‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Does Cameron's Euro-gamble echo Baldwin's biggest mistakes?

Of his predecessors as Conservative prime minister, in appearance David Cameron most resembles Stanley Baldwin. In temperament there are similarities too – likeable, avuncular, steady, clever but not brilliant.

The similarities go further. Baldwin was MP for the middle-England constituency of Bewdley in Worcestershire and Cameron represents Witney in middle-England Oxfordshire. Both also led a multi-party government.

Yesterday’s European speech by David Cameron revealed a very Baldwinesque willingness to take an unforced political gamble for mainly domestic reasons, which carried serious risks for Britain’s overseas trade. In Baldwin’s case he called an early general election in 1923 over import tariffs.

Baldwin lost the 1923 election, although he did return as prime minister between 1924 and 1929 and served again later as head of the multi-party National Government.

Baldwin’s greatest mistake though came over his interpretation of the East Fulham by-election of 1933, which the Labour candidate won from the Conservatives on an anti-rearmament platform. Baldwin interpreted this to mean that the whole country was against rearming. In reality, the constituents of one London suburb on one day had preferred a younger, more charming Labour candidate over an unpopular local Conservative landlord.

Cameron seems to be showing a similar tendency in his interpretation of Ukip’s recent strong by-election performance as meaning that the whole country wants a radical shake-up of the relationship with Europe. In reality, for most voters, Europe hardly features on their list of concerns.

Will Cameron sabotage his own legacy by combining both Baldwin’s most serious errors into his one giant Euro-gamble?

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