You might recall this specific classic sequence from This Simpsons, during the animated series’ golden age. Barney, the most dedicated denizen of the local pub, declares Lord Palmerston the greatest Prime Minister in England history.
Major League All-Star Wade Boggs disagrees, stating his belief that William Pitt the Elder is the true greatest PM that the British Isles have ever seen. The debate gets heated enough that it actually turns physical. There is, indeed, a Simpsons quote for anything and everything in life. Now you can come close to settling this argument, at least in your own mind (and without any need for fisticuffs) with the help of a new book from the History of Parliament Trust.
The trust, one of the most authoritative research projects in British history, released a new publication, “300 Years of Leadership and Innovation,” this fall. The two volume 600+ page hardback was launched with a high class event at The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey.
Partnering with elite publisher St James’s House, the trust worked with an editorial team of academics and authors to produce a publication launched to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the appointment of Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, in 1721, and in the year of The Queen’s 95th birthday.
As the press release states, “300 Years of Leadership and Innovation” covers “those who have shaped British society, past and present; from Walpole to Cromwell, Churchill to Blair, The Queen and Prince Charles to captains of industry.”
The book does a fantastic job in telling the stories of these men and women with very fair, even-handed commentary and objective analysis.
It’s about empirical reality and not proliferating and glorifying mythologies. Start with the Sir Winston Churchill essay, as he’s about as mythical a figure as you’ll find in British history. On page 139, in volume two, it is reported “This is not to say that his oratory was uniformly well received; in fact, it generated much more controversy and criticism than legend suggests.”
Reality wasn’t that simple- it wasn’t just Churchill providing soothing speeches and inspirational prose to help the island nation “keep calm and carry on” during the blitz, the Battle of Britain and the rest of WWII. While yes, he knew the proper way to deal with Adolf Hitler and the second world war, at a time when other factions in Britain’s leadership did not, he was still voted out of office directly after the war.
The book explains this as a matter of the populace believing he was a great wartime leader, but wrong for rebuilding the nation. Maybe this was unfair to him, but that’s what happened.
While Churchill was indeed a gifted public speaker, an eloquent and gifted wordsmith, historians have routinely pointed out that the quickness of his wit was exaggerated.
He didn’t actually say all the witty aphorisms and poster worthy quotes that movies and books claimed he did. And given his infamous daily alcohol consumption, it’s hard to imagine anyone having that kind of clever rejoinder and witty repartee with regularity.
Booze doesn’t exactly facilitate performance in this regard. Still, and I say this as a true Anglophile, writer covering the English Premier League like a blanket, and as someone who got an A in a British History course (Hist 332- Great Britain from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to Present), Churchill is the greatest British PM ever.
One should also, upon receiving this book, flip to page 386, for the Nelson Mandela chapter. It is appropriately titled “The Father of a Nation.” This book, which actually starts chronicling Great Britain political history at 1588, a full century before King James and the Jacobites were ousted and replaced William by Mary, in a what is considered the last successful invasion of England and a bloodless coup.
And for what it’s worth, both Palmerston and Pitt the Elder receive the same kind of fair and balanced treatment in this book that Churchill did. And as a political junkie and history buff myself, I can honestly say that this book would make a great holiday gift for people in your life who fit that definition.
A reprint of John Tenniel’s 1876 political cartoon, depicting PM Benjamin Disraeli directly serving the imperial interests of Queen Victoria and colonizing India, appears on page 108 in volume two.
It’s a striking and immortal drawing, unforgettable, despite the fact that I haven’t seen it since that college course. The impact of the position of Great Britain’s Prime Minister has been felt far and wide, everyday for three centuries.
Elon Musk infamously tweeted his version of a famous Margaret Thatcher quote about socialism just this past week in order to articulate his views on the current economic bill up for debate in the U.S. Congress. So in other words, there is something within these two volumes for everybody. Follow St James’s House on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
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