The Transformation of British Politics, 1860-1995

The Transformation of British Politics, 1860-1995

The Transformation of British Politics, 1860-1995

The Transformation of British Politics, 1860-1995

Synopsis

Brian Harrison investigates in depth how the British political system has acquired its present form by looking back further than most other historians. This is the first book to provide a detailed explanation of British political evolution.

Excerpt

Walter Bagehot was a brilliant essayist--epigrammatic, worldly-wise, deeply suspicious of the intellectual and the doctrinaire. His direct, fresh, unpompous, down-to-earth style of writing carries the reader along with his zest for life and affairs, and is often refreshingly forthright in uncovering the reality that lies behind appearances. He takes his reader into his confidence, conducts a conversation with him, sets him puzzles, and then shows him how to solve them in a commonsensical but shrewd and highly readable way. He is a master at setting the career of a public figure into its political context, and at explaining how the world works. He does this without sentiment, yet also with a broad human sympathy. in his three famous books--The English Constitution (1865-7), Physics and Politics (1867- 72), and Lombard Street (1873)--he brought a new liveliness of tone to the discussion of serious subjects. The English Constitution shows him at his best. When confronted by British society, he somehow unites the intelligent outsider's puzzled curiosity and quick insight with the insider's knowing yet tolerant affection for his subject-matter. The English Constitution is the inevitable starting-point for any account of how British government has come to be what it now is.

Yet it is not infallible as an account of how the British political system worked even in the 1860s, let alone subsequently, if only because Bagehot's background gave him a rather unusual perspective on politics. Born in 1826, he took a degree in economics from University College London. Lacking a classical education and distant from Oxford and Cambridge, those nurseries of Britain's political élite, he was always in some sense an outsider, even when dining with Gladstone or week-ending at Highclere. Furthermore, as a well-known journalist in the 1850s, and as editor of The Economist from 1860 until he died in 1877, he was a member of a profession which then enjoyed less prestige, and therefore less access to . . .

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