums had expressed these opinions, but they never came out in the final policy document. Eventually, the rights of constituencies to group together motions for the Annual Conference (called “composites” in Labour jargon) was withdrawn, and the Conference became a showpiece for the increasingly dominant leadership, whom delegates were required to hysterically applaud. The general view from Labour Party HQ was that the local parties should not bother themselves too much about policy, but concentrate on “campaigning”, usually on some non-contentious local issue. No wonder that Labour Party membership, which had swollen before the election of New Labour, began to shrink rapidly, and it became harder to canvass and distribute leaflets.
What was forming under our eyes was a permanent governing class, usually equipped with a PPE from Oxbridge, then having served time as a political adviser in the increasingly politicised civil service. It seemed to matter little which party they belonged to, as they passed through the revolving doors between lobbying firms, business interests and parliament. Often now they were “parachuted” into constituencies, especially at by-elections, and the old democratic right of constituents to choose their own candidates, however awkward to the leadership, was withdrawn.
A few of the old working class style politicians were retained by New Labour to dress up the party image, provided they remained on message. One of these was a Hull MP, John Prescott, who was given the role of Deputy Prime Minister, but little real ministerial duty. I was once partly responsible for organising a workshop in Hull Guildhall, where he was a guest speaker. He was one of the rudest, most boorish people I have ever met, demanding that we pull off the speaker on stage, as his time was more important and, anyway, people had come to hear him. Mounted on the rostrum, he was all anodyne smiles and simpering, telling the audience that PPF (public/private funding) was the way forward for capital spending – “just like paying your mortgage”. Devised by Chancellor Gordon Brown to keep capital expenditure off the government accounts, it proved one of the greater financial disasters of his reign, as I was later to find out with Bridlington schools.
Looking back, I suppose that the absence of ideology was the biggest change I noticed in Labour politics, as they adopted the values of neo-liberal capitalism and triangulated themselves towards middle
The Tories, on the other hand, attracted more swivel-eyed anti-Europeans,
anti-gays, choleric retired military persons and fixated monetarists.
Consequently, they gave Blair, with his “feel good” factor, an easy run for his
money at subsequent elections. As a school governor, and chair of the East
Riding Schools Forum, I became very aware of the improvements which were made
to teachers’ salaries and school buildings. The curriculum became ever more
directive, as New Labour tried to prove its credentials as a tough, no nonsense
government, but teachers generally went along with this as the price they had
to pay for the improvement in material conditions. However, the burgeoning
overspend on the Bridlington schools PPF soon made me realise that Gordon
Brown’s much vaunted economic competence might be merely academic.
After the 2001 election, my involvement in the Labour Party became minimal. One of the main reasons for this was the invasion of
when the very sight of Blair posturing alongside the moronic US
president George W Bush made me feel queasy. The New Labour cabinet, with the
honourable exception of Robin Cook, meekly agreed to the confected intelligence
reports and spin doctoring which eased us into a disastrous war where thousands
of innocents were slaughtered. The other reason, which was the last time I
spoke at a constituency party meeting, was the imposition of student fees. As
the first member of my family to have a university education, and coming from
an impoverished home, I felt that this was a betrayal of what the Labour Party
was about. Then came the invasion of Afghanistan,
when Secretary of Defence John Reid speculated that “maybe a shot will never be
fired” – to date, 444 British service personnel have died there, and thousands
maimed, to no apparent purpose. Looking back, it seems to me that the Labour
Party had become a hollow shell, mouthing a rhetoric its leaders no longer
During this time, Margaret and I had formed the Beverley Anglo-French Society, and we became involved in the town twinning process with Nogent–sur–Oise, a town about 40km north of Paris, and this gave me a good opportunity to observe French local government and politics at ground level. The maire, M. Claude Brunet, A UPM loyalist, somewhat of a right-wing martinet, ran the town like a rod of iron. He had real power: control over the local police, highways, primary school capital spending, cultural activities (on which they spent a lot of money) and industrial/commercial redevelopment. He was nonplussed by our mayoral system, an annually changing figurehead dressed in colourful clothes, rather like the monarch. During the time we were trying to get our reluctant council to agree to a twinning, our local government system changed yet again, by central government decree, and we were left with a Beverley Town Council with the same powers as a parish. Nevertheless we did have our first ever socialist mayor, Norman Dickinson, who delighted our French hosts in the Place de la Concorde by saying he thought that they had made a good decision in guillotining their monarch in 1793! The current French maire, M. Dardenne, is by contrast a left wing socialist, who has made Nogent-sur-Oise a decidedly multi-cultural town.
More French people vote during local and regional elections than in national ones, but the opposite is true in contemporary
In recent years, I have been involved in schools financing, so I have seen the
rapid deterioration of our local government system. Local councillors have no
control over school budgets and capital finance, only taking an interest in
schools when they are threatened with closure. Local government powers over
housing, highways and strategic planning have gradually shrunk into passporting
government finance, collecting government-controlled council tax and meeting
government-set targets. The only exception has been devolution which has given
the Scots and, to a lesser extent, the Welsh, some control over their own
affairs and has seen the development of distinctive national policies in
education and welfare. Whether the Scots, by nature a canny people, will ever
vote for full independence as a nation state, in my opinion remains doubtful.
In England, the
only bright spot has been the increasing role of school governors, whose
spokesman I often have been. They form the largest volunteer workforce in the UK,
with around 370,000 governor places nationally. Praise for their work is
largely unsung, but the sturdiness of any democracy depends on people like
these, giving their time and energy to building a better future for our
Unless we are careful, we shall bequeath a future where multinational corporations dominate the politics of individual states, avoiding national taxation by switching their money around tax havens, lobbying powerfully for legislation in their own interests, whilst allowing politicians and civil servants profitable after-lives through the revolving doors between business and government. Added to this is the uncertainty over our membership of the European Union, a bloc vital to our trading interests, but showing signs of a huge democratic deficit and bureaucratic sclerosis. Meanwhile, our government, reduced in actual sovereignty to something like a county council, increasingly micro-manages the political process from the perspective of a
elite. Political parties, as we know them, were a nineteenth century invention,
based on the increasing size of electorate, mass newspapers and more reliable
communications. They now seem not quite fit for purpose: their membership is
rapidly eroding – the Tories are becoming ever older and Labour has seen the
trade union role diminish; the opportunities for meaningful participation and
power sharing are quite low; young people increasingly use social networks like
Facebook to organise political protest, but the protests themselves, like
Occupy, seem fitful and soon die out. Democracy seems to function best when
there is widespread participation in decision-making, where people can somehow
learn the role of governing themselves without just being passive recipients.
In my classroom at primary school hung a large map of the world, about one third of it coloured red to show the extent of the mighty
Empire. In fact, although we did not know this as children, it was
already a myth; the Empire had long been in decline and the Second World War
destroyed it. We were living in an impoverished and indebted country, bolstered
by memories of world greatness. An American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson,
once said, “ Britain
has lost an Empire, and is searching for a role.” This is still true.
Politicians cling to our permanent seat in the UN Security Council, talk about
us “punching above our weight”, build huge aircraft carriers, with no planes to
fly off them, and cling to the pound sterling. We are only uneasily part of Europe,
cherishing the freedom of travel and shared health benefits, but reluctant to
commit to any larger vision. London
has become a world class financial centre, behaving increasingly like a city
state, with an economy different from its hinterland, and governed by an elite
who are out of touch with the rest of the country. The House of Commons, “the
Mother of Parliaments”, our proud touchstone of democracy, had become a body of
professional politicians, whipped into obedience by the lures of office and the
threats of de-selection.
We find constitutional reform difficult; most of it has been higgledy piggledy and without any guiding principles. Bishops still sprawl on the benches of the House of Lords, as do some hereditary peers. Just looking at the Queen’s State Opening of Parliament makes you realise how little anything has really changed. The much enlarged Royal Family still occupy more press attention than a host of serious issues. If anything, the sycophancy and snivelling adulation of the monarchy has increased during this Queen’s reign. It may be that a few years of good King Charles III will alter people’s perceptions, but I have no real hope that the institution will disappear in my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes. The huge elephants in the room, climate change and population explosion, are largely ignored. Indeed, in any modern democracy, pushing people towards lowering their personal consumption would mean electoral disaster, so politicians tend to shy away from it, except on formal occasions like the G8 conference when they can unite in a welter of acceptable platitudes.
I remain hopeful. The English are a tolerant and pragmatic people, at their best when engaged in the wider world. They have always valued freedom of choice and speech over tiresome declarations of rights. In my lifetime, we have become a multi-cultural society with surprisingly little trouble and we have shown great adaptability to technological change, but all societies have their limits of passivity, and sudden discontent is always unpredictable. Once in every few generations, the placid English temperament explodes at the stupidity of their rulers. Sadly, I am not likely to be around to see it.