Monday, 27 October 2014

Another hung Parliament?

Some reflections on the next election and the likelihood of another hung Parliament: Coalition politics

Friday, 17 October 2014

What happened to British decline?

This post on the Speri blog looks at what happened to British relative economic decline and the country's continuing economic problems, following the recent retirement conference for Andrew Gamble at Cambridge University: The decline debate

Monday, 8 September 2014

Scotland and Quebec

A long time ago I wrote a comparison between Scotland and Quebec with a Canadian colleague which was published as an article in Canada. There is an interesting parallel between the current referendum in Scotland and that in Quebec in 1995. An interesting blog post on the subject can be found here: Quebec and Scotland

Friday, 29 August 2014

Friday, 22 August 2014

Custard powder shortage causes concern in August 1914

Leamington residents were urged to keep calm in August 1914 but worries about a shortage of custard powder surfaced. A local vicar complained that governments only cared about voters.

'Keep calm – and don’t panic!’ was the advice the Courier gave to Leamington residents in an editorial following the outbreak of war in August 1914. But under the heading ‘Cool Heads’ the newspaper admitted, ‘Events are moving at such a pace that it is impossible to adequately realise what is taking place or to hazard an opinion on what will take place. Last week there was a cry to “Close the ranks”. Today, they are firmly closed. Last week there were two opposing civilian armies in Ireland ready to fly at each other’s throats. Today they are united to resist a common foe.’

There was a realisation that this could be a war unlike any preceding war. ‘Last week Germany was not actually at war with France and Russia. Today she is. Last week our King and Government were straining every effort to secure peace. These efforts have failed and today we find ourselves ranged on the side of France to protect her coasts from foreign attack and the protector of the independence of the smaller European states against the aggression of the might of Germany. We are now at the beginning of the great European war which has been the dread of thoughtful men for so long. We are engaged in a war, the greatest and the gravest the world has ever seen. If we are to emerge from it successfully, we shall do so by keeping our heads cool, and by a readiness to undergo with courage the sacrifices that will be required of us. What we shall have to endure lies in the lap of the future.’

Readers were reassured that there was a good food supply, although elsewhere in the paper it was reported that pig feed prices were already rising. There was a concern that the outbreak of war could lead to short time working or unemployment in the town. Readers were urged to go out and spend, particularly on men’s clothes, ladies’ dresses and bonnets, upholstery, house decoration and house cleaning.

Some concern had been expressed about a possible shortage of custard leading to panic buying. However, Bird’s custard placed a large advert in the Courier to reassure readers, headed ‘Household Economy in WAR time’. Readers were reminded ‘At so small a cost as Bird’s Custard, there are few dishes in our daily diet which provide so much real nourishment and body-building material. Bird’s Custard is not only a delectable dainty, but a genuine wholesome food. There is no shortage of Bird’s Custard. There is plenty for everyone. We are working hard to meet the exceptional demands of the Military and the Public.’

The Vicar of Lillington was not slow to blame football for the country’s plight. Given the small size of the British army relative to other nations, he said that ‘we should be ashamed of ourselves’. (Britain had, of course, concentrated its resources on the navy, seeing itself as a maritime power). ‘We had been watching our football matches – thousands of people looking on while 22 others kicked a piece of leather about. Governments, nowadays, only existed for voters, and most of those who watched the football matches and went to race meetings were voters.'

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Not everyone expected a short war in 1914

Not everyone in 1914 thought that the war would be over by Christmas. A retired soldier, Sir Charles Hunter, addressed a large audience in the Jephson Gardens in Leamington and told them that they would have to go back to the Napoleonic era to realise what this great war meant. Many people were saying that the Germans would be starved out within a few months and then the war would be over. However, he thought that a long war was in prospect, anything between six months and three years.

One immediate consequence of the outbreak of war was the dismantling of all the amateur radio stations in the town. The largest mast had been that of Mr Ryres in Northumberland Road, but it disappeared with all the others. He had been picking up messages from French and German military units, but there was a concern that such stations could be used for espionage by German agents and therefore had to be taken out of use.

Over in Nuneaton the outbreak of war had a disastrous effect on the Saturday open air market with half the stalls occupied and a big fall in attendance. Because of troop movements through Nuneaton Station, a number of normal services were curtailed. Recruiting for the colours was so brisk that two sergeants had to be deployed, but a number of men were declared unfit. Around 100 reservists were mobilised and the district expected to supply around 100 boy scouts. 122 horses were bought in the area by the War Office and sent to Birmingham.

And what about football? The initial view after war broke out in August 1914 was that football should continue as usual as it would give the public something to think about apart from the war. The secretary of the Football Association stated, ‘It was in the best interests of the country that the games should go on. As it was, a large number of football players have returned to the Army and Navy, and several thousands are now under arms with their Territorial regiments. The games will not only provide a pastime for the men who have not had military training and for whom the Government could not probably find profitable employment, but they will provide a pleasant competition for those who are not in a position to take up arms, and thus help to keep up as cheerful a tone as possible in the country.’ Football could also raise funds to help those suffering as a result of the war. Takings from practice matches in August should go to the relief funds.

The Football League took a similar view: ‘To sit in sorrow is to aggravate the nation’s sorrow. Any rational sport which can minimise grief, help the nation to bear its sorrow, and relieve the oppression and continuous strain and save the people at home from panic and undue depression is a great national asset which can render further service to the people. Our great winter game should pursue its usual course. Every player should train to be of national service, not least in national defence.’

The Warwickshire Yeomanry was kicking its heels in camp near Bury St. Edmunds. With little of interest in the district, few horses available and movement restricted, the men had been occupying themselves playing football.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Leamington and the First World War

This piece on how the outbreak of the First World War was viewed in Leamington was written for the 'On This Day' feature in Leamington FC's programme, but it may have a wider interest.

One hundred years ago the outbreak of the First World War was imminent. Historians disagree about whether what happened was an accidental chain of events that could have been prevented or whether the military alliances that had been cemented across Europe made it inevitable at some point. Once events in Europe developed, it was difficult for Britain to stand aside, given that a long-term objective of British foreign policy had been to prevent any one power being militarily dominant in continental Europe.

There was no doubt that the developments were causing shock in Leamington. The Leamington Spa Courier reported: ‘The telegram exhibited on the news board outside the Courier Office, on Tuesday evening announcing that war had been declared by Austria upon Servia [sic], caused considerable interest. A large number of persons read the news, and many of them stayed to discuss the situation, the one topic being the possibility of England being implicated in the struggle.’

On the preceding Saturday in July 1914, headlines in the Coventry Evening Telegraph announced: ‘War Peril. A Grave European Crisis. A Stern Ultimatum.’ The paper reported, ‘A grave European crisis has arisen in consequence of the Austrian Hungarian Note to Servia. The Dual Monarchy blames Servia for the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and on Friday made ten demands. The demands were framed in the most peremptory language. It was stated that neither delay nor compromise would be allowed by the Vienna Government, and by this evening Servia must acknowledge her faults and promise the reform demanded.’

‘Russia, who regards herself as the protector of the Serbs, was naturally very agitated. The latest telegrams showed there was grave danger of an armed conflict. In well-informed quarters in London, a very grave view was taken of the danger. The view was held this morning that the outcome of the crisis depended mainly, if not entirely, upon the attitude of Russia in her role as protectress of the Serbs.’

The Courier appealed to its readers to ‘Close the ranks!’, to keep calm and not to panic. It stated in an editorial: ‘Cool heads are needed just now. The prospect of a European war on a scale which will draw into insignificance the Great War of a hundred years ago [the Napoleonic Wars] drives every other thought into the background. Even Home Rule – the national peril, which a week ago, was foremost in most minds - is occupying a secondary place in the presence of the declaration of war against Servia by Austria and the consequent international complications. To what extent this war will spread is impossible to estimate at the present moment, but as all Europe is armed to the teeth, and troops are being mobilised by the leading Powers, a false move, or even a wrong word, may bring about a cataclysm.’

‘Under such a strain, is the duty of the British nation to give undivided support to which ever Government happens to be in power, regardless of all party considerations.’ Having expressed prescient doubts about the ability of the prime minister, Mr Asquith, to combine that role with being war minister, the Courier concluded: ‘It is the paramount duty of all His Majesty’s subjects to close ranks so as to be in a position to resist the shock of war.’

Thursday, 19 June 2014

New blog

I am now General Editor of the British Politics Blog of the American Political Science Association. Go there for informed analyses of British politics from both sides of the pond: British Politics Blog