Vernon Bogdanor believes the turbulent years of 1895 to 1914 changed Britain’s political landscape and delves in to the reasons why in his wide-ranging and sometimes controversial book The Strange Survival of Liberal Britain. Here is a flavour of what is to come in a short Q&A with Vernon himself.
Why was this such a crucial period in the making of modern Britain?
Because it was one in which political leaders faced new and unprecedented problems:
- How to retain Britain’s industrial supremacy.
- How to ensure that the mass of her people were able to obtain a good education.
- How to resolve the social question: the huge gap between rich and poor.
- How to protect the empire against jealous competitors.
- How to ensure Britain’s security against a resurgent Germany.
What are your greatest frustrations with the general understanding of the period?
That people do not appreciate the energy and initiative of the Edwardians in seeking to resolve these new problems.
What can modern-day politicians and parliamentarians take away from this period?
- The importance of good parliamentary debate.
- The importance of strong defence.
- The importance of technical education.
- The importance of strengthening our links with Europe!
How do you hope the historiography of the period will change following your book’s publication?
I would hope that people will see the period as one of creative fertility rather than as one of decadence and as a disappointing coda to the mid-Victorian era.
If you were an adviser in this period, what would you have advised they do differently?
- I would have advised the Liberals to put more emphasis on technical education and to create further education colleges specialising in technical education.
- I would have advised them to create a much larger army.
- I would have advised the Conservatives not to reject the 1909 Budget! Rejection damaged the party’s interests by leading to a restriction of the powers of the Lords, and the introduction of an Irish Home Rule bill. Had the Conservatives not raised the constitutional issue, they might well have regained power at the next election.
If you could have lunch with two of the people mentioned in The Strange Survival of Liberal Britain, who would it be and why?
Joseph Chamberlain – to ask what he would do today to modernise Britain. Winston Churchill – because, like Chamberlain, he had such energy and originality. I would ask him too how he would modernise Britain.
The Strange Survival of Liberal Britain is out 20 October 2022.
For more books on history and politics we suggest:
- More Lessons from History: Uncovering the colourful characters of the past, by Alex Deane
- Two Minutes to Midnight: 1953 – The Year of Living Dangerously, by Roger Hermiston