December 09, 2006

Peter Hennessy

I've knocked 18 Doughty Street this week- so its good to praise it for once and this interview by Iain Dale of Peter Hennessy on 18 Doughty Street is superb. It might be up for a short time so watch it before it goes. The indictment of the present cabinet is vast- he labels them 'the most supine cabinet since the war' but he does it on the basis of a non-partisan basis.

A more in depth analysis of Hennessy's talk is here.


politaholic said...

It is a very interesting interview. Hennessy's indictment of Blair's style of government, and of the "supine" Cabinet, is spot-on. It is interesting - whether it is accurate I don't know - that Hennessy thinks Gordon Brown doesn't "do" wars, and (privately) doesn't support the present one. And yet...there was a kind of cosy smugness about Henessy/Dale that was distasteful. There was the "love-in" over the Falklands (Hennessy remarks "it wasn't as if it was a colonial war". When's the last time he looked at a map?). There was his casual remark that Britain was "a force for good in the world" (which suggests a blithe lack of self awareness vis-a-vis Britain's colonial history). Hennessy is a very learned chap with many interesting things to say; but he is far too much in love with the establishment. And the constant references to Thatcher as "Margaret" were nauseating.

Gracchi said...

I agree with you about the interview it was fascinating. I wasn't as irritated by him calling Thatcher Margaret, he is someone so deep into his subject, so fascinated by the personalities I can imagine for instance that he'd call Benn Tony and so on. It strikes me that for Hennessy these people even the ones in the past aren't historical abstractions but are very real- that's because he's read so much about them. Honestly it happens to historians- they become very intimate with the details fo these people's lives so much so that instead of looking at them as you or I might from the outside, they begin to see them as the complicated individuals with good and bad that they were.

Interesting points about the Falklands war etc- I think Hennessy was creating that impression really. There is one wonderful moment when Dale says the Falklands rescued Britain and Hennessy says well yes I agree with you and then goes on to contradict him and prove him absolutely wrong. I think the smugness you perceive is academic politesse rather than establishment collusion.

Thanks for the response though.

Gaius said...

Hennessy, like so many other commentators who are not responsible for actual results, can say what he wants, even if it is laughable. Blair did have a spirited debate with his cabinet before invading Iraq. But the stakes were high if they were wrong either way. So the government took the justified position of playing it safe rather than sorry. Just because cabinet members didn’t resign if they disagreed doesn’t mean they weren’t independent and moral. Disagreement is good up to a point.

Like it or not, at the time, many in the British government supported the war in Iraq until it became politically expedient for them not to. A sort of political cowardice, I think. The problem of Islamic extremism is probably only going to get worse for Britain and Europe. To be passive will only lead to disaster. The thought that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the situation worse is debatable. Just remember 9/11 happened first. Let’s try to remember that.

I feel sure some will not.

Gracchi said...

Well in general Hennessy does get the interviews and know the facts- he doesn't say that there wasn't discussion but that documents weren't circulated so that noone actually accurately was talking about it. He also to be honest says that this is a wider trend within the Blair years- using the issue of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in which the cabinet have also been bounced into decisions.

As for Afghanistan, Iraq. Personally I think the real issue is the mismanagement of the reconstruction- especially in Afghanistan- we were doing well there but now aren't. Having said that its just the point that you ought to consult and think before you go in- they might have made the same decision- yet Hennessy really established the facts- they didn't discuss it properly.