Tag Archives: british politics

Mo Mowlam remembered

I watched the docu-drama Mo on Channel 4 last night. It’s a portrayal of the last years of Mo Mowlam’s life, from just before the General Election of 1997 until her untimely death in 2005.

I know its only TV, and although its as a documentary element its not necessarily 100% accurate, but by all accounts her friends who were involved in making it regarded it as very true to life. Julie Walters was fantastic as Mo, and the screenplay was dramatic, moving and heartfelt. Mo’s story tells us a lot about the past 15 years in Britain. Its maybe too early to look at the New Labour era objectively, but with the Labour Government seemingly sloping towards an election defeat in May it seems natural to look back on those early days.

The way that Tony Blair undermined Mowlam after her standing ovation at the Labour Conference was nothing short of a disgrace. In an almost Stalinist manner, it was not acceptable for a Minister to be too popular. In a Government full of figures intent on following a political career rather than staying true to their beliefs, someone like Mo Mowlam was always going to stand out. But there seems little doubt that amongst ordinary people she remains the most popular and likeable Labour politcian of the past 13 years. Isn’t the Labour party supposed to be about representing ordinary people?

In hindsight it would seem as well that Downing Street attempted to marginalise Mowlam during the Northern Ireland negotiations. This fits in with the controlling, unconstitutional style of Government that is rapidly being exposed by the Iraq Inquiry. Despite attempts to steal the limelight, it has to be said that peace in Northern Ireland – largely brought about by Mo Mowlam – is the greatest achievement of the Labour Government.

But most importantly, Mo was herself. And among a cabal of faceless New Labour functionaries, that was refreshing. The way that she handled her illness was an inspiration. It does seem wrong that while Mo Mowlam suffered like she did, somebody like Peter Mandelson keeps bouncing back like a rubber ball and we have a Prime Minister ill at ease with people and vainly clinging onto power.

Her story tells us about much that is right and wrong about British politics, and budding politicians would to well to watch and learn.

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Andrew Marr’s ‘the Making of Modern Britain’

Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr

I’ve been watching this series over the past few weeks, and with the final instalment due this week I thought I would give my views on it so far. And, with the benefit of iplayer, you can go back and watch the previous episodes too.

Andrew Marr was until 2005 the BBC’s political Editor, so it is perhaps not surprising that this series takes a strong emphasis on politics, and especially the high politics of ‘great men’ and statesmen. It broadly looks at how Britain has developed as a nation in the first half of the twentieth century. While the title of the series does seem to suggest that Marr believes the Britain we know today was shaped by events circa 1900 to 1950, personally I see this as a very simplistic view. While those turbulent 50 years were perhaps the most pivotal in the nations development, what marks them out is the sheer amount of change and climactic events that took place. It is wrong to suggest that nothing prior to 1900 really mattered. British roots go back hundreds of years. It does, however, make great use of archive footage, and some interesting – but also expensive looking – location shooting. And Marr is a dynamic and engaging presenter.

In a New Dawn Marr argues that following the death of Queen Victoria, the short Edwardian era was akin to a late summer heatwave, but with tensions under the surface, and stormclouds gathering far on the horizon. With the difficult Boer War, signs were already appearing that Britain was struggling to maintain her Empire.

Road to War focusses on the years immediately prior to the first world war. Tensions over Ireland and calls for votes for women. The Chancellor, David Lloyd George, faced a choice between funding warships or extending welfare. The politics, culture and popular opinion of Europe seems to have made war inevitable.

In the Great War Marr looks at the story of Kitchener’s Army – the largest force that Britain has ever fielded in war. This episode is perhaps the best in the series. An honest focus on real, ordinary people, using the politics and the high command as a framework. The resignation of the First Sea Lord, the shell scandal, little known stories of German warships shelling the east coast, the great social cost of millions of men dead or mained, and the upheaval caused by the changing of so many social roles. This, Marr argues, was the start of ‘Big Government’.

Having a Ball witnesses a stark contrast with the Great War. It focusses on art, society, culture, writing, sex and drugs. And while this might be story of the landed classes and the artistic circles in the 1920′s, it does rather put the working people in the shade. As if what happens on a bohemian country pile has much effect on the millions of working people in Britain, many of whom were taking part in the General Strike and suffering under the effects of the Wall Stree Crash. I think Marr got the emphasis wrong here, almost ‘bolting-on’ the social history of the decade to story of decadence and art.

Little Britain sees Britain in the early 1930′s, on the road once again to a world war. Marr makes the interesting, and I have to say, accurate metaphor between British society and hats. Bowlers, trilbies, top hats and flat caps, all marking a strata of society. This is more focussed on people, rather than high society, with a look at Gracie Fields and Billy Butlin. We see how the Blackshirts of Oswald Mosley failed to take hold in Britain – dammed un-British, we are led to feel – and the little known group called the Greenshirts – who? – offered a solution to the national crisis. By Little Britain, Marr argues that Britain had shrunk back into itself, almost pulling up the Drawbridge, and it is hard to argue otherwise.

All in all, it is a fascinating series. Perhaps the overall tone, and the limited scope offered by the title does lead Marr to simplifications. Is this a social history or a political history, a ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ view? I dont think Marr would know either, its not really a combination but a bi-polar portrayal. Never the less, it is very well written and presented, with some good research evident. There arent enough History programmes on TV, and the ones that are are usually bland and uninspiring. Hopefully this series encourages people to think.

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