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British politics

It takes some considerable effort to remember Theresa May’s time as prime minister. Her two governments ran from the resignation of David Cameron immediately after the political earthquake of the Brexit referendum in 2016, to May’s own tearful resignation in the summer of 2019 as the aftershocks swallowed her minority government. The distending effects of the past three years of UK (and world) politics have already made the May era a kind of historical curiosity. The consequent danger is that we look back to her stint as prime minister as the last gasp of sensible politics avant le déluge.

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A key argument deployed by those in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union concerned the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. One of the ironies of Brexit is that some of the leading figures who argued for parliamentary sovereignty during the 2016 referendum tried to shut down Parliament three years later so that they could ‘get Brexit done’. This attack on a representative institution was part of an international pattern of democratic backsliding during the 2010s. For the authors of this new book, understanding the internal dynamics of Parliament during the Brexit years forms part of an effort to ‘defend democracy and its institutions’. 

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In this week’s ABR Podcast, Gordon Pentland examines the theatrical impulses of contemporary British politics. He argues that these performative elements are an attempt to capture widespread nostalgia for the British past. Gordon Pentland is Professor of History at Monash University and a specialist on the political history of Britain since the late eighteenth century. ‘Parlour games: Britain and the anaesthesia of nostalgia’ is published in the May issue of ABR. ... (read more)

This book is as beguilingly English as a Fortnum & Mason picnic hamper. Peter Stothard (a former editor of The Times and current editor of the Times Literary Supplement) spent a month inside 10 Downing Street reporting in intimate detail the comings and goings there during the critical days before and after the Coalition of the Willing began its assault on Iraq on March 20 this year. He evokes a life-size doll’s house from which a war is being waged by perplexed adults in suits and jeans, who pick spasmodically at substandard food, fantasise about fitness régimes and support spectacularly unsuccessful soccer teams. The man in charge lives in a flat above this strange enterprise with the rest of his family.

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