Tales from an author

#LabourLeaks and the #FordeInquiry


Today is the closing date for submissions to the Labour Party’s Forde Inquiry, tasked to look into the circumstances surrounding the report on the disciplinary process, and undermining of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn by a clique at party headquarters. That report was leaked in April 2020.

This Blog post sets out my submission, with lots of contemporary evidence of failings at party HQ in 2016,. I also reveal detail of sabotage of the 2017 General Election campaign.

Forde Inquiry

Submission by Andrew Godsell

Member of Southampton Itchen CLP (I was a member in Southampton Test in 2016)

The Orwellian nature of the Labour Party’s disciplinary process has caused me an enormous amount of stress across several years.

I provide a short outline here. I find it difficult to revisit the detail. There is also the concern expressed by many party members, which I share, that the recent decision of the current party leadership to apologise to former staff, featured in the BBC “Panorama” programme last year, totally undermines the Forde inquiry into party discipline. The use of Labour Party funds to pay compensation to people who plotted against the party membership, despite the party lawyers thinking we could win the court case, is a sickening insult.

I no longer have access to the email account I used 2016, the year I was unfairly suspended from the Labour Party. It has been reported that the plotters against Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters, destroyed a lot of the documents regarding party discipline. Therefore much of the documentation may be lost. I posted a lot of detail about my suspension on my Blog during 2016. Links to some posts are provided here – please read them, as they expose many failings of party HQ:

During the course of my suspension, I obtained documentation from party HQ through a Subject Access Request. Most of the documentation was heavily redacted, but it was clear that my suspension was discussed at length by staff at party HQ, who were well aware of who I was. I may have been only one of about 500,000 party members, but I also had a public profile as a Labour activist, author, and Blogger. I was certainly known by Sam Matthews, having disagreed with him during his time as organiser for Southampton Itchen at the 2015 General Election – his work was characterised by secrecy and also erratic. Although I lived in Test in 2015, most of my campaigning was in Itchen, as I was a candidate for an Itchen ward in the Southampton City Council election held at the same time as the General Election. Mike Creighton was also aware of me, as we were both party members in Southampton.

The SAR response showed that party HQ had broken the Data Protection Act, by disclosing details of my suspension to the “Guardian” newspaper without my consent.

Moving on to the General Election of 2017, it was clear that the vast majority of resources in Southampton were directed towards holding the Test constituency, rather than seeking to regain the marginal Itchen, lost to the Conservatives in 2015. The Test MP, Alan Whitehead, had been part of the 2016 “Chicken Coup” front bench resignations, aimed at breaking Corbyn. The outcome was that Test was retained in 2017 with a majority of 11,508 votes, but Labour lost Southampton Itchen to the Conservatives by just 31 votes.

The day before polling day, I coincidentally met Mike Creighton at the local party office. I asked why he thought it acceptable to have signed off my being suspended from the party in 2016 for alleged comments on Twitter, when he had now quite clearly broken the rules by calling Len McCluskey a “wanker” on Twitter during the current Election campaign. Creighton said to me “I don’t care about the rules”, and then refused to speak to me further when I tried to diplomatically express dissatisfaction with his response.

When my suspension was lifted in 2016, a letter was put on file by the party HQ, warning me about future conduct. I think a letter of apology from the Labour Party to myself would be a suitable response, in view of the events outlined here.


Take it on the Chin: Conservatism and COVID #GTTO

A piece I have written for the forthcoming second edition of the GET THE TORIES OUT! book.

The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has tragically killed over 280,000 people throughout the world. Officially 31,855 people in the United Kingdom have died as a result of COVID, at the time of my writing this, May 10 2020. Today Boris Johnson has announced plans to ease the lockdown (to the horror of many people). Our nation is experiencing an unusually high percentage death rate among confirmed cases, compared to the world average. There is public expectation of a major inquiry into the mistakes made, including many by the Conservative government, in dealing with COVID.

The mainstream media view is that Johnson, himself recently hospitalised by the disease, and the government he leads on an intermittent basis, are competently fighting a valiant battle to save the nation from the disease. The failings of the government have, however, been so severe that even political reporters and newscasters at the BBC – the supposedly public broadcaster which gave Johnson such an easy ride during the last General Election – have been expressing some reservations.

Outside the MSM bubble, large sections of the population, including many NHS staff and other key workers, have displayed trenchant criticism of a muddled government response. For far too long, the Conservatives placed their support of the capitalist economy, and big business – the natural plus financial friends of the Tories – ahead of the need to save lives, and protect the wider community.

An official inquiry could be months, or years, away. Any completion of such a process, and implementation of recommendations, will follow even later – as we have seen in numerous cases of state failure, ranging from the Hillsborough disaster to the Grenfell Tower fire. Before scrutiny of any of the important issues debated during the early stage of the COVID outbreak possibly fades, a look back to the initial government response may help as a reminder. The rot had set in even before COVID reached Britain.

On January 23 2020, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, made the first government statement to Parliament about the implications of the outbreak of a new form of Coronavirus, at Wuhan, in China, during the final weeks of 2019. Hancock said:

We have been closely monitoring the situation in Wuhan and have put in place proportionate precautionary measures. Our approach has at all times been guided by the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty….The Chief Medical Officer has revised the risk to the UK population from “very low” to “low”, and has concluded that, while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well-prepared and well-equipped to deal with them. The UK is one of the first countries to have developed a world-leading test for the new Coronavirus. The NHS is ready to respond appropriately to any cases that emerge. Clinicians in both primary and secondary care have already received advice, covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control, and clinical diagnostics….The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well prepared for these types of outbreaks, and we will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence.

The statement aimed to offer assurance but, within weeks, it became clear that Hancock, and other Tory ministers, were alarmingly complacent. The message from Hancock was shown to be dangerously wrong in several respects.

The first COVID cases in the UK were diagnosed on January 31, just eight days after Hancock and Whitty thought the risk to be “low”. The risk level had been moved to “moderate” on January 30, but the government took little action to alert the public to the scale of the danger during February.

Johnson announced, on March 3, “I was at a hospital the other night, where I think a few there were actually Coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands”. Johnson’s handshakes were politeness turned into pure irresponsibility.

The first death occurred on March 5, and Johnson belatedly attended the Cabinet’s emergency COBRA committee on March 9, after he had missed the five preceding meetings on the subject of Coronavirus. The risk level for the UK was not escalated from “moderate” to “high” until March 12.

The government, and its scientific advisors, favoured the idea of attempting to create “Herd Immunity”, with Johnson saying in a national television interview “one of the theories is that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures”. Once laymen started to point out the massive number of deaths that would be likely in Britain, before the remainder of the population could hope for “Herd Immunity”, the government backed down, but its strategy remained far from clear.

The Cheltenham Festival horse race meeting went ahead as usual – allegedly due to gambling companies lobbying the government against possible cancellation – with crowds of around 60,000 people per day, something that was soon shown to have spread COVID. Other sports events were postponed, upon the decision of various organising bodies, rather than government direction. For several weeks, the response of Johnson and his government was complacent, until pressure from NHS staff, a Labour Party still led (at that point) by Jeremy Corbyn, and the wider public, prompted action, as the death toll rose. Daily life continued much as usual, until the government belatedly started to recommend social distancing, and closed schools. Johnson did not announce the much-delayed effective lockdown until March 23.

Rishi Sunak, the new Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the departure of Sajid Javid – who clashed with Dominic Cummings, the power behind the Johnson throne – delivered a multi-billion pound emergency financial package. The Tories celebrated Sunak’s role, but other people asked why the “Magic Money Tree”, which Theresa May said in 2017 did not exist, and therefore could not produce a pay rise for nurses, had suddenly sprouted the green shoots of a massive capitalist bailout. It was similar to the taxpayer rescue of the banks during the 2008-09 financial crisis – a time when Javid and Sunak were speculative bankers.

Returning to the claims of Matt Hancock, there has been little evidence of the UK being a world leader in testing for COVID. Johnson and Hancock have announced various targets to test 10,000 people per day, then 25,000, followed by 100,000, and the latest aim is 200,000, but progress has generally fallen short of intention. Despite great public campaigning to get patients, NHS clinical staff, carers, more key workers, and masses of vulnerable people, rapidly tested, for many weeks it was clear that this was not happening at a sufficient scale. The government also failed to ensure that the private sector could produce, and deliver, sufficient testing capacity.

Hancock declared the NHS to be ready for the spread of the illness, back in January. In the following months, testimony from NHS staff and patients showed this had not been true, and was still not true. Already hard-pressed hospitals suddenly had to deal with additional admissions of COVID patients. There was a shortage of ventilators, despite claims by the government that they were urgently arranging to increase production and acquisition, and many frontline health workers lacked the required Personal Protective Equipment.

As events unfolded, it was clear that Hancock, Johnson, and their friends in government, were not vigilant. They were slow to take action, and much of that action was indecisive – until the government were reluctantly forced to fall in line with the plans advocated by other people.

This complacent attitude has led to the official total of over 31,000 deaths. It is widely believed that thousands more people have died due to COVID, but are excluded from the total, as they were not tested for the disease. A study published by the Financial Times – traditionally a Tory-supporting newspaper – estimated the real UK death toll to be 41,000 on April 21. At that time, the official figure was 17,000 deaths. Hancock and Whitty should be sacked for their fatal mistakes, but they continue to shape policy, and defend it with evasive comments at daily press conferences.

Many Conservative MPs have publicly called for the lockdown to be rapidly lifted, with their priority being the strength of the economy (code for the income of party funders). The Tories tell us that capitalism is the world’s greatest economic system, with centuries of proven success. Why do they think that a few weeks of COVID lockdown could destroy their beloved capitalism? Could the real answer be Socialism and a planned economy?

The tragic failings of the Tories over COVID are sadly predictable, repeating the pattern of a cruel decade of austerity, in which the rich minority have got richer, while millions of people have struggled. In 2017, an academic study, projecting figures from the increase in the death rate since the Conservatives took power in 2010, suggested that 120,000 people had died prematurely as a result of austerity. Consistent under-funding, and privatisation, of the NHS have been a major feature of austerity, and this in turn has contributed to tens of thousands of preventable deaths in the COVID crisis.





Get The Tories Out #GTTOTheBook

Labour tweet Nov 2019

I have begun to compile a book that will bring together short essay pieces written by Labour and left Tweeters.

Provisional title Get The Tories Out: Voices from Social Media

In the weeks since the General Election defeat, I have seen an enormous amount of positive activity on Twitter. There have been inspirational ideas about Socialism, plus the #GTTO message.

The plan is to capture some of this excellent content, in a cheap paperback, that can spread our Socialist message beyond Twitter.

I have a lot of experience writing and publishing books (cover pictures in Twitter header).

Anybody interested in writing a piece, please reply to me on Twitter or send Direct Message there. Please also feel free to offer suggestions, or ask questions.

Thanks to those who have responded so positively in the first two days of this project!

Aim 100 page book

80 pages text

20 pages preliminary material plus some photos

30,000 words text

Aim about 30 people to write pieces, average 1000 words

Subjects to be covered:

In simple terms whatever people think will work!

Piece on why you are Labour member / your political experience / policy issue you are knowledgeable on / tips re grassroots organising / critique of Tories / how Twitter and social media spreads our message etc.

I am seeking between a few hundred and a thousand words from most people, and happy to recycle / adapt anything someone has already Blogged or posted as a Twitter thread.

Pieces longer than a thousand words also welcome, where people wish to produce something extended.

So far the offers have ranged between 200 words and 2,500 words.

Not looking for literary brilliance. Enthusiasm and authentic voices are the key. For those who are interested, but have not written for publication before, I am happy to edit / help shape your ideas into a piece.

Whether you have hundreds or thousands of followers on Twitter, we can all sprinkle some magic. Several high profile Tweeters are already on board and planning pieces, but I am equally keen to hear from new enthusiasts.

This is a socialist / cooperative enterprise. Contributors offer their writing, I edit it into a book, self-publish it as a cheap paperback, available for people to buy via Amazon and other retailers. Price will be as competitive as I can make it, taking into account printing and distribution costs – I am not looking to make a profit here.

Hopefully we then advertise the book via Twitter and other social media. The focus is on spreading our message, and building the network.

If the book proves a big success, we could look for mainstream publication, on a commercial basis, but that is something for the future.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you are enthused to get writing!

Example piece for book, with thanks to Wolfie who offered thread below.

Talk to people, listen and help them



Consultant to @LeftPhoenix

“Notorious, dangerous, unofficial Labour Propaganda Machine”

Pro Corbyn, Pro Palestine. Anti Tory

Joined Twitter 2017


Twitter Thread December 14 2019 – the day after General Election result.

My thoughts on where we need to go.

We need to have an election style canvass in every constituency at least once a year. A quick questionnaire to ascertain people’s concerns and where they think Labour have gone wrong. Feed it back into a database.

We need to select our candidates for the next election now. Preferably local people, who can get into their constituencies, listen to people, put pressure on the Tory incumbent, and sow seeds for the next election. We need to regain trust.

As well as looking where we’ve failed, we should look at where we’ve done well. Look to Liverpool, and see why working people are so engaged with Labour. Is it the opposition to the media, strong grassroots, engagement through football?

More than anything we have to counter the media. They are never going to be on our side. We get into communities, do voluntary work without being overly political, but join with charities and movements. We have to understand what is going on in each constituency.

The next five years are going to be hard for most people, but especially hard for the people we lost. We have the numbers, the Tories have the media. We have to use our strengths and talk to people, listen and help them. Isn’t that what socialism is about?






Labour tweet Nov 2019

The explosion of social media in recent years means that real life General Election campaigning is complemented by the online variety.
The Tories are flooding Facebook with adverts, paid for by millionaire hedge fund donors, but Labour members are winning the online battle in the current election.

Two weeks ago, home from a positive spell on the Labour doorstep, I posted an enthusiastic two minute video about the experience on Twitter, and started a hashtag, #VoteLabourVideos.

Over a few days, I started Tweeting other people who were posting similar videos, urging them to use the hashtag, and the message started to grow.
Now more and more people are posting the videos, often linking them with the Momentum #VideosByTheMany campaign. Several prominent left wing figures (including Rachael Swindon and Chelley Ryan) have added support with Retweets. Many of the videos have been watched by thousands of people, some of them by tens of thousands of people, across Twitter and Facebook in just a few days.

Tanya Shaw’s piece about the effect of Tory austerity on her local community, and the belief that Labour can help rebuild it, has been watched 31,000 times in less than a week!

I am seeing ordinary Labour Party members, who have never previously put a video on the Internet – because they are struggling with illness, or lack of confidence – offering brilliant and articulate cases, based in personal experience, and being encouraged by others who feel strongly about our cause.

At the 2017 Election, Labour were 750,000 votes behind the Tories nationally.

In 2019, if each of Labour’s 500,000 members can convert just two people, we could gain 1,000,000 votes.

Real conversations, recounted in videos, mean more than Tory adverts.

I believe talking head videos are an authentic, and effective, campaigning tool for Labour. This is real democratic debate, it is reaching many people, and I believe it can go further.

Why Not Trust the Tories?

Bevan jacket 2

Aneurin Bevan is famous as the Labour government minister who founded the National Health Service, which has been serving the nation since 1948. Bevan is also known as the firebrand MP for Ebbw Vale, on the left of his party, involved in many controversies, between his first election to the Westminster Parliament in 1929, and his death in 1960. Less well-known are the two books that Bevan published. In Place of Fear, from 1952, setting out the case for democratic Socialism, has been reprinted several times, without achieving the recognition accorded to many books written by former Cabinet ministers. Bevan’s earlier effort, Why Not Trust the Tories?, published in 1944, rapidly sold an amazing 80,000 copies, and then all but disappeared. The book has never – as far as I can tell – been reprinted, and receives only passing references in biographies of Bevan.

Why Not Trust the Tories? was published by Victor Gollancz, as part of a series providing critiques of the Conservative, and right wing, approach that had dominated British politics in recent years. The most famous of these books was Guilty Men, by “Cato”, published in 1940, attacking the appeasement of Fascism by the National Government. There was speculation that Bevan might be the author, but “Cato” was the pseudonym for a trio of journalists, including a young Michael Foot. Four years later, Bevan did enter the literary fray. The title page of Why Not Trust the Tories? announced the author as “Celticus”, but there was no need to speculate on the identity, as this was immediately followed by “(Aneurin Bevan, M.P.)”. As a hardback, with a dust jacket, and a text running to 89 pages, this was a real book – weightier than a pamphlet. It is now 75 years since the book was published, but Bevan’s work remains one of the most perceptive analyses of the negative outlook, and cynical actions, of the Conservative Party. Much of the tragedy of the past has been repeated as farce in more recent times, and Bevan’s message should be heeded today.

In 1944, victory for Britain, and her allies, in World War Two was in sight. In the first chapter, “1918: After the Armistice”, Bevan drew parallels with the position at the end of World War One. During both wars, Britain was governed by a coalition of the Liberal, Tory, and Labour parties. At the end of the first war, Labour decided to revert to independence, opposing the Tories. Within days of the conflict ending, the coalition called the infamous “Coupon” General Election, with David Lloyd George, a Liberal, as Prime Minister. The Tories – shunning the Liberals loyal to the preceding Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith – manoeuvered to ensure they emerged from the Election with more MPs than their partners, and thereby controlled the government moving forward. One of the instigators of the plan was Winston Churchill, a Liberal MP who was formerly a Tory, would later become a Tory again, and was Prime Minister at the time Bevan was writing.

In the course of the book, Bevan suggests that public opinion was shifting towards the left, and his faith was realised. Germany surrendered on May 8 1945, ending the war in Europe. Churchill wished the Coalition to continue until Japan was defeated, an event not expected to occur until the following year. Churchill was trying to repeat the trick of 1918, seeking a Tory-dominated coalition going forward, but Labour members of the government pressed for an early Election on party lines. During the Election cam­paign, Churchill concentrated on attacking the alleged intentions of the Labour Party, claiming that it would not be able to implement its programme without “some form of Gestapo”, a sickening reference to the Nazi secret police from the man who had recently allowed two million Indians to starve to death in the Bengal Famine. Churchill seemed to forget that his wartime government had included members of the Labour Party. Churchill also ignored his pre-war support of Fascism. Labour won 393 seats, and a majority of 146, as people voted for new hope. The discredited Conservative Party took only 198 seats in the 1945 Election – their smallest total between humiliating defeats by the Liberals in 1906, and Labour in 1997. The Labour Party formed its first majority government, with Clement Attlee as Prime Minister, and Bevan as Minister of Health. As for the Liberals, they experienced a long period in the wilderness, after dissolution of the coalition in 1945. They did not return to power until 2010, when a Conservative and Liberal coalition government, following that of 1918 to 1922, followed a policy of austerity, to condemn the hopes of a nation to the scrapheap.

In the second section of the book, “The Betrayal of the Miners”, Bevan looks back to 1919. With the British coal mining industry in a sorry state, due to mismanagement and profiteering by the owners, the miners argued for nationalisation and workers’ control. Lloyd George, on behalf of the coalition government, set up the Sankey Commission to investigate, and Bonar Law, leader of the Tories, pledged to implement the recommendations, accepting these could include nationalisation. When the commission supported nationalisation, however, the government rapidly reneged on its promise. The coal mines remained in the hands of private owners, who were allowed to increase the price of coal, and the industry remained in crisis. Bevan noted that production dropped, from 286,000,000 tons in 1913, to 196,000,000 tons in 1943. In office from 1945, Labour carried a major programme of reform, including public ownership of the coal mines, railways, electricity, gas, and steel, plus the Bank of England.

Later conflict between the Tories and the miners led to the downfall of Edward Heath’s government in 1974. Margaret Thatcher took power five years later, leading an ideological right wing government, which attacked the organised working class with deindustrialisation and privatisation. The actions of Thatcher, John Major, and David Cameron would have shocked even Bevan. The protracted miners’ strike of 1984-85 failed to reverse Thatcher’s decimation of the coal industry, which was privatised in 1994, and deep coal mining in Britain completely ceased in 2015. British steel was denationalised by the Conservatives in the 1950s, renationalised by Labour in 1967, and then privatised by the Conservatives in 1988. Since 2010, the steel industry in this country, largely owned by foreign companies, has experienced a lot of uncertainty, with the Conservatives refusing suggestions that renationalisation be used to protect manufacturing capacity.

At the start of chapter three, “Death by Words”, Bevan looks back to 1922, when the Tories ditched their coalition with the Liberals, which had delivered economic depression and mass unemployment. The Tories won a General Election as a single party, with Law offering the country a policy of “Tranquility”, which proved to be another word for cuts to services, and more unemployment. The General Election of 1922 has been echoed in 2015, as the Conservatives gained marginal constituencies from their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and also Labour – centrally funded by the Tory Electoral Fraud – and won a majority in the Commons, with only 37 per cent of the votes cast.

Bevan hops from 1922 to planning for the future, during World War Two. Tories pretended to be enthused about popular reforms, but found ways to delay their implementation, with official enquiries and reports being followed by detailed consideration from the government. Bevan provides an excellent analysis of events surrounding the Beveridge Report, published in December 1942, which envisaged a comprehensive scheme of social security. The plan was originally due to come into effect in July 1944. The Con­servative Party was not, however, enthusiastic about the scheme so the government delayed its implementation. When the Beveridge Report was debated in the House of Commons, during February 1943, the Tories carried a motion welcoming it as an idea for “post-war reconstruction”, defeating a backbench Labour amendment that called for “early implementation of the plan”. Bevan, one of 119 MPs who voted for the amendment, writes that here was “The Tory variant of ‘Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today’”. Bevan borrowed this curious idea from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There. The White Queen offered Alice work as a maid, for “Twopence a week, and jam every other day”, going on to say “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today”. Bevan quotes the speech by “Mr Willink, who is now Minister of Health”. Henry Willink said “I am for improving the Beveridge Report”, although “there are many features of the report which I do not wish to see implemented”. Willink then voted with his fellow Tories for delay – he will appear later in this piece. During the following months, Beveridge and opposition MPs regularly pressed the government for a commitment to progress, but were met by delaying statements from Churchill and others.  Bevan points out that massive public enthusiasm for the scheme was replaced by disillusion, as the Tories “contrive to drown the wistful hopes of the people for social security in a torrent of words, specious promises and endless delays”.

“Jobs for Some” is the heading of Bevan’s next exploration. He begins with Churchill addressing the nation in a radio broadcast, during March 1943, about post-war prospects. Bevan hears Churchill planning a repeat of 1918, with his suggestion that defeat of Hitler be followed by a Four Year Plan of reconstruction, led by “a National Government comprising the best men of all parties who are willing to serve”. In perhaps the only quote from the book to achieve longevity, Bevan comments “Political renegades always start their career of treachery as the ‘best men of all parties’ and end up in the Tory knackery”. A White Paper on Employment Policy arrived in May 1944, attempted at improving morale, shortly before the troops left for Normandy on D-Day. Bevan satirises the White Paper at length, particularly the idea that “thermostatic control of employment” could see troops – hoping to settle in family homes, and stable employment, upon their return after the war – being converted into mobile labourers, hopping between locations and trades, evening out fluctuations in the temperature of failing capitalism. Bevan ends the chapter with a quote from a speech he made, when the White Paper was debated in Parliament. He said of the plan, “It runs away from every major social problem. It takes refuge in tricks, strategies, and devices because it has not the honesty to face up to the implications of the social problems involved”. Bevan was correct in his scepticism. Post-war Conservatism has brought continued mismanagement of the economy, leading to several spells of mass unemployment. The number of people unemployed rose above three million under both Thatcher, in 1982, and Major, in 1993. Cameron was little improvement in this respect, as unemployment increased to almost 2,700,000 in 2011.

“Will You Get That House?” is the question asked by the penultimate chapter. Bevan remarks that while the British forces were abroad fighting the Nazis, at home the Tories were focusing on their own priority. He points out that “the private ownership of land and the right to do what they like with it have always been the holy of the holies for the Tories”. From this stem issues over the provision, and affordability, of housing. Millions of new homes would have to be built to rectify a pre-war shortfall, that had been exacerbated by the destruction of bombing. Following a familiar pattern, the Tories set up a Royal Commission, and two Committees of Enquiry, rejected the suggestions they did not like, and were still procrastinating over action as Bevan completed work on the book. Bevan could not see Churchill, a Prime Minister who had the clearest power to act, delivering on his frequent promises of future “sunny uplands”.

In the current age, Conservative Brexiteers, of both deal and no deal persuasions, dream of “sunny uplands” – presumably overlooking headless (or chlorinated) chickens running around Brexitised wheat fields. Cameron announced the plan for a Referendum on membership of the European Union in 2013, and it was held three years later. The purest of Brexiteers said they would end payments to the EU, take back control of our laws from the European Court, leave the EU single market and customs union, not pay a divorce bill to the EU, negotiate free trade agreements with the EU plus the world’s other leading economies, and achieve all this within two years of a vote to leave in the 2016 Referendum. It is now more than three years since the British people voted to leave the EU, but the Tories have failed to achieve any of their Brexit milestones.

Returning to the past, Britain did get a massive programme of house building after World War Two, but this was not initiated by the Tories. Bevan mentions that, in 1944, Henry Willink pledged a post-war house building programme, which the former thought was far from sufficient. In practice, the man directing the programme was none other than Bevan himself, whose role as Minister of Health also included responsibility for housing. During Bevan’s spell in office, a million council houses were built, to a higher quality standard than was previously in place. Council houses remained a central part of affordable housing in Britain until the decline began during the Thatcher era. Thatcherism’s ideological sales of council houses fueled a growth in house prices and rents plus homelessness, the sad legacy of which afflicts potential owners and tenants today, while a large proportion of current Conservative MPs are landlords.

Perhaps the most relevant part of the book for the present day is the final chapter, “The Mechanism of the Tory Mind”. Bevan begins by stating that he does not regard Tories, as men and women, to be “worse than other people”. He thinks that Tories have good private morals “whereas their public morals are execrable”, with habitual telling of lies about their political motives. Bevan points out that “the traditional Tory does not look upon himself as the people’s representative, because the Tory doctrine pre-dates the rise of modern democracy”. The Tories had fought against the development of democracy, and had sided with Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in their attacks on democratic government. Bevan also draws attention to the way in which the Tories had blocked a role for Parliament in the organisation of the British economy, in order to protect their own position as the representatives of the propertied class. He states “By refusing the state effective intervention in the economic activities of society, the Tory is a potential Fascist element in the community. By denying Parliament a vigorous economic life he condemns it to death”. Necessity had led to an economic role for the state during the war, but Bevan pointed to signs that the Tories would seek to retain power with the help of “a freedom campaign”, backed by “the Tory millionaire press”, with propaganda against state regulation. This would enable a Tory to “be free once more to hunt in the jungle of economic competition”. Bevan warned that the left must guard against “appearing to be the advocates of regimentation as opposed to freedom”. Bevan highlighted the perennial problem for the Tories: “It is how to induce the many to vote the few back into power at each election. Or, to put it another way, how to persuade the poor to allow the rich to continue ruling”. In our own day, Jeremy Corbyn has made the phrase “For the many not the few” into the Labour Party’s mantra, and 2017 Manifesto title.

The Tory propaganda failed in 1945, and the incoming Labour government delivered the welfare state. The defining achievement of Labour was the National Health Service, with Bevan being the architect. The Conservatives responded with vehement opposition, voted against establishment of the NHS in Parliament, and have continued to undermine its principles. With Bevan standing firm, the NHS opened on July 5 1948. On the previous day, Bevan addressed a Labour Party rally in Manchester. Having given the Tories the benefit of the doubt about their morals in 1944, Bevan now saw things very differently, doubtless antagonised by the Tory attempt to block foundation of the NHS. In the speech, he contrasted the promise of the welfare state with the poverty suffered by working class people, including himself, due to the past policies of the Conservatives. “That is why,” Bevan said, “no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned, they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first class people to semi-starvation”. The Conservative press reacted with furious condemnation of Bevan’s bold political banter. Conservative Party members set up a Vermin Club as a protest against Bevan, with a prominent member being Margaret Thatcher, an aspiring politician destined to lead a Conservative attack on the NHS decades later, with the introduction of an internal market.

A major reorganisation of the NHS, introduced by the Con-Dem coalition, took effect in 2013, increasing the rate at which privatisation, and fragmentation, undermined a vital public service. In 2017, Jeremy Hunt, as Secretary of State for Health, told the Conservative Party Conference (ironically meeting in Manchester): “Nye Bevan deserves credit for founding the NHS in 1948, but that wasn’t him or indeed any Labour minister. That was the Conservative health minister in 1944, Sir Henry Willink, whose white paper announced the setting up of the NHS”. Many people smelt a rat, or at least a large piece of fake news. Hunt’s ludicrous claim that a Conservative had set up the NHS somehow failed to deal with the fact that the Conservatives, including Willink, had voted against legislation, during 1946, that set up a comprehensive NHS – which went beyond the coalition plan of 1944. Of course Hunt is no longer in government, having departed upon his recent defeat against Boris Johnson in a Conservative Party leadership election. When detailing the “sunny uplands” of Brexit earlier, I did not mention perhaps the most popular of pledges, this being the transfer of the UK’s gross contribution of £350,000,000 per week to the EU, which would in the near future be used to fund the NHS. The pledge was made by the Vote Leave campaign, led by Johnson, Michael Gove, and other Tory Brexiteers – a cabal who now control the government. The chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, is now the supposed mastermind (and definitely unelected advisor) guiding the charlatan Johnson in 10 Downing Street. In 2016, Vote Leave did not look at how the funding of agriculture, regional development, and other items, met by the return, from the EU, of about half the gross contribution would be replaced. In 2019, during his first few weeks as Prime Minister, Johnson has made plenty of announcements, one of which offered more money to the NHS – which turned out to be a recycling of existing funding – but there has not been any sign of the Tory “magic money tree” sprouting £350,000,000 per week for the NHS. Johnson has defied constitutional convention, by advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, during September and October, in an attempt to prevent scrutiny of his Brexit plans. Johnson’s rationale for this is that “The whole September session is a rigmarole introduced by girly swot Cameron to show the public that MPs were earning their crust” – a truly ridiculous thing for a Prime Minister to write in an official government memo. With Parliament passing emergency legislation to compel Johnson to seek an extension of EU membership, if a deal is not agreed by mid-October, we have Gove, Johnson, and others in the government, floating the possibility that they may simply ignore the law. As Bevan demonstrated in 1944, we always need to be wary of what the Tories say and do. The 2019 Tories are trying the repeat a cycle of deception that Bevan traced back to 1918. Why not trust the Tories? There are so many reasons!

Brexit: Meaningful Votes and Alternative Arrangements


As I write this, on March 17 2019, the United Kingdom is just 12 days away from possibly leaving the European Union without a deal. This is the default legal position, and a no deal exit will happen unless Parliament agrees a deal, or the government agrees an extension of Article 50 with the EU. I think the other possibility, of revoking Article 50, is very unlikely this week or next week.

There has been much debate among politicians, and pundits, about what might happen. What are the possible alternatives to the deal Theresa May has agreed with the EU, only for it to be overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons twice (the margins being 230 votes and 149 votes)? I thought it might be a useful exercise to set out the number of votes gained for the various propositions put to the Commons since the start of 2019. The following list, in descending order of support, features almost all of the motions and amendments voted upon. The three exceptions are the final votes on three separate days, January 29, February 27, and March 13. Each of those votes agreed a motion in which an initial government position had been amended by a previous vote that day. On the first two dates the final motion was carried without a division, while on March 13 there was a division. The relative strengths of support for what was agreed on those days can be consistently gauged by looking at the votes for the individual amendments that were carried.

CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY Citizens’ Rights to be guaranteed (Costa February 27)

520 CARRIED Second Meaningful Vote to be held by March 12, followed by votes to potentially rule out deal and extend Article 50 (Cooper February 27)

412 CARRIED Extend Article 50 to June 30 2019 if Withdrawal Agreement passed by Parliament by March 20, to enable Brexit legislation to be passed. Motion notes that if Withdrawal Agreement not passed by March 20, EU would probably require clear purpose for extension. (May March 14)

318 CARRIED Rule out no deal (Spelman / Dromey January 29)

317 CARRIED Replace Northern Ireland Backstop with unspecified alternative arrangements (Brady January 29)

312 CARRIED Rule out no deal (Cooper March 13)

312 Extend Article 50 for unspecified time, and allow cross-party group of backbenchers to propose alternative plans in House of Commons (Benn March 14)

311 Extend Article 50 to June 30 2019, and allow cross-party group of backbenchers to propose alternative plans in House of Commons (Powell March 14)

306 Second Meaningful Vote to be held by February 27 (Corbyn February 14)

302 Extend Article 50 for unspecified time, and the government should allow time for House of Commons to find a majority for an alternative plan (Corbyn March 14)

301 Alternative options to be voted on by Commons across six days, during February and March (Grieve January 29)

298 Extend Article 50 for up to nine months, to avoid no deal Brexit (Cooper January 29)

296 Rule out no deal, renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to include a Customs Union and strong relationship with Single Market, with an agreement to be subject to a public vote (Corbyn January 29)

290 Postpone Brexit for unspecified period (Reeves January 29)

288 Rule out no deal (Blackford February 27)

258 Endorse government current strategy of leaving March 29 with or without deal (May February 14)

242 Withdrawal Agreement second meaningful vote (May March 12)

240 Renegotiate the Political Declaration, to include a Customs Union and strong relationship with Single Market (Corbyn February 27)

202 Withdrawal Agreement first meaningful vote (May January 15)

164 Malthouse plan for a managed no deal (Green March 13)

93 Delay Brexit by at least three months (Blackford February 14)

85 Hold a second referendum (Wollaston March 14)

39 Delay Brexit and rule out no deal (Blackford January 29)



Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town

During 2016, I wrote a Blog piece about my ten favourite vinyl albums. Now I plan a series of Blog pieces, looking in more detail at a series of great albums.

Released: June 2 1978

Produced by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, and Steve Van Zandt

Length: 43 minutes

Genre: Hard Rock, Rock and Roll



Adam Raised a Cain

Something in the Night

Candy’s Room

Racing in the Street

The Promised Land


Streets of Fire

Prove it all Night

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Bruce Springsteen is my favourite artist, and this is the first of his albums that I bought, back in 1980. Nearly 39 years later, it is still my favourite album. The lyrics are amazingly evocative, bringing a direct sense of the lives of the characters Bruce writes about. Bruce spent an enormous amount of time in the final selection from dozens of songs recorded during the sessions. This coincided with a lot of thought about the sequencing of the album. Bruce was influenced by what his manager and producer, Jon Landau, called the four corners approach – with the strongest four songs being used as the first and last tracks on the two sides of the record. The album cover featured stark photos, taken by Frank Stefanko, of Bruce stood in a bedroom – although this is not obviously the location.

Extensive cross-referencing of key words and themes across the 10 songs, each of which Bruce sang in the first person – portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism – gives the album a great unity. This is reinforced by the musical backing, which sounds very similar throughout the album. The words “darkness” / “dark” appear in six of the tracks, while nine of them feature the “night” / “tonight”. Meanwhile “they” are mentioned in eight songs, with a general suggestion of nameless people who exert a negative influence. “Work” / “worked” / “working” form part of six songs, and so do the words “dream” / “dreams”. Equally there are six songs in which Bruce and his characters are found “driving” / “racing” / “riding”, or mentioning the names of cars. There are references to “blood” on four of the tracks, and the same number of songs use the word “born”. There is also time for “love” / “loved” in four of the songs on the album.

The album is greater than the sum of its parts, and the songs speak louder than a commentary, but a track-by-track review may provide some illumination of Darkness. The record opens with Badlands, a song destined to become one of Bruce’s concert anthems, with the enigmatic suggestion that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Adam Raised a Cain, one of Bruce’s songs about family, is given a wider context with Biblical allusions. Something in the Night sees Bruce struggling against some faceless oppression. Candy’s Room is one of Bruce’s many songs about girls, but different to those of the past – Candy being a hard girl from Easy Street. On the original LP, the first side closed with Racing in the Street, as Bruce hops into a 69 Chevy with a 396, to ride with his partner Sonny, and then an un-named girl. The instrumental passage at the end of the song is a moment of warmth – which has been powerfully extended in live performances. The second half opens with The Promised Land, a stirring tale of optimism and dignity, which echoes Badlands. Factory is the shortest song on the album (at 2 minutes 17 seconds), and understated, but an affecting tale about the rigours of work. Streets of Fire depicts a dramatic struggle against un-named forces. Prove it all Night is a great rock’n’roll love song, but one in which the battle against people lurking in the background is still real. The record closes with Darkness on the Edge of Town, the title track being the defining moment of the album, the tale of a man who seems to be fighting a losing battle in his life, but resolves to keep the struggle going. Bruce explained the outlook of the Darkness album in an interview with Tony Parsons, for the New Musical Express: “The characters ain’t kids, they’re older – you been beat, you been hurt. But there’s still hope, there’s always hope. They throw dirt on you all your life, and some people get buried so deep in the dirt that they’ll never get out. The album’s about people who will never admit that they’re buried that deep”.

The album was re-packaged in 2010 as The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce had delved into the archives, to unveil a mass of material, providing fascinating insights into his creative process. Preparation included Bruce re-recording parts of the material, during 2010, where he was not satisfied with original takes from the 1977-78 sessions. Bruce’s masterpiece, originally a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film.

#AliceInWonderland #AmWriting




My New Year Resolution is to be more positive about my writing this year. I have written so much over the years, but much of it has been shrouded in obscurity. Perhaps I can become more confident about the difficult process of promoting a book. 

Here is an extract from my Alice in Wonderland novel, a fairly recent book that has made a few waves.  Read more…

#TheBeatles #WhiteAlbum: Double or Single?

White Album CD set

The 2018 fiftieth anniversary re-release of The Beatles, their eponymous LP from 1968, a musical revolution fondly known as “The White Album”, has fuelled one of the great debates among fans of the band. Should the massive double album have been pruned to a single disc? As the proud owner of the six CD and book box set – with unique number 0119632 – here is my contribution to the continuing story of the extensive double bill, which could have been a single show.

“The White Album” extends across 30 tracks, and lasts over 93 minutes. Amongst the great variety of songs, and styles, there is plenty of scope for discussion, but far from a consensus. So much of an assessment of the album must be subjective, with songs hailed as brilliant by some fans derided as pointless filler by others. Some fans love the whole album, while many people see, or hear, excess in its sheer volume. Paul McCartney once famously dismissed debate about possible editing to a shorter record, with an impatient comment: “It was great. It sold. It’s the bloody Beatles’ “White Album”. Shut up!”. George Martin, an often exasperated producer who went on holiday during the sessions, went on record to say that a single album could have been better, without making specific suggestions of which songs to drop. Perhaps a single album could repeat the 14 track model that worked on Revolver, with John and Paul having five songs each, George three, and Ringo one, while no two successive tracks featured the same lead vocalist.

Here is my suggestion:

Side 1  Approximately 21 minutes

Back in the U.S.S.R.  2.43

Paul’s opener, celebrating the Soviet Union, echoes Chuck Berry’s Back in the USA, and the style of the Beach Boys, a band with whom the Beatles enjoyed a creative rivalry.

Dear Prudence 3.56

John’s tale of Prudence Farrow, sister of the actress Mia, a shy member of the meditation group, led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, attended by the Beatles in India.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps  4.45

One of George’s greatest songs, with Eric Clapton joining as an extra guitarist.

Glass Onion  2.18

John’s surreal story includes references to five previous songs by the Beatles –, Strawberry Fields Forever, I Am the Walrus, Lady Madonna, Fool on the Hill, and Fixing a Hole. He was reflecting the way in which obsessive fans of the band had taken to searching lyrics in pursuit of hidden meanings.

Blackbird  2.18

Paul’s tribute to the Black Power movement in the USA, features the sound of a real blackbird, singing in an English garden (and waiting for the sun?).

Piggies  2.04

George’s cynical take on humanity, influenced by George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Julia  2.54

John pays tribute to both Julia, his mother, and Yoko Ono, his lover, in this ethereal ballad.

Side 2  Approximately 22.5 minutes

Savoy Truffle  2.54

The second half of the record begins with George’s satire of decadence, in the form of the excessive consumption of chocolate. George also provides a reference to Paul’s Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, following the self-referential lead of John’s Glass Onion.

Mother Nature’s Son  2.48

Paul finds himself in a rural idyll, with a song inspired by a lecture about nature given by the Maharishi.

Sexy Sadie   3.15

John left the Maharishi’s retreat with a feeling of disillusion, and gave vent to this in a song, the target of which he only later explained.

Helter Skelter    4.29

This is acclaimed by some as the start of heavy metal, although it appeared several months after much heavier music on the Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat album. On the other hand, Helter Skelter is a great performance by the Beatles, led by Paul’s rocking vocal. The song also serves as a nightmare, ahead of the nursery rhyme in the next track.

Cry Baby Cry   3.02

John draws upon the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, but there are elements from the Pig and Pepper chapter in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, with a duchess and a crying baby. The song has the Duchess of Kirkaldy arriving late for tea, suggesting the Tea Party in Alice. John’s Cry Baby Cry ends with the Can You Take Me Back fragment from Paul, which possibly expresses a wish to move from a fairy tale back to reality. Conversely Paul might hope to move away from reality, and back into a nursery rhyme? In my fantasy album, Paul wanders forward to the nostalgia of the next song.

Honey Pie  2.41

A year on from When I’m 64, Paul provides another stylish evocation of music hall – he later said he was “pretending I’m living in 1925”.

Good Night    3.13

The album ends with a lullaby, written by John, and sung by Ringo, accompanied by lush orchestration.


Another “White Album” option, surprisingly rarely considered, is the creation of a slightly shorter notional double LP, by removing a few tracks – for example two each by John and Paul. Among the 30 track line-up, John and Paul had 12 pieces each, while George had four numbers, and Ringo two songs. The most obvious candidates to discard are Revolution 9, a very long experimental piece by John which is not actually a song, and Wild Honey Pie, a very short interlude from Paul, that is not much of a song. For me, a second track by John to be omitted is The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, as the amusement value does not outweigh a lack of real quality. Moving back to Paul, the same consideration leads me to drop Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? from the fantasy line-up. Removing the four tracks reduces the length of the album by about 14 minutes, to something just under 80 minutes – a good length for a double LP, and it would also fit nowadays on a single CD.

My fantasy 26 track double album – with Long Long Long moved from the end of side 3, to the start of side 4, to roughly balance up total lengths – would run as follows:

Side 1  Approximately 19.5 minutes

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Side 2 Approximately 21 minutes

Martha My Dear

I’m So tired



Rocky Raccoon

Don’t Pass Me By

I Will


Side 3 Approximately 19.75 minutes


Yer Blues

Mother Nature’s Son

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

Sexy Sadie

Helter Skelter

Side 4 Approximately 19 minutes

Long, Long, Long

Revolution 1

Honey Pie

Savoy Truffle

Cry Baby Cry

Good Night


I hope this has been of some interest – good night everybody everywhere.




The Excitement of Having a Book Published #selfpublishing

Across many years, I have enjoyed a (modestly) successful writing career, with the publication of eight books on a variety of subjects – history, politics, football, a fantasy novel, and mental health.

I always feel excitement as I complete writing a book, prepare it for publication, and receive the first printed copy. I have admitted in previous Blog posts, that the actual promotion of a book – that has been launched towards a potential readership – is not something I do with confidence. I am not sure why, as I have managed to build something of a public profile, through consistent activity, and have appeared on television a few times.

So here I go again!

My new book offers a new approach to British history, stretching from the origin of Stonehenge, five thousand years ago, to current controversy surrounding Brexit and the future of the nation. First published in 2008, this panoramic survey of themes in our history, along with their contemporary relevance, has been expanded and revised. The development of the states of England, Scotland, and Wales, along with their unification as Britain, is explained. Among a varied cast of people, there are detailed profiles of Boudicca, Saint Swithin, Ethelred the Unready, King Canute, Richard the Lionheart, Samuel Pepys, and George III. Combining profound events with amusing trivia, this kaleidoscope of stories is a thoroughly entertaining popular history.

I believe British History provides new insights into familiar episodes. It develops several previously-published essays, plus material adapted from other books I have written. The recording of history by participants, chroniclers, diarists, and historians is viewed, along with the way in which the relevant events have been reflected in books, films, and television programmes. Our history is a constantly evolving process, rather than something that is fixed, and stuck in the past.  Hopefully I have been able to reflect the way in which individuals interact with events, and understand their place in history.

The book is available as both a paperback and a Kindle download.

I have announced its presence in the world via Twitter, and contacted the local newspaper (we still have one where I live!) asking if they are interested in featuring the book.

I have also made a short You Tube video about the book:

The book opens with a chapter that takes a rapid trip through the prehistoric era, centring on Stonehenge, as follows:


Near the end of Thomas Hardy’s amazing novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (published in 1891), there is a dramatic scene at Stonehenge. Angel Clare, the husband of Tess, remarks that Stonehenge is “Older than the centuries; older than the D’Urbervilles”. Besides being far older than any Briton we are able to trace by name, Stonehenge is probably the most unmistakable building – or ruin of a long-lost structure – in Britain. It is also a tangible connection to the people who lived on our island in the prehistoric period.

The recorded history of Britain begins with the arrival of Roman invaders, a little over two thousand years ago. Prior to this, there is prehistory, stretching back many thousands of years.  For most of that time, Britain was attached to the European landmass. Around 9000 BCE, following the Ice Age, rising sea levels created the water which divides western Britain from Ireland. The sea level also rose to the east, and Britain was fully separated from continental Europe in about 6000 BCE. The hunter-gatherer method of survival was gradually replaced by farming, with the latter approach reaching Britain, from elsewhere in Europe, probably between 5000 BCE and 4500 BCE.

Work on the site that became known as Stonehenge commenced in around 3100 BCE, when an earthwork, comprised of banks and ditches, was built with the use of primitive tools. A construction of this type is known to archaeologists as a henge. The first set of stones arrived around a thousand years later, with the installation in about 2150 BCE of the Bluestones. These were transported from the Preseli Mountains, in the south west of Wales. It is amazing to think that approximately 80 of these stones, weighing up to four tons each, were moved across a distance of 240 miles as far back in time as four thousand years ago. Current thinking suggests that the stones were transported using a combination of rollers, sledges, and rafts. The likely route appears to have taken the stones from the Preseli Mountains to the coast at Milford Haven, along the southern coast of Wales to England, where they were floated along the western River Avon and then the River Frome. An overland trip from Frome (Somerset) to Warminster (Wiltshire) was followed by spells on the River Wylye, and the Wiltshire Avon, before offloading at Amesbury, from where the stones were dragged to Stonehenge. Most of this is an educated guess, but aerial photos of the two mile stretch from Amesbury to Stonehenge provide lasting evidence of the final part of the journey.

The Outer Ring was constructed circa 2000 BCE, using Sarsen stones, which were brought from the Marlborough Downs, about twenty miles north of Stonehenge. The journey was shorter than that taken by the Bluestones, but the transportation across land of the Sarsen stones, which weighed up to 50 tons each, must have required a monumental effort. At Stonehenge stone lintels were placed on top of the Sarsen stones, with these constructs being held in place by powerful joints. Modern theory suggests that a system of levers and ropes was used to manoeuvre the stones into their final positions. Further building at Stonehenge continued until around 1500 BCE, at which point the Bluestones were re-arranged into what is now the Inner Circle. Britain had by now moved into the Bronze Age, which stretched from about 2200 BCE to 750 BC. As people learned how to produce bronze, by mixing copper with tin, tools became more sophisticated than in the past. This in turn was followed by the Iron Age, and further improvements, with iron being stronger than bronze.

The work of archaeologists and scientists has provided us with good estimates of the period when Stonehenge was built, and the method of construction. It appears, however, that the purpose behind the building of Stonehenge will always remain a mystery. Many theories have been advanced as to who built Stonehenge, and why. The most credible suggestions focus on the possibility that it had an astronomical, or other scientific, purpose. These are suggested by the alignment of the stones with the sun as dawn breaks on June 21 – the longest day of the year. Other serious contenders advance the idea of Stonehenge as a religious temple, in view of the importance that worship has always held in human society. Running alongside this is the possibility that Stonehenge was a burial ground for the leaders of the people that built this enormous edifice. There are many apparent burial mounds in the vicinity of Stonehenge. One of the most commonly-known suggestions is that Stonehenge was built by the Druids. This idea appears to have originated with John Aubrey (1626-1697), an antiquarian, folklorist, owner of estates in Wiltshire, and author of the book Brief Lives. The theory is probably incorrect, as most evidence suggests that the Druids used forest temples as places of worship, rather than stone buildings. Nevertheless the modern-day Druids have regularly gathered at Stonehenge for the Summer solstice festival. The earliest surviving written reference to Stonehenge appears in History of the English by Henry of Huntingdon, which dates from about 1130. Henry wrote about “Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways” and added that “no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raised aloft, or why they were built there”.

 Wiltshire by Arthur Mee, a book published in 1939 as part of Mee’s The King’s England series, provides descriptions of the history, traditions, topography, and architecture of Wiltshire’s towns and villages. Mee opens a piece on Stonehenge with the statement:

About ten miles northward of Salisbury, it is the most finished work of a mysterious race of men who scattered circles and avenues of stone, stone places of burial, and stone monuments over many parts of the world. Most of these memorials are primitive, but Stonehenge is elaborate and massive, with signs of design and a fixed purpose.

Later in a delightful account, Mee writes:

It has been said of Stonehenge that it is an Ancient British work, a Druidical work, a Saxon work, even a Danish work, and a scholar has in our time suggested that it was erected by immigrants from Egypt.

Other theorists have seriously advanced alternative cases for the French, Bronze Age Greeks, or aliens from another planet as builders of Stonehenge. At times the supposed scholarship on Stonehenge has become entwined with the fantastical. The most famous of the legendary explanations of Stonehenge revolves around the traditions associated with King Arthur. The tale first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which was written in the 1130s. According to Geoffrey, during the fifth century Hengest, an invading Saxon leader, massacred 300 British nobles. Aurelius Ambrosius, the British high king, decided to raise a memorial to his fallen supporters, and Merlin, the mentor of Arthur, had the idea of transporting the Giant’s Ring stone circle from Ireland to Britain. An earlier legend suggested that the stones had been moved by giants from Africa to Ireland, and placed on Mount Killaraus, as a stage for the performance of rituals. Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, led an expedition to Ireland, during which Merlin used magic to relocate the stones to Britain, whereupon they formed the rings of Stonehenge. Following their deaths, the bodies of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon were reputed to have been buried at Stonehenge. Most of this is obviously fiction, but Aurelius Ambrosius gave his name to Amesbury, the town near Stonehenge. Meanwhile there are other Arthurian links to the area. Salisbury has been seriously suggested as the site of the Battle of Camlann, and Guenevere ended her days in a convent at Amesbury.

The reason for Stonehenge is lost in mystery, but there can be no doubting the continued affection for the building among the British people. During 2002, a poll of the general public declared Stonehenge to be one of the seven wonders of Britain, alongside Big Ben, the Eden Project, Hadrian’s Wall, the London Eye, Windsor Castle, and York Minster. The enduring importance of Stonehenge contrasts with the transitory nature of the Millennium Dome, built in London to mark the year 2000.

Very little of the original Stonehenge has survived into our current age. Over the centuries most of the stones have been lost – probably being plundered for use in other construction. It was not until 1918 that ownership of Stonehenge was transferred to the British government, and conservation became a priority. In 1978 public access to the actual stones, as opposed to the surrounding area, was curtailed. The restrictions have been continued by English Heritage, which has managed the site since 1984, balancing the need to conserve Stonehenge with a wish to make it accessible to the British public, and the many foreign tourists for whom it is a magnet. The work of English Heritage, and similar organisations, such as the National Trust, plays a vital role in preserving the physical presence of British history. In parallel, historians maintain and develop our history in written form. It is a wonderful ongoing process.


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