??1066 and all that?? told us there were only two memorable dates in English history, 55 BC (Caesars invasion) and 1066 (The Norman Conquest).

By the same standard there is only one memorable day and month date in English history ?? the 5th November (Gunpowder Plot).

The present government has had a very poor understanding of history. It seems to divide it into the veiled years ?? anything before 1979; the Thatcher years ?? have a free hiss before passing go; the Major years ?? blame it for anything you do not like about today ; and the New Labour years of glory and enlightenment. There are some signs of revisionism creeping in, as friends of Gordon seek to divide the New Labour years into the years of mistaken ideology, the Blair phase, and the sunny uplands of the Gordon regime.

Anyone seeking to understand the present, and to have some sensible view of what the future might hold, needs to understand the past in all its complexity. The past may be another country, but it was peopled by our predecessors who contributed to the folk tradition, or by ourselves even if we were behaving and thinking somewhat differently from today. A society is influenced and constrained by its past, and only wants to change so much at a certain pace.

I thought it would be a good idea to draw attention to some of the events of British history that have had an impact on our island story, as their anniversaries come up during the course of 2008. By seeking birthdays for events I will be forced to mention more battles and treaties than processes or actions that took place over many days. There is a commemoration day for Trafalgar but not for the Industrial Revolution, but each anniversary will allow comment on the wider issues that lay behind the memorable event.

I will also seek to show why these events still have some relevance today, or how they reflect something in the British character and approach to government and to our place in the world that still holds true. I will use the modern or Gregorian Calendar even where contemporaries were using the Julian which would bring the date forward. If you wish to improve on the policies and approach of a government that seems to have little understanding of history, you need to demonstrate how sensitivity to the past can avoid present and future pain. If only this government had, for example, understood the strong objections to Cromwell’s Major Generals, maybe they would have taken a different view on much hated regional government today.


  1. mikestallard
    December 29, 2007

    One of the very real problems which Labour has is this: it assumes that everyone must be equal under the skin. Therefore, they argue, that humans are all the same and always have been.
    Since this is patently not how my own (and your) history was taught at school, they dump all history and make it clever – do you know anything about the National Curriculum? GCSE is – natch – Hitler. But that is, pretty well, about Women’s brave War Work and also Plots against Hitler. I taught a boy last year who got an A grade for History. He did not even know who Goering was (on his “Special Subject”).
    We English ARE actually special people. It is very embarrassing to talk about it. But here goes.
    1. We initiated the Industrial Revolution. Yes, us. It wasn’t the Aztecs, the Chinese or the Germans. It was actually us. Before we invented it, people lived very poorly, dependent on the harvest and wearing mostly rags. they were also very cold. Now the world is following us.
    2. We invented the agricultural revolution. This means that today most people can, if they get their government right, not go hungry.
    3. We brought Protestant Christianity to the world. Easy to sneer. But this involved writing the unwritten languages down, bringing peace by persuasion and example, keeping our word, initiating education and hospitals where the very idea was unknown. We also did a lot of exploring and showing people what the rest of the world was like. We should (and the left hate this idea) be seriously proud of all this. Compare us, for instance, with the Nazis or the Communist/Russians and see the difference! When we left, the countries quite often went badly wrong. Uganda, Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, Pakistan/Bangla Desh… today the anglophone nations – Australia, Canada, USA, Britain, West indies, India, New Zealand – are pretty much the most peaceful internally.

    Before we were invented – say, in 1500 – the world was a much poorer place.
    OK. So the left is not convinced because there is a lot of dogma around here. So let me ask this: why do they think that so many people from the new Commonwealth and beyond are fighting to live here? Why do Indians today speak English? (sentence removed -ed)
    If we challenge the left to produce actual evidence for their beliefs with your excellent idea about dates – alleluia!

  2. Tony Makara
    December 30, 2007

    Very good piece John. How tragic it is that so many of our people know so little about the history of our land. Time is a continuum and everything that happens today is a result of things past. I hope the future Conservative government will set particular focus on British history being taught in schools. Let’s have our children taught the truth about how the British empire took civilization to the furthest corners of the globe. How our forefathers built North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, they gave governance to India, lifted Africa out of darkness and ended isolationism in Asia. We have much to teach, our empire is something we can be proud of.

  3. Richard Cooke
    January 2, 2008

    This new series of history discussions is an super initiative by John. It will provide an historical perspective on where we are today and should made excellent reading for people of all political persuasions and also to people of school age. They will surely gain a greater respect for the usefulness of knowledge of past history, as this knowledge makes it easier to understand the consequences, good and bad, of our actions and will engender better decision making in the future in all areas of life. For all John’s detractors on the left and in his own party, this also shows what a well-rounded person John is and why he is such a gift to politics in our time.

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