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 David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Sun 03 Jun 2012, 11:44

A recent soundbite from the UK Prime Minister said that U-turns in policy are a sign of a government's "resolve, strength and grit". Excluding the John Wayne reference in the tail of the bite which itself raises questions about Cameron's self-perception, does this statement actually hold up historically?

Most political ideologies, including democracy itself, are typically represented popularly by individuals or groups achieving power through a committment to certain policies. In a democracy the only supposed difference is that this committment is shared by a majority of the electorate at any given time and that this is what invests the proponent with the power to execute the policies in question. Outside of democracy the importance of adhering to policies is equally emphasised, the absence of a mandate in fact increasing both the compunction to adhere to policy and the inclination on the part of the leader to stick to it anyway, even when it incurs very real hardship on the part of the led.

In our recent history we have been educated to respect instances where our democratically elected leaders, both popularly elected and elected with a minority of public backing, have stuck to their principles and policies in such times of hardship - a typical example being Winston Churchill in Britain who was first politically ostracised for doing so and then vindicated in no uncertain terms during a major war in which the survival of his country was very much at stake. Margaret Thatcher, one of his successors, famously encouraged comparison between herself and him when prosecuting unpopular policy, thereby reinforcing a popular view of the importance of this quality to the democratic process.

Are there many historical precedents where the opposite has been true, and in which the leaders' prevarication or failure to follow through with their stated objectives have been lauded as good government, not by the prevaricator but by society in general? Cameron uses the words "resolve and strength" when describing his own government's departure from their initially stated aims. Is this an assessment corroborated by history?
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Mon 04 Jun 2012, 13:32

Some of history's famously vacillating monarchs nearly all came to a grisly end - in English history there are Edward II, Richard II, Henry IV, and Charles I, France gives us Louis XVI while Russia has Nicholas II.

In the case of Richard II then his duplicitous dealing with the revolting peasants in 1381 (which may be seen as an example of some form of 'strength') was not, however, enough to later save him from the equally revolting aristocracy in 1399.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Mon 04 Jun 2012, 14:01

Is Henry IV of France an exception?

He once said that religion is not changed as easily as a shirt, but his U-turns on religion were startling - and very sensible.

Henry was baptised as a Catholic, but became a Protestant. He reverted to Catholicism in order to survive just after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. Having escaped from Paris, he immediately returned to the Calvinist faith.

In 1593 he famously declared (or even if he didn't actually say it, he certainly thought it) that Paris was "well worth a mass". Catholic again.

His Huguenot supporters were not best pleased at first, but presumably the 1598 Edict of Nantes (which guaranteed religious freedom to Protestants in France) won them over.

Henry is considered to have been one of France's greatest and most popular kings. He was however assassinated by a Catholic fanatic whose name escapes me.

EDIT: It was Francois Ravaillac.
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Mon 04 Jun 2012, 16:37

Interesting point that Temperance re Henry IV of France.

It could, however, be said that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant faith was ever a stated policy of his. In other words he was genuinely mercenary regarding religion and like many people in France and across Europe he was tired of the whole debate. In that sense Henri was indeed consistent. He was consistent in refusing to be sectarian for either side.

P.S. the 'Henry IV' of England listed in my earlier post should, of course, read Henry VI.
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Wed 06 Jun 2012, 08:22

Sometimes real strength and resolve are shown by apparent surrender. An *occasional* climbdown can be wise policy. It's when you're climbing down all the time that you're in big trouble.

The Poll Tax destroyed Maggie Thatcher's administration. The tax was grossly unfair and the people were angry with good reason. A prudent - and gracious - U-turn or climbdown over this issue could have saved her. Thatcher thought she was being strong and resolute in not giving way: in fact she was being foolishly stubborn.

And weren't Charles I and Nicholas II similar? Essentially weak men, yes, but also dangerously obstinate. They could not understand that a wise leader knows when to be flexible. Intelligent compromise is not the same as humiliating capitulation.

Elizabeth I *did* understand this. Her handling of the monopolies crisis - really Parliament spoiling for a fight over the royal prerogative - was masterly. However autocratic in manner she might be, Elizabeth recognised real danger when she saw it, and she knew better than "to stand obstinately on her prerogative and refuse redress for justified grievances." Her gracious concessions to Parliament turned a potentially ugly situation into "smiles and acclamation". Thatcher could have learnt a lesson or two from that great woman.

Probably unwise to refer to my Robert Greene book, but Law 22 - "Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power" - is an interesting chapter. Greene talks about the Melians stubbornly refusing in 416 B.C. to negotiate with the Athenians - "Weakness is no sin, and can even become a strength if you learn how to play it right. Had the Melians surrendered in the first place, they would have been able to sabotage the Athenians in subtle ways, or might have gotten what they could have out of the alliance and then left it when the Athenians themselves were weakened, as in fact happened several years later. Fortunes change and the mighty are often brought down. Surrender can conceal great power."

I don't know anything about the Athenians, but I like Greene's quotation from Cardinal de Retz: "Weak people never give way when they ought to."
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Thu 07 Jun 2012, 06:28

I always find it a little distressing that these mind changes are seen as a backdown or U-turn when so often they would be the wiser thing to do.

It's not a historical precedent but just today we are hearing one of our ministers praised for changing her mind. We have to raise teaching standards (despite always coming in the top three or four in international comparisons) and this will cost money. So government's idea was to fund this by enlarging class sizes. This has not gone down well, not just with teachers but with parents and children. So the Minister of Ed has said the policy will not go ahead, the buck stops with her, and she fully accepts the responsibility. This has been approved of, and she is being greeted with cautious praise for this. The radio says that even the opposition is not calling for her to resign, and teachers have been very forgiving though they feel prior consultation would have avoided this.

Rather gallingly the PM sends his children to private schools because he likes smaller classes!
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Thu 07 Jun 2012, 09:54

There is surely a difference between the considered reversal of a policy after reevaluation and the panic stricken scrapping of, is it 33 now from Cameron's crew?, because the Sun doesn't approve? To misquote, losing one policy may be regarded as misfortune, losing 33 looks like carelessness.
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Thu 07 Jun 2012, 12:03

It must have been awful being Charles I. Seems he couldn't please anyone. Antonia Fraser gives a wicked, spiteful, altogether irresistible quote, attributed to Henrietta Marie. The exasperated queen is reputed to have told her husband, "Oh my love, if you cannot remain firm in the bedchamber, at least try to remain firm with your subjects."

Poor man. You can't imagine Ms. Cromwell ever saying such a thing to *her* husband, but then perhaps there was never any need.
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Thu 07 Jun 2012, 12:55

Oh dear, now I have a vision of the Mrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband in the same situation and saying the same thing. Make it go away!
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Sat 09 Jun 2012, 07:20

I think the original question here was intending to get responses about people whose policies were judged by their immediate constituents. I am thinking of a couple of people who made decisions which were perhaps considered reasonable at the time, but have since been thought of differently. One has been vilified perhaps unreasonably, the other honoured unreasonably.

It’s my impression that Neville Chamberlain’s peace in our time policy was considered sensible and in tune with the times, at least by ordinary people who didn’t have to have long memories to remember the Great War. But now this is thought of as quite wrong and pandering to German ambitions. (Would it be so if Britain and its allies had lost WWII?)

The other one I was thinking of was Richard John Seddon. He is often described as a colossus of a man in New Zealand’s political landscape at the end of the 19th century, and is still known as King Dick. (When I say ‘still known’ or similar phrases I never know if this is the case for people under 40.) One of the things he is known for is being the premier when New Zealand women were granted the right to vote in general elections. But Seddon was quite opposed to this and only became premier on the death of the previous premier who had supported the Suffrage Bill. It was other men in his cabinet who pushed for it. A New Zealand history site says:

The Liberal government, which came into office in 1891, was divided over the issue. Premier John Ballance supported women's suffrage in principle, but privately he worried that women would vote for his Conservative opponents. Many of his Cabinet colleagues, including Richard Seddon who was a friend of the liquor trade, strongly opposed suffrage.

In 1891 and 1892 the House of Representatives passed electoral bills that would have enfranchised all adult women. On each occasion, though, opponents sabotaged the legislation in the more conservative upper house, the Legislative Council, by adding devious amendments.

In April 1893 Ballance died and was succeeded by Seddon. Suffragists’ hearts sank, but following the presentation of the massive third petition, another bill was easily passed in the House.

Once again, all eyes were on the Legislative Council. Liquor interests petitioned the council to reject the bill. Suffragists responded with mass rallies and a flurry of telegrams to members. They also gave their supporters in Parliament white camellias to wear in their buttonholes.

Seddon and others again tried to torpedo the bill by various underhand tactics, but this time their interference backfired. Two opposition councillors, who had previously opposed women's suffrage, changed their votes to embarrass Seddon. On 8 September 1893 the bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

Caro.

As regards the quote above, I felt it unlikely this would genuinely get into the public arena, but perhaps in the days when servants were present in the bedchamber (were they to any degree though?) maybe this is possible. It sounds too clever to be a spur of the moment comment. Who attributed it to Henrietta Maria?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Sat 09 Jun 2012, 09:13

@Caro wrote:


As regards the quote above, I felt it unlikely this would genuinely get into the public arena, but perhaps in the days when servants were present in the bedchamber (were they to any degree though?) maybe this is possible. It sounds too clever to be a spur of the moment comment. Who attributed it to Henrietta Maria?

The quote was attributed to Henrietta Marie by Puritan writers of the time but is, as Antonia Fraser points out, "almost certainly false."

Funny though.
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PostSubject: Re: David Cameron - history maker or historically naive?   Fri 29 Jun 2012, 15:31

@Temperance wrote:

You can't imagine Ms. Cromwell ever saying such a thing to *her* husband, but then perhaps there was never any need.

With nine children in seventeen years, I think Oliver could be relied upon!

In fact, fertility does not seem to have been an issue for the Cromwells. His daughter Bridget had seven children, Richard also had nine, Henry had seven, Elizabeth had four, Frances had five. Robert, Oliver Jnr and James didn't live long enough to marry, so only Mary let the side down by having no children (maybe it was her husband who wasn't up to the job...)

I don't think that Charles I would have had servants in the bedchamber; the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber would have been next door, but I don't think anyone would have actually been in the room (other than the bed's occupants of course!) In any case, although Henrietta Maria was a feisty one, to say the least, I can't see her making such a snide remark to her husband.
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