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5.0 out of 5 stars Did Willy Know a Hawk from a Handsaw?, 14 Mar 2011
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This review is from: Between Europe and America: The Future of British Politics (Paperback)
Gamble's title suggests a discussion about the choices Britain has to make about allying itself principally with the EU or the USA. I have read three of his books recently and mostly in this he follows his usual style of hardly ever saying what he thinks, preferring to lay out all the arguments. Just occasionally he'll drop a hint. However right at the end he makes it clear here that he can't see a future outside the euro-zone, the only question being whether we continue to bother with the Anglo-American alliance.

This book was published in 2003 and like many people Gamble may have been appalled at Blair's cosying up to Dubya and the Iraq war. Nevertheless Gamble is too well-educated and thoughtful to have based his views just on that. He seems to rebel against the `myth' of `this sceptred isle', saying that British history has been rewritten over the years to celebrate our nationhood before it ever existed, denying any pre-Tudor nationalism of any significance. Perhaps it was all a Shakespearean plot.

Gamble seems to say that having lost our empire, and now having lost our cosy `You've never had it so good' corporatist state, we now have to choose between the US megabandit or the cloying economic supernanny of the EU. No wonder, it seems to me, that we don't want either.

There is also much discussion about devolution, saying Blair's constitutional reforms will eventually seem more significant than Thatcher's wrecking of a hundred years of inter-party consensus about a corporatist welfare-based state. I don't think he makes a very good case for this, but he seems to foresee the development of the United Kingdom into a kind of federation or even group of nation-states.

Personally, as his later book `Spectres at the Feast' perhaps implicitly acknowledges, I would have thought the recent financial crisis, a direct result of Thatcher's deregulation, makes that seem pretty significant.

What Gamble does do very well, as always, is carefully reflect on centuries of history of this country, and also the traditions of our political parties, to see what the important threads are that have influenced choices at different times.

This book would be hard to read without a sound knowledge of British history because he only refers to events, he doesn't explain them.

A final query: he refers to the twentieth century as the Conservative century, to the nineteenth as the Liberal century. That I don't get. Four of the five or six great prime ministers of that century were Tory - Pitt, Peel, Disraeli and Salisbury. Most of the important reforming legislation was passed by Tories, even if the agitation was done by the liberals (they were never together enough to do legislation. How many Liberals does it take to pass an Act?).

A great book, but I don't buy the thesis. In my opinion we're better out of any cast iron allegiances, and if our medieval nationalism was a myth I'm sure Willy the Shake had his reasons.
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