The Victorians Who Made Britain: Jacob Rees-Mogg vs Tristram Hunt
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HANNAH KAYE: Good evening, everybody, and thank you all very much for coming. My name's Hannah Kaye and I'm the executive producer as IQS. First of all, we're really delighted to have three such distinguished speakers on our stage this evening, and a special thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg and his office for being so incredibly punctilious during these incredibly tumultuous last weeks and months. You've been absolutely immaculate in getting back to us and helping us make this event happen; and I know he's literally just hot-footed it from an ERG meeting, so once again, thank you for being on time. Now, we've got a lot of Intelligent Squared events coming up in the next few weeks; quite a lot are already sold out, but we still have some tickets left for three of our big debates. There's 'Anti-Zionism Is Anti-Semitism', and that promises to be very lively; then we're putting Mark Zuckerberg on trial, 'Facebook is Damaging Society'; and then rather more perennial than topical. 'Old Testament versus New Testament.'
Sorry, I forgot to say, anyone; if you have actually bought the book with your ticket for tonight's event, you'll be able to pick it up in the foyer; there are signed copies, and there are also signed copies that are not part of the book bundle, which are available to buy. Now, if you come to a lot of intelligent squared events or you'd like an incentive to do so, you might be interested in our membership. That gives you six tickets for the price of five which can be used in any combination, and they guarantee you a seat at all our events. Details of all of this is on our website at intelligencesquared.com.
Now I'm going to hand over to our chair; she is a senior editor at The Economist, she writes a weekly column for The Evening Standard and she's head of the Economist Radio Podcast. So please give a very warm welcome to Anne McAvoy.
ANNE MCELVOY: Hello; good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Very pleased to be here with you and my two stellar guests tonight. So welcome to our event; it's 'The Victorians who made Britain', and it stars two big hitters in the debate about the impact of the years of Victoria ruled between 1837 and 1901, the impact that they have on Britain now and our role in the world. This encounter is a kind of Nadal versus Federer-level historical clash, so expectations are high, are they not?
Our guests have been at one time on opposing sides of the political divide, but that is as nothing compared with the slings and arrows thrown in arguments about who really matters in the Victorian period, Jacob Rees-Mogg is conservative MP for North East Somerset, chair of the European Research Group, and he sits on the Brexit Select Committee. He's often to be found lambasting the Prime Minister and his fellow MPs, over the failure to deliver on the results of the EU referendum in 2016. As a Sunday newspaper informed us this week, he only takes his jacket off in the bedroom; with a picture taken with his six children, so that clearly worked. He has a long interest - that's Mrs Rees Mogg in the front row - he has a very long interest in history - his subject as an undergraduate at Oxford - and has said of 'The Victorians 12 Titans who Forged Britain' that he wants to revive a sense of the greatness, nobility and good sense of that period.
Tristram Hunt is director of the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London, so he's surrounded by some of the finest Victorian artefacts. A former Labour education secretary, he read (INAUDIBLE) history at Cambridge and his books include 'Building Jerusalem, the rise and fall of the Victorian City' and a biography of Engels, 'The Frock-Coated Communist'; oddly or otherwise, Engels didn't make Jacob's top 12, and they can fight that out in just a minute. So Jacob, why did you write the book? What was the original thought behind it, setting out to do what?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Why did I write it? First of all, thank you everybody for coming this evening, which is much appreciated; after the reviews, I wondered if anybody would come, other than immediate members of my family who are filling the front row say. So thank you all for coming.
Well, I've always been interested in Queen Victoria because I share a birthday with her; so Friday is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria - not me, just to be accurate - and my 50th birthday. So I had an interest in Victoria, and I picked up Lytton Strachey' Eminent Victorians two or three years ago, when people were saying to me I ought to write a book, and I read it. And I thought this is just so wrong and unfair; there are all these great people and they're being traduced, so now a hundred years later it's time to set the record straight.
One shouldn't rush into these things; they should be done when the time is right, and I thought the time was right to say, actually, the Victorians were amazing - incredibly self-confident and achieved an enormous amount - and they did it because of individual vim and vigour. And that I thought it was time to talk about that, (INAUDIBLE) 'in a' world that I think manages decline and doesn't bother to have too much vim and vigour; so that was the reason behind it.
TRISTRAM HUNT: First of all, any investigation of the Victorians and the 19th century is to be welcomed. As someone who runs the Victoria and Albert Museum; you're growing the market, so I'm very, very supportive of that. And it's particularly interesting that we meet here on Euston Road because right over the road, if you came out of Houston station, there used to be the Euston Arch, which was this triumphant celebration in Doric classical style of the energy, the brio of the 19th century; celebrating the pathway between London and Birmingham and celebrating that railway station, celebrating the wealth of the Midlands coming down to London. And sadly it was a conservative Prime Minister who decided it should be knocked down; Harold Macmillan didn't see the point of it, and now we all enjoy the great wonders of Euston Station as we know it today.
So I think as much history and discovery of the 19th century is to be welcomed; and I'm also happy, Jacob, to play my small part in what my old friend Tony Blair used to call 'modernisation'. And as you move from the 1700s into the 1800s in terms of your profile, if we can play a small part in that, then that's great.
I'll just made this point to begin with; Jacob talks again about the 'confidence' of the 19th century, and actually those of us who study the Victorian period often find that what grips it above all is a sense of doubt, and the fear of the decline of faith and the loss of faith. The fear about civilisation, the fear about evolution; the role of Darwin, the theology of Thomas Carlyle; you think of the poetry of Matthew Arnold and the 'Sea Of Faith' on Dover Beach. Actually, it was an era gripped by doubt, alongside these great celebrations of kind of confidence,
ANNE MCELVOY: Well, that's a direct challenge to the approach that you've taken; doubt underpinning that great questing sense of vim and vigour that you were celebrating. Is that something you recognise?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, of course not everybody is alike, but if you talk about religious faith - and you look at a couple of people in the book; you look at Gordon of Khartoum and Gladstone - they had the most extraordinary faith. They both thought they had a hotline to God; the problem was that God was telling them directly contrary things, and this led to a bit of confusion. Gordon got the short end of the stick in a way, because he ended up dying. But he was quite happy to; he was rather excited by dying, actually. Extraordinary brave man, who led troops into battle just carrying his swagger stick thinking God would provide. He had the same view of money - he letters to his sister saying 'I've run out of money, but God will send me some' - and he always seemed to get it. I don't know whether this approach would work better for the government when it runs out of money, but Gladstone had exactly the same view. There's wonderful line about him; how people didn't mind him knowing what was going on and being right about everything and having a ace of spades up his sleeve. It just was wished that he didn't claim that 'God had put it there'; and therefore you had these two people with extraordinary faith, but going in different directions.
ANNE MCELVOY: Let's talk about the selection; once you choose 12 names in a book from an era you're bound to be in for trouble, and trouble's pretty much come your way on that one, hasn't it? Because a lot of people feel it that it's selective in a way that they don't approve of; so talk us first through your way of going at this. How did you count them in and out?
JACOB REES-MOGG: It was completely arbitrary; I choose 12 people I thought would be fun to write about, and who are really important in the Victorian period. I wasn't trying to do some politically correct exercise of selecting people who would meet with the approval of Guardian readers - and I apologise to Guardian readers in the audience - that wasn't my objective.
ANNE MCELVOY: When you say it's completely arbitrary - just to give it a bit of flavour - a lot of politicians, not unsurprisingly given your job, you have a lot of administrism; colonial administrators, which has obviously brought up the question of empire. Perhaps not a lot of culture - the standout omission there might be Dickens - but was that because you felt that culture doesn't really count, in the same way of forging Britain, as the characters you chose?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Actually, no; if I'd gone for culture, I’d have gone for Trollope rather than Dickens, who I prefer. Actually, do you know, I might have cheated and had PG Woodhouse, who just creeps in; but I thought that having somebody who did most of his writing in the 20th century would be too much of a cheat. But Trollope is amazing; and of course, they’re so incredibly commercial - writing things that have published week-in, week-out - and they're so wonderful to read, because at the end of each chapter you want to find out what's going on next, as you might do watching a soap opera. With Dallas, do you remember ‘Who shot JR?’; Trollope’s doing much the same thing to keep people going. So I could have included Trollope, who I would have preferred rather than Dickens - who’s a bit boring, I think; sorry about that - but I didn't have him. I thought that actually, the derring-do ones were more exciting to write about.
ANNE MCELVOY: Women; the most emails I had in the run up to this event - to get this one out of the way, get your views this were about the lack of women. Now obviously, you couldn't get around Queen Victoria-
ANNE MCELVOY: She's terrific and she made the cut, but no other women. Now, you can argue that’s arbitrary, but it does seem odd to only possibly have one woman, when you had at your possible disposal, Florence Nightingale, the Brontes; you could look to pioneers of woman's health care, Josephine Butler, Marie Curie; I could go on - and I'm not suggest you should added more - but did you think of having more women?
JACOB REES-MOGG: No, I didn’t, but I thought of some individual women, and I did think of having Florence Nightingale; who I'm afraid I thought was too obvious. Everyone writes about Florence Nightingale, and even Strachey was quite nice about Florence Nightingale; so what new was there to say, other than she's absolutely marvellous? That's three words and I needed about ten thousand a chapter, so it’d be pretty difficult to find the remaining 9,997 words to keep the publisher happy.
But the Victorian era, whether we like it or not, was a very masculine era. There were no women MPs, there were no women politicians; and I expect if you look at the Dictionary of National Biography, you will find that the overwhelming entries are for men, because until the 20th century and particular 21st century, it has been a mainly male-run society. Now, that has changed; so if I were writing a book about eminent Elizabethans, it would be a very different book - you would certainly have Margaret Thatcher in it - and so I think you've got to deal with the time you're dealing with. If I evened the numbers up or anything like that, it would be essentially bogus; it would have been pretending. The Victorian era was other than it was, a very male era.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Well, we're seated in the shadow here of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing of University College Hospital; and I think when we think of the 19th century, there was a phenomenal contribution by great female pioneers. Whether it was female medicine; whether it was the campaign for the vote, Emily Pankhurst in Manchester. In this book, there's a lot about the importance - and we will probably get onto this - of referenda within the British constitution, but there isn't much about the fight for women to vote in those referenda; and so I think the point about the study of the past is also its relevance and feel for the present. So I think there is a valid criticism of the absence of female voices within this work; but what I would also take issue, in a sense, is an absence of a focus on ideas in the history of ideas.
Because the nineteenth century is this great radical (INAUDIBLE) ‘firmance’ of thinking. If we think of contemporary notions of understanding capitalism, of socialism, communism, vegetarianism or feminism; all of this flows out of some of the big thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Well, I would have Compton; I'd have Richard Compton, who was the great liberal thinker. He was the co-author of the 1860 Cobden-Chevalier treaty between Britain and France - which reduced duties between trading countries in Europe, which seemed to me quite a good idea - which then had far-flowing implications; and there's a statue not far from here at Mornington Crescent station. And of course, out of almost filial loyalty, I would have - if not Friedrich Engels, who I wrote about - Karl Marx, whose journey from chalk farm to the British Museum and Bloomsbury would have taken him again just past here. So I’d definitely have Marx, I’d have Compton, I'd have had John Stuart Mill, but the problem always is you’d keep going.
ANNE MCELVOY: You look suddenly taken, flown away by the thought of Annie Besant. Karl Marx, I suppose, obviously a worldview challenged; would that cross your mind, or indeed Engels from Tristam’s list.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, I think Karl Marx has led to more disaster in the 20th century and more deaths than almost anybody else, so I didn't want to have somebody of his ilk in my book. John Stuart Mill is clearly a substantial figure, and Cobden is a very interesting figure; so yes, of course, but I'm not trying to say that these are the only twelve people that you can have. I'm saying that they are twelve important and interesting people; as also - in some cases, though by no means all cases - interest (INAUDIBLE) people who've been slightly overlooked and forgotten about. Particularly in relation to Gordon, somebody whose reputation has been completely trashed; and I thought it was more interesting to write about somebody whose reputation had fallen from extraordinary heights. Statues to Garden were put up all over the Empire after he died; Gladstone got known as the MOG - which wasn't complimentary even in Rees-Mogg terms - it stood for ‘Murderer of Gordon’.
JACOB REES-MOGG: do they not all know about Gordon? I suppose that's what the purpose of the book is! What is Gordon? Gordon is an extraordinary figure who is in the army; he goes out and fights in China for the Chinese emperor. He is my only person who goes out to China not to make money; he refuses to take money for what he does. The only reward he gets is a gold medal, which he eventually gives away to the poor. He's incredibly driven - very much a feeling that he is divinely appointed to do what he does - and then he has this extraordinary reputation. So there's a popular clamour for him to get out Khartoum; which is a completely idiotic place to send him as everybody recognises, because he is a great leader of forces; he is not a man to lead a retreat. So he goes out basically to lead a retreat; but he has a great zeal to crack the slave trade which is going on in the Sudan, and he feels he cannot do this by surrendering Khartoum. So he decides that instead of retreating, he will keep Khartoum.
Khartoum is besieged then for months, until whenever it is January 1885; and he dies in that heroic way that you expect an Englishman to die. That there he is in full uniform as Governor-General at the top of the stairs, the spears come crashing into him; and the relieving force is not quite there, it's almost there. ‘Too late, too late to save him. In vain, in vain, they tried. His life was England's glory, his death was England's pride”.
Everyone was furious and blamed Gladstone for not helping out earlier, including the Queen; and the Queen does the equivalent of going down to Windsor Post Office to send Gladstone a telegram saying, ‘You've let Gordon down; he's been murdered and it's all your fault.’ And of course, everybody on the post office stations along the way reads this out and reads it to their neighbour; so everybody gets to know how cross that the Queen is. Perhaps like Her Majesty telling Michael Gove she was in favour of Brexit, but perhaps that’s not the sort of thing I should mention.
JACOB REES-MOGG: That is Gordon; he's an absolutely heroic figure who believes in things and is willing to die for things, and one of the great things about so many of these Victorians is that Gordon believed that all life was of equal value. So when he's fighting in China, he believes Chinese life is of equal value to English life, and most people in England at the time don't think that. And it's a very remarkable and noble view of the world; it's one of the reasons I like him so much.
ANNE MCELVOY: So to what extent you think this is revisionist about aspects of Empire; because perhaps more hostility to the idea of the British Empire, more contested, is sort of in a way, back in historical news at the moment. A generation taking apart the colonial legacy; is that something you wanted to take on?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Tristam may approve of this, though most of the audience may not; one of the things I say about Napier is actually, his motivation is not entirely dissimilar from Tony Blair’s (INAUDIBLE) - Napier obviously in Sindh and Tony Blair in Iraq - that he believes he is doing good. And he believes that he will be helping people by having a vision of what nowadays is called liberal imperialism, but is the Chicago speech with Tony Blair about how you should be interventionist. Napier feels that you can remove wicked rumours and make people's lives better; actually for Napier it often goes wrong, but his intention is incredibly noble. And again, when he's in Sindh, what does he do? He stops infanticide; he stops widows being burnt; he stops wives being killed by their husbands when they feel like it, which was what was going on in sin before he got there.
But to do so, he removes a set of rulers who obviously don't like it, and for which he gets criticised. He fights wars to do it, in which people obviously get killed; and he sets up a system of landlords that is very unfair, and doesn't in the end work. But actually his intention, his moral drive, is quite extraordinary and very powerful; and you do see this, I think, in modern politics. I think it is-
TRISTRAM HUNT: There's absolutely no doubt that the motivation for many Imperial and colonial actors in the 19th century, was a sense of civilising; that there was a superior civilisation in the West, and a backwards civilisation in large parts of the rest of the world. And the impact of Darwin in the mid-19th century was to racialise this thinking; so you would then have a hierarchy of racial thinking which was put on top of this Imperial system. I think one could one can obviously point to acts of intervention which might be deemed progressive; and I don't think we should sort of think of the Empire simply in good or bad terms - or have a sort of ledger of its history - because it was extraordinarily complicated, and elements of it is still with us now. But what I suppose we don't have in this book is the other side of the storey; that the same kind of missionary zeal - both ideological and in some forms Christian - also produced the extraordinary number of deaths in Bengal and the rest of India in the 1870s. When a localised famine was transformed because of decisions taken by colonial administrators into the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And so when you think about these interventions around (INAUDIBLE) or (INAUDIBLE) - or you know, the rights of women in certain communities - alongside that are acts of extraordinary colonial violence and brutality, which we're still living with the consequences of today.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, the individuals I’m writing about weren't the people doing those things, because I was writing about heroes rather than villains; but I do accept you could write a book of imperial villains, of course you could.
ANNE MCELVOY: Well, here’s AN Wilson - who’s also written on the Victorians - reviewing your book, saying there’s “something morally repellent about a book that can gloss over massacres and pillage on the scale perpetrated by Napier.”
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, that's simply wrong; it's not true. Napier was against the destruction of villages, he was against massacres. On occasions his seniors tried to encourage him to carry out massacres, and he refused; it's simply wrong.
ANNE MCELVOY: We don’t need to get stuck in on the detail of that example, but just to (INAUDIBLE) ‘confuse’ that point; I suppose the question is always the balance, isn’t it? Of how much is the historian obliged to drop a (INAUDIBLE) ‘balance sheet; I’ actually seem to suggest not, that there isn't a sort of balance sheet of (INAUDIBLE) on this period.
TRISTRAM HUNT: So the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of our origins is in something called The East India Company Repository. So when the East India Company was conquering Bengal beginning in the 1780s/1790s, part of the act of colonialism was the act of collecting. So to control was also to collect - to deem what was important and unimportant - and out of that flowed a collection which would eventually come in to the Victoria and Albert Museum, alongside all sorts of purchases and items taken legitimately.
So we have within the institution a long colonial history, which isn't all the story of blood and guts and brutality and violence. It's a complicated storey of a kind of iterative relationship between art and design and craft between the countries; so empire brought that into being, but I do think that in this day and age - particularly as Britain thinks about its identity, its colonial history, its imperial history - that it is important to have an appreciation of those broader histories of the British Empire. Because if you don't have that, then you do end up just with this kind of black and white/good and bad conversation.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Can I just say briefly, sorry; somebody's got to say the good. We got an awful lot of the bad of the Empire and how terrible it was and how we should be ashamed of it, but actually I think we do need to have the good as well. I'm not beginning to pretend that the Empire was perfect; I'm merely saying that we do need - and I agree a lot of what Tristan was said - you need to have the other side of the picture, that the intention of lots of people was good; and with Sleeman and Thuggee, the result was fantastic. So that some of the things we did were hugely beneficial and right, and we carry on having the advantages from them.
ANNE MCELVOY: Why do we particularly need that now? Is this just because it's an argument between historians or those interested about Empire, or is it because there's something you feel in the a political zeitgeist that needs to be addressed through this?
JACOB REES-MOGG: I completely agree with that, I think we beat ourselves up too much. We think, ‘Poor little Blighty, we've got everything wrong, we've been a hopeless country forever’; we haven’t. We've been fantastic, we've done lots of good in the world; and we should remember the good we've done as well as the mistakes that we have made. And we should have now some of the confidence that our forebears had.
ANNE MCELVOY: let's pivot a bit to the present; and particularly looking at the great constitutional theorist Dicey, who you obviously have a great admiration for. ‘This remarkable man’, you say “Ensured that our true understanding of the Constitution is an absolute subject for romanticism, which is of continuing benefit to the nation. The British constitution is a model that works better than those in other nations.” Well, we meet tonight still in the middle of the neverending story of the aftermath of the referendum. We don't know which European institutions we're in or out of, so really - Brexiteer or Remainer - what gives you the confidence that this Constitution is still working?
JACOB REES-MOGG: I may be about the only person in the world - other than the great and distinguished (INAUDIBLE) vandenberg - who thinks that the Constitution is an object of romanticism; but I think we have the most beautiful Constitution, that has been terribly perverted by two things. One is the 1972 European Communities Act, and the other of immediate effect is the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act which has led to us having the first addled Parliament since 1614.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Actually, the first time I voted against the government as a brand new MP, the now-Mayor of London, very, very generously, said to me, was, I sure I was in the right lobby? Which I thought was such a kind thing to do, rather than assuming that it'd be funny to laugh at a Tory who'd made a silly mistake. He kind of kindly checked that I really wanted to be there, and I did, because I think it was against the Parliament Act.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Dicey understands the understands the sovereignty of parliament - and he develops the phrase ‘The rule of law’; that comes from Dicey - and these principles that are very valuable to our understanding of how we are governed. He develops a theory of referendums on the basis that the House of Lords no longer works; something that could be accurately said in the reign of Queen Victoria, and could be accurately said in the reign of Queen Elizabeht the Second. It's an idea of how you make your Constitution function; so that it reflects what people say but it doesn't get changed necessarily too quickly, and that you have an ultimate authority which is Parliament acting on behalf of the people. And you have the rule of Law, which are the conventions that we've historically operated within; and I think that's tremendously important. How we are governed is very important, and Dicey is the first person who set it out with that level of clarity.
ANNE MCELVOY: He's hailed in 1882 promoting the referendum as way "to guard the rights of the nation against the usurpation of national authority by any party which happens to have a Parliamentary majority”. So what is it you're taking away from this constitutional thinker you admire that informs your politics now? About the referendum, about what to do next and what is now going to happen?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, when you've had a referendum, I think you should clearly implement the result. That, I think, is a key point. The referendums are there with an authority; they are not there just for the fun of it to give people something to do on a Thursday in June, and that should be followed through. His view of the referendum and the Lord's was, he'd comes to the conclusion that the Lord's was simply too Tory and therefore would block all liberal legislation; and that therefore you needed something other than a House of Lords that was going to be able to do that, and the referendum could answer problems that the politicians couldn't answer themselves. And actually, I think that was true with leaving the European Union; the politicians couldn't come up with an answer. We've had that referendum; it should now be implemented and Parliament should get on and implement it.
The flaw at the moment is the Fixed-term Parliament Act, which means we have a parliament that is quite incapable of doing anything. I mean, two weeks ago we were raging on the Wild Animals In Circuses bill and that's the last bit of legislation that we've done; how many of them are there? 18 or 19; people say one of them had died, so there are these poor animals that was in the circus and is now a deceased circus animal.
ANNE MCELVOY: Perhaps I'll put it back to Tristram; does Dicey help us much further when you end up in a log jam? When the referendum result is close - as you conceded that it was - the way forward is perhaps not as simple as saying, 'You have a result, now get on with it'. When Parliament really cannot decide what kind of a Brexit it would like to deliver - and when the kind of Brexit that you stand for in the European Reform Group is not shared, even by other so-called soft Brexiteers - the picture you must concede is not as clear as you might have suggested, by bringing dicey in as your helmsman here.
JACOB REES-MOGG: I think Dicey would have recognised, in these circumstances we would have had to have had another general election; and have a parliament that can deliver one way or another. And that's the problem; the logjam is that this Parliament carries on, even though the government does not command a majority in parliament for its routine business.
JACOB REES-MOGG: No; as I'm looking at the opinion polls, the last thing I want is a general election. But constitutionally it would be a way of getting out of the situation, which is what I'm sure Dicey would be proposing if he were here.
TRISTRAM HUNT: This is one of the intriguing contradictions of the book; many of the chapters are celebrations of Parliament - and representative democracy and the great battles between Gladstone and Disraeli, Peel, Palmerston - and yet, where Jacob wants to sort of get in a sense is taking that power from Parliament to the people through a referendua, which Margaret Thatcher - and this might be one of your few areas of disagreement with her - always thought were the tools of continental despots and authoritarians. Whereas in here with Dicey, there's a celebration of it.
I think one of the areas of tension - and if I was cleverer than I am, I would have brought it up when I was still a member of parliament - is that in the late 19th century and early 20th century - partly because of the Conversations around Home Rule and elsewhere - there was a much richer understanding of the United Kingdom as a combination of multiple kingdoms. And if you were going to have a seismic change which came through a referendum, you would seek to have a majority in each of the Constituent nations of the United Kingdom; and that was absolutely embedded in the thinking in the 1900s and 1910s. When we had the referenda-
TRISTRAM HUNT: But you had to win it because it was an acknowledgement of a United Kingdom of multiple kingdoms; but clearly by the 1970s and also today, it was a kind of uniform vote across the country.
JACOB REES-MOGG: But part of the reason for that is the change in the balance of population over the 100-year period; and if you go back 100 years before, the Irish population is about half the population of England. Now the Irish population is whatever it is, four million and the population of England is 50 million; and so you've got a - sorry, I ought to say the whole of Ireland, the six million when you include Northern Ireland - but it is such small level compared to England; and that's one of the things that has had constitutional consequences is the dominance of England in democratic terms, because of the population moves. But of course, a lot of people who live in England are from other parts of the United Kingdom.
TRISTRAM HUNT: But I think it was almost philosophical; I accept that, but I think it was in a sense more than that. I think it was a richer sense of the kingdoms, and the other point I'll make - and it connects to it; because when you stand in central lobby in Parliament, you see the patron saints of England, Scotland, Wales… - uh, Ireland - all together beneath you. And the celebration of the British constitution which Jacob celebrates in this book is a very 19th century idea; that what came out of the mid 19th century through the works of Macaulay & Trevelyan and elsewhere was this Whiggish storey of British exceptionalism, as a result of our constitutional settlement going back to 1688 and the Glorious Revolution.
You see this in another chapter in the book, which is the one on (INAUDIBLE) around Parliament; and so the rebuilding of Parliament in the 1840s and 1850s is this incredible process of back-slapping - about the British constitution and the wonder of the British constitution - which is then embedded in the fabric of Parliament. So I think in that sense, you are very Victorian, bringing this together.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Thank you; well, I always enjoy the European Committee debates - which usually take place in Committee Room 10,- where there is a huge picture of King Alfred fending off the Danes. I think metaphorically, that tells us what we should be doing - not that I've got anything against the Danes - but Tristam is absolutely right: the whole of the house of parliament is a celebration of our Constitution. All the decorative work, pictures, all of it is a bold assertion that we have a fantastic Constitution; if only we hadn't meddled with it.
ANNE MCELVOY: If only we hadn't meddled with it. Let's look and see how your views about what happens next are informed by the past, and by your interpretation of the past. The Guardian reviewer said that this - your book - was 'Biography as manifesto'; 'The real purpose,' Kathryn Hughes said, 'of The Victorians is to reflect Rees-Mogg back to himself at twice his natural size.; ouch. It's a bit rude, but it's also really saying that this is part of a manifesto; to big yourself up or to make your cause seem more right than others.
JACOB REES-MOGG: I don't think it's particularly rude by the sounds of Guardian - if that's the rudest they can get, that's pathetic, try harder - but everyone writes books to insist that they're right. You don't write a book to say "I've got everything hopelessly wrong", do you? That would be a very odd way of writing a book; I'm puzzled by this as a mode of criticism. But yes, of course the book and the characters fit in with my view of the world; otherwise it would've been somebody else's book written by somebody else, with other characters. I don't think that's particularly a statement of anything other than the obvious.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Yes, but I mean, it's… I think in the latter half of the 20th century, Kennedy's Profiles In Courage - which was, you know, a sort of more contemporary version of heroism - it is a well-trodden pathway, about reflecting the past through the presence and bringing out the themes you wish. Which is why, for example, one of the emissions from my perspective - although I'm an independent civil servant, now - from my perspective would be the early Joseph Chamberlain,and the tradition of municipal socialism in Victorian Britain. Because one of the great achievements of the latter half of the 19th century was taking a country which was completely traumatised in a sense through the effects of industrialization; we shouldn't- and again an omission here is the sort of absence of the understanding of the poverty, which then emerged through the Industrial Revolution. Life expectancy at birth in Glasgow and Liverpool in the 1830s is the lowest since the Black Death; it is a reversion of a hundred and fifty years of progress, because just of the enormity of the impact of industrialization. And then during the second half of the nineteenth century - really through the municipal socialist tradition, the Civic gospel - London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, these cities become great places because of the intervention of political leaders. And in this book we hear a lot about one of the merits of the British constitution is the private property system. Well, actually, what civic leaders did was to take on private property and say actually, there's a broader public good about water quality; about ownership of utilities, gas and water; about public housing, about public education; about public health-
JACOB REES-MOGG: I'll answer that in a number of ways. First of all, Joseph Chamberlain was something I somebody I thought seriously about putting in; and he and Lord Salisbury were both people who could easily be in a book of this kind. Secondly, in the chapters on both Disraeli and on Palmerston; Palmerston very interestingly, in his period of Home Secretary - much forgotten, because everyone thinks of him as Dom Pacifico affair and Foreign Secretary and all of that - but actually as Home Secretary, he was mobbed up as being The Minister for sewage, because he was doing exactly this.
One of the great contributions of Disraeli is public health; Disraeli's Public Health Act is the basis for public health in the United Kingdom until the 1930s, and that is in there. I didn't go into the municipal drains - I went to the national drains, so to speak - and I think they are; but I think it is very important, and some of the most important work of Disraeli is in ensuring - and he puts it 'the condition of the people' - that the condition of the people get better. And the condition of the people gets better because they have clean water, and Palmerston was involved in that too.
ANNE MCELVOY: We're going to talk about Brexit and Victorians, but that's one of those Radio One links. I really can't resist the line on Disraeli, which I think comes quite early in your book; you talk about his "Successful 28-year campaign to make the Conservatives electable again." Is that what it's going to take?
JACOB REES-MOGG: It's very interesting, that; that the major split in the party can lead to a very long time before you get back into office. The Labour Party after 1979 took 18 years; it took Disraeli and the Conservatives 28 years to get back to a majority government after the split over the Corn Laws. They had brief periods of minority government, but no majority government for 28 years.
ANNE MCELVOY: And does not worry you, then? When you think this is justifiable - when you look at that history and that split after the Corn Laws - that you could be looking at that now, in a Party that you hold very dear and to which you've devoted your political life?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Yes, of course it does. I think the position for the Conservative Party at the moment is extraordinarily risky; that we have ignored our voters, and we haven't recognised that things have changed. That the collapse in the Conservatives poll rating comes after we don't leave on the 29th of March, after the prime minister's said over 100 times that we will leave on the 29th of March; and then we have the local elections where we lose far more seats than anyone had expected, and we lose them with huge swings. We go from holding seats with two-thirds of the vote, having them lost by two-thirds of the bait against us; and the immediate reaction of the government is to do a stitch up with the Labour Party.
It's politics as normal. 'Let's ignore what the voters have said; We'll just stitch things up in a back room and we'll sort it all out', and today is the same. What the Prime Minister's come out with today is, 'Let's put a sticky plaster on, pretend it's all fine'-
ANNE MCELVOY: Very quickly pause to say this is today that Theresa May has given a statement in Downing Street - she says she's going to bring forward the withdrawal agreement for the fourth time -and the salient difference, as I understand it - you might tell me if anything else stands out to you - is that she would be prepared to-
ANNE MCELVOY: A confirmatory vote or referendum, if you agree that's what it is, if the deal gets through. Does that, to you, materially change anything? You've talked about this feeling that there's a disruption here that is not being healed; why is this not an offer?
JACOB REES-MOGG: I think it plays in completely to the hands of the Brexit party; they're saying, 'People voted Leave, let's leave', and the Prime Minister's saying, 'Let's fiddle around again and have a customs union; let's have the single market de-facto; oh, and let's have another referendum to see if people have changed their minds.' Completely hopeless; it's not delivering, its un- delivering. It's worse than the propsoal she had before.
ANNE MCELVOY: But you said earlier that you did think that Dicey added something with his theory that referendums were there for a purpose in the Constitution. Why would you not think that this was possibly another way to apply that?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Dicey doesn't cover every outomce. Dicey advocates the referendum, but bear in mind there is no referendum in his lifetime. He does not have (INAUDIBLE) authoratively simply on the circumstances where you might have a second or confirmatory referendum, when you've already had the first; I don't imagine he thought that such a thing would arise.
ANNE MCELVOY: I should probably go even-handedly over to Tristan on this, save you your blushes politically; it this a period that you see parallels in the 19th century? What would you advice be - and this is purely as a historian, obviously; not as a former Labour figure - for getting out of the mess?
TRISTRAM HUNT: I think - I mean, to go back to the point about the referenda and the Constitution - the nature of the British constitution is that it is unwritten. So the notion that Dicey didn't say X in the late 19th century means you can't think about it now, doesn't necessarily seem to follow for me.
I think we do see a quagmire in Parliament, and I think, Jacob, you're absolutely right - on the one hand, the pathway through that in the old days would have been a general election - and another way is what some are suggesting is a referendum. I think what we're also seeing - and you might like this as well - although she was far more… You know, Queen Victoria would have cut through this. Those telegrams to Gladstone were just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of… She would have had a sort of pretty firm hand on the tiller in the mid-19th century with this. I'm not suggesting the current sovereign should necessarily cut through it - and it was also interesting to note that the comment about Michael Gove - we just had this revelation from a retiring German diplomat that the Queen in 1992, at a lunch with the German diplomats, was reflecting that Britain's future might Lie in Europe. She has the heritage, so could understand.
ANNE MCELVOY: You don't see a role for the present sovereign in resolving the crisis? Some people have spoken about the idea of proroguing Parliament and basically upping it a notch; handing it over to Queen Victoria's descendent.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Proroguing Parliament would be a routine exercise of governmental power; it doesn't involve the Queen any more than appointing Penny Mordaunt to replace Gavin Williamson involved the Queen. It is done in the Queen's name-
JACOB REES-MOGG: I thought you'd say that, and this gets confused when people say it would involve the Queen; everything the government does involves the Queen. It is simply done on the advice of the Prime Minister; so do I think the Queen should be saying to Mrs. May in the Weekly Audience, 'I'd do it differently if I were you'-
I think the queen is entitled to encourage and to warn and to be consulted. But it's one of the interesting things about Queen Victoria, one of the successes of Queen Victoria - and again I'm creating (INAUDIBLE) on this, but I think he's absolutely right - is that our constitutional monarchy is pretty much unchanged from Victoria. Admittedley Victoria wrote letters with more underlinings to her prime ministers than the Queen probably does, and the Prime Minister's were more regularly in attendance on the Queen; but actually, the basic operation of the Constitution would be pretty recognisable to Victoria. She might have fewer arguments over the appointment of Bishops now than she did with Gladstone.
ANNE MCELVOY: But where do you go yourself - thinking of what follows - you suggested or seemed to suggest that you might throw your support behind Theresa May's deal; or was (INAUDIBLE) interpretation, where you now suggest you wouldn't support the deal? Just clear that up for us.
JACOB REES-MOGG: I was willing to support Mrs. May's deal, when the alternative was a worse deal being brought forward and not leaving on the 29th of March. We have now not left on the 29th March and we've had a worse deal brought forward, so there seems obviously no reason to support the deal this time round.
ANNE MCELVOY: That could be, as we don't really know - the swirl events we're in - gets picked up in the future, and ends up in the 100 years. Hence about this by another ambitious Conservative - maybe possibly one of the Rees-Mogg children reason and beyond-
ANNE MCELVOY: Certainly, there's a (INAUDIBLE) factory there; but do you worry that that might have been a telling moment? That the moment at which Brexiteers, in effect, split about whether they would take a demi-Brexit - a modulated, a soft Brexit, a scrambled Brexit; call it what you will - and the ERG, in which you are the leading figure, decided to go the hard way. That that might end up being one of those telling moments which could have unleashed - whatever it unleashes on the country generally, through the Brexit - a very, very difficult period for your party?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, we could have gone a different way at meaningful Vote Three - we could have voted it through, we could have got a new leader around that point - and we could then have done something different with that new leader. That didn't happen; the ERG has always been United in its objective, which is leaving the European Union cleanly and clearly, and not being a vassal stage.
ANNE MCELVOY: All round to the Rees-Moggs afterwards. I really think we should come out of the weeds - very nearly time that we go to the audience for questions - but I was really trying somewhat unsuccessfully to say: are we sure what will have been the decisive moments here? What do we think that we look back on - particularly with that prism of a longer period that we've got tonight - at where we think it sort of goes? Tristam.
TRISTRAM HUNT: This is a book strongly focused on individuals and individual choices made in politics, and there's no doubt that the choice made by David Cameron to decide - because of fear, our reading was, of UKIP and concern about the Conservative Party - to go for a referendum, then put in place a structure which then allowed what we've seen right across Europe and America; forces of some levels populism, some levels of anti-establishment feeling, some levels of anti politics. Whereas in Europe and America, that has flowed through traditional political systems, and governments have risen and fallen; in the UK, it's being put into a structure of a referendum, which in theory then could have long-term consequences for the UK. So when we think about what was the moment of crisis, was it- You would point to a reaction or an overreaction - or actually, when you look at the actions of some of Jacobs's colleagues, Daniel Hannan and others - David Cameron, falling into a very successfully In brilliantly well-prepared trap; which then led to the decision take a referendum.
ANNE MCELVOY: What a loss to scholarship that would be. How long do you reckon Theresa May will remain as Prime Minister, Jacob; and just quickly on that, who is your Titan of choice and why to take Britain forward?
JACOB REES-MOGG: My success rate at predicting the departure of the Prime Minister is not enormous high, so I may be a little bit cautious on that; though I would note that a number of people who thought that last December - when I was encouraging people to vote against (INAUDIBLE) a vote of no confidence, that that was not a good idea - are now same to me, 'If only, if only'. So I don't see that the Prime Minister can carry on if she loses the next vote on the withdrawal agreement bill; I think if that goes, she really can't carry on that. The Commons will have shown it's got no confidence in her.
Who is my favourite choice? Boris; I think that, from a conservative point of view - and indeed from the country's point of view - we need a really big figure. There are lots of excellent candidates within the Conservative Party, who could be good Prime Ministers in ordinary times. This is not ordinary times - I think politics has really changed, and the referendum changed things - and the failure to deliver the referendum has changed the basis of trade, between the electorate and politicians. The feeling that Parliament has set its face against the people; and we need somebody who can bring that back together, can deliver the referendum result, can reunite the right of British politics and can make sure that we have some confidence in ourselves.
JACOB REES-MOGG: No; I thought that was a good idea a few months ago, and I think that would be absolutely disastrous. I think it would lose Boris the election if he tried that, because it seems to me that people are fed up with the business as usual political stitch-ups.
ANNE MCELVOY: So the Amber Rudd/Boris Johnson. I think the Bamber really doesn't work now; I think it would be entirely counterproductive. You may remember - you're bound to know - that in 1997, John Redwood tried teaming up with Kenneth Clarke and it was an absolute disaster, because everybody knew they didn't agree with anything - on the price of eggs, let alone on how the country should be governed - and I don't think Bamber would work, not least because Amber Rudd seems to set up a group which is the 'Anybody But Boris' group. I think the chance of that becoming this great unifying effort is slip.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Well, I was just reflecting; Amber Rudd has just set up the One Nation Conservative group, which… It's amazing in a sense how what familiar tropes the political parties look to. If you're, inspired by Disraeli's vision of the 1840s still, on the one hand, that could be a good account through of the power of these ideas of conservatism. But looking this, my fear is that we will go from reading Jacob's book on the Victorians back to reading Boris's book on Churchill, and trying to sort of find our way through. I suppose the unity-
ANNE MCELVOY: on that optimistic note, I think it's time we went to the audience; I hope you've heard lots to stimulate, delight and occasionaly infuriate you, and we'd love to have some questions. In little groups, and be hand-wavy for long-sighted people on the panel like me; the gentleman there with a nice clear, black and white t-shirt. I think there are microphones; tell us who you are if you're not too shy to do that. Questions, please.
AUDIENCE: Hello; thank you very much. My name is Isaac and I'm 17, and my question is directed mainly at Mr Rees-Mogg; is your fight for Brexit really a desire for a return to the injustice of the Dickensian or Victorian Britain - a world of poverty, exploitation and oppression - and is this a reflection of your desire to drag Britain back to a society of colonial attitudes?
ANNE MCELVOY: You came with the Rees-Mogg support team tonight, didn't you? Spotted you early. Someone over this side of the room; yes, gentleman in the… So the microphones, I think, don't come to you.
AUDIENCE: Hi there; this is for Mr Rees-Mogg as well. I'm Sanjay; I am 26, and I've been following you very avidly for the past year, Mr Rees-Mogg. I appreciate everything you're doing with Brexit; it's a divisive issue, but I really appreciate a true patriot such as yourself, when it seems unpopular, standing up for the British people. So thanks very much for that.
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering, obviously we have the young generation in the modern day and we have social media, et cetera. What kind of Victorian values do you think are really applicable, or would really help modern-day society? Because we have these high crime rates, we have a lot of what seems like, I would say, just a society which seems very much in disarray. Social media-
ANNE MCELVOY: We might also put that one across to Tristam as well. I think the idea is that you queue up with the microphones to ask questions; is it alright if people do that while just we get a couple of people at microphones now? It would just speed up our questions; so if you're very keen, one of these two gentlemen engage with that. You could just come and stand at one of the microphones which even I am bright enough to see it all right in front of us, and not one two three. Let's have quick answers on that and just speed up these questions; look at this, it's all happening.
JACOB REES-MOGG: First of all, thank you so much for your kind words at the beginning. I don't think we should be too pessimistic about society now; the Victorians had high crime as well, and of course Peel just before the Victorian era introduces the Metropolitan Police, and this is rolled out across the country in the early reign of Victoria. The effort to deal with crime is always there; what do the Victorians epitomise, though? It is the self belief; it's the hard work, the real work ethic. It's stunning! How hard people like Prince Albert and (INAUDIBLE) work, their drive - there's no chillaxing from any of them; they're very, very driven - and those are things I think-
TRISTRAM HUNT: There was a very brilliant debate in the early 1980s - when Mrs. Thatcher was calling for more Victorian values - and there was a brilliant historian called Raphael Samuel, who was a great scholar of the 19th century. He reflected on who most embodied the Victorian values of industry, of community, of family; of hard work of patriotism, fighting for their country; and he concluded actually, it was the striking miners communities of County Durham which the Thatcher government were taking an axe to. So when we think about Victorian values and who embodies them, it's often more complicated than we think.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much; the question, I suppose, for both the panel - and bringing us back in time rather than looking forward, although obviously the eponymous era - I'm interested by the inclusion in 'Titans who Forged Britain', your inclusion of Queen Victoria herself - I suppose Titanic in girth, but little else in some cases - do you think that she provided an active or progressive or a creative force herself to actually forge Britain, any more than Queen Elizabeth could have done in our own times?
AUDIENCE: I appear to also be the only woman in the queue for the microphone. My question's a bit more light, and to both of the panellists. You obviously both have a great passion for the Victorian era; is there a specific anecdote or memory where you remember this passion was sparked? I guess we'd all love to hear that.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Thank you. I read Asa Briggs's Victorian Cities, which is one of the most brilliant accounts of what I spoke about earlier; the transformation of the great cities of the Midlands in the north, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And when you read that Birmingham modelled itself on Venice, Manchester modelled itself on Florence - and that enormous sense of civic pride, which then flowed through to the architecture and ambition of the cities - that's what sort of sparked my thinking. I would say, Victoria; there's a Kind of wonder and an enormity in Victoria, and the great thing of this anniversary, this bicentenary - the 200th birth of both Victoria and Albert; they were was the same age, one doesn't always think that - is that the great Elizabeth Longford's biography of Queen Victoria is being reissued this summer. She was a kind of tortured soul, she was an anxious soul, she was a passionate soul. she was a wife, she was a mother; she's just so exhausted by having all these children, she was infuriated; and then she also had this very strong belief in Britain's role in the world and the Empire. The reason why she loved Dizzy so much, because she loved being Empress; Empress of India. So I think Victoria was important to the Victorian age; and not every monarch - not every Hanoverian - was important to the Georgian age.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Thank you. I'll answer the anecdote one first; because actually sharing a birthday with Queen Victoria meant I always was interested in her - and had I been a girl, I would have been called Victoria; I wasn't - but my father gave me, which he got at Bonhams, a little file of the oil used at Queen Victoria's coronation when I was a schoolboy.
JACOB REES-MOGG: I also have a piece of the true cross, but never mind. I was frightfully excited by this; I was still a schoolboy at the time, I went back to school and people said 'What did you get for Christmas?' 'I got given the homily anointing oil from Queen Victoria's coronation'; and all my friends who'd been given high- fis and things like that thought that frightfully boring, but I though it was a most exciting thing. It's one of the things I would certainly get out of the house after the children and wife in the event of fire - and nanny, of course - but to come to the issue of Queen Victoria and her age, I think she is tremendously important. I think, she's important because she does understand popular feeling, and she has a good way of pushing that to some prime ministers who don't; and she is good in the role as mother of the Empire. She genuinely thinks that all her subjects are equal and she has no racial prejudice, and that's not true of many Victorians; in that sense, she's a very good person and a remarkably modern person. I mean, she thinks they're all subject to her - and that she's, absolutely you know, the top banana - but she does have a fundamental view of the equality of all her subjects, which I think is important in how the Empire evolves and how we look back on it.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Tony Greenway; compared with the rest of the questioners, I'm certainly the more elderly of the whole lot - you don't really need to know my age - but I am fascinated by Mr. Rees-Mogg's file of Queen Victoria's and what you would plan to do within future. But a question; I can see how some people might perceive you as a backward-looking politician, and the wisdom of hindsight can prove to be very helpful; however, one of the lessons of history is that we do not learn the lessons of history. Now the Victorian era gave rise to great investments and rapid expansion in areas such as public education, infrastructure like sewers and science and technology; driven by Christian and other altruistic principles-
AUDIENCE: - and proved valuable. But since 2010, you and your party have pursued an entirely fruitless policy of austerity; which have undeniably cut funds to education, NHS and other infrastructure - and Brexit will certainly deny large quantities of funds to science and technology - so what are your firm plans to take and follow the Victorian example of higher investment in those areas, considering we are such a wealthy economy?
ANNE MCELVOY: Thank you; I think that's what you call a soft intro with a stinging punch at the end of it. I am afraid we'll take a couple of more questions; I think it's fair to get a lot in. Another gentleman at the back.
AUDIENCE: First of all, thank you, all three of you very much, for a fascinating evening. If the Brexit debate has done anything, it has exposed a gulf in perceptions of British identity. Tristram referred to what one might call a much more sophisticated view of the diversity of British identity among Victorian politicians, when they were analysing where the nation might go. What parallels do you both see between how identity was dealt with in the 19th century and now, especially by politicians?
ANNE MCELVOY: Well, they're two chunky questions. First, the gentleman who started soft on the 19th century then came with a big kapow on austerity; what you felt was the right thing to do now - as he would see it, I think - to redress the damaging impact?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, we've learned from the Victorians, they did not consistently run a budget deficit. They made the budget balanced; it's one of the great contributions of Gladstone, actually, who was a very successful Chancellor of the Exchequer. Must better Chancellor than he was Prime Minister, where most what he wanted to do didn't actually happen; but in terms of government expenditure, expenditure on the Health Service was ringfenced - it has gone up in real terms every year since 2010 - but cuts had to be made; we were spending 150 billion pounds a year more than we were taking in tax revenues. So what else were we going to do, bankrupt the country? Well, that wouldn't have been a very Victorian lesson to learn, nor would have been sensible in the 21st century; so you have to cut your coat according to your cloth. In science, investment and so on; we are a net contributor to the EU budget. We can carry on with all the expenditures of that kind that we have once we've left, without any change in this funding that is provided to universities, science, et cetera. I would also caveat confusing public expenditure and investment; some public expenditure may be investment, but all public expenditure is not investment. So that is to answer that.
Sense of national identity, that's a really interesting and difficult question. It's fascinating how almost all the Victorian heroes in the book refer to England, and hardly ever remember to say the United Kingdom or Great Britain or any other variant. Even when they're in Scotland, they say they're in England - Disraeli and Palmerston were particularly bad at this - and so I think they view English and UK-ish as very much the same, whereas I think we are now more precise about it, at least… Tristam was saying constitutionally differently; but I think the modern English, very few of them really fuss too much about whether they're English, and use English synonymously as they did in the 19th century with Great British. But there are a few English nationalists slightly on the fringe.
ANNE MCELVOY: Just a quick point on expenditure and austerity; you've actually written the introduction to a new policy exchange pamphlet that calls for an increase in spending on social care, am I right?
JACOB REES-MOGG: No, it's all about how you spend the money that you've got; and it seems to me that it is a greater unfairness that if you have certain long-term conditions, they're deemed to be health, and if you have certain other long-term conditions, they are deemed to be social care - one of them, the state pays everything and the other state pays nothing - and that this wipes out people's savings, and leaves them entirely dependent, ultimately, on the state. And that if you can provide the choice that people are currently getting, but with the backup of the state with a modern-
JACOB REES-MOGG: Yeah, you do; you need about 11 billion pounds a year. There's some modest savings from freeing up hospital beds that are currently used from social care, but with all these decisions-
JACOB REES-MOGG: Yes, I know; it's one of those things that we all try, with a shameness about it. All politicians do it; any Labour politician says 'We should have this spending'. Immediately, you add it all up and say they're gonna spend an extra 100 billion; this is one thought in one particular area.
TRISTRAM HUNT: I'm interested to hear what Jacob says, and I shall read it; because I think one of the great failures of British politics - and I was part of this when I was a Member of Parliament - was an inability to sort out social care spending. And there was almost a political deal done, and it fell to electoral politics and campaigns about death, taxes and all the rest of it; it was the worst elements of a public policy solution we all know everyone needs to get to.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Austerity, austerity. I work in the public sector; the V&A as a museum, has £700,000 less per year from the state because of reductions in public funding. I think what's interesting is that the skewer on which the Victorian identity might lie is that, would the Victorians had done High-Speed Two - big bold transformational, project; for which I fear Boris Johnson, will pull the plug on were he to become Prime Minister - and on identity, I think what's so interesting about the 19th century is a much stronger sense of regional and civic identity alongside national. But also religious identity - nonconformist, Catholic, Anglican - so important to a sense of identity in those periods.
ANNE MCELVOY: I think we should get some questions in; gentlemen on microphone one. By the way, if there any woman here - and you don't have to be Queen Victoria to take part - please feel free to go to a microphone, we're all very (INAUDIBLE) about gender here, but please let's have some women if you feel like it. Sorry, sir.
AUDIENCE: Indeed, apologies for being just another man; point well made. There seems to be some confusion here, because both of you have said that we shouldn't judge people in the past by the standards of the present; and yet history is to ask important questions, and the important question that this book claims to ask is 'Who are the Victorians that we now in the present should be glorifying, should be proud of today?' And so when you include Empire in that, you are actually saying - because of the question that you've set out - this is something we should be proud of today. My question is this: in a world in which there are - as England was back then - rising powers powered by great technologies and an increasing ability to mess with their neighbours; how can we establish a principle that says, 'No, borders should stay where they are; if you're rich and powerful good for you, but don't invade your next-door neighbour'? How can we establish that principle if we continue to glorify, in the times when - although there were great things going on, in terms of science and so on - what we did with that was to invade other countries?
AUDIENCE: So my name is James Webb; I'm not ashamed to say I'm a member of the Conservative Party and a big fan of Jacobs, whether it's economically, socially and even his handling of Ali G back in the day, which is well worth a watch. One of the Victorians you mentioned was Prince Albert, who seems to have been very influential - be it with the support of Queen Victoria - through the abolishment of slavery, helped there. I was wondering, could you give us a quick overview of why you included him, and also how much of a loss to Britain was it that he died at the tender age of 42? That can go to either of our esteemed speakers.
TRISTRAM HUNT: Albert was a phenomenal figure; and what's interesting about Albert is that he was incredibly impatient with the traditional English landed aristocratic classes. He thought they were stupid and backward and anti-intellectual; and again, where it goes slightly off- kilter here is the notion of the 1851 Great Exhibition, as a celebration of Victorian achievement and bombast. Actually, it was Albert saying to Britain 'Wake up; see what America is doing, see what Germany's doing, see what France is doing.'
He always had this very strong sense that Britain needed to catch up in technology, industry, elsewhere. So Albert was a phenomenal figure; and the institution that I serve was created by Albert as what he called a "central storehouse" of art and science, to encourage new designers and artists and innovators. So his early death was a great loss.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Albert is amazing, and absolutely deserved his chapter. The Great Exhibition is such a phenomenal success, entirely driven by him; everybody tells him it would fail. One of my favourite anecdotes was that The Times was so aggressive about how it was going to fail, that when the Millennium Dame was being done, the Telegraph reminded The Times of how wrong it had been in 1850; charming that the newspaper rivalry should last in this way.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Perhaps; repeating the past doesn't always work. Anyway, leaving the Dome to one side; he was very driven, he was stunningly hardworking. He had very acute political judgement; in his practically dying effort, he is lying in bed writing in pencil, memos to Palmerston - who he loathed - trying to stop the British doing the wrong thing in relation to the American Civil War. Potentially his redrafting of a telegram stops us being on the wrong side of the American Civil War; and then he's dead.
I mean, he is so important, but he didn't want the monarchy to evolve as the constitutional monarchy to which it did evolve. He wanted to have power, and it may be that his energy and his drive - had he lived as long as Queen Victoria - could have sent us in the wrong direction constitutionally. So, although he is very, very powerful, I'm not sure we would have the monarchy that we have got if it had been left to Albert. It's Victoria - who is obviously a widow for 40 years - who ends up leading it in that direction; with, of course, the crucial help of Disraeli.
as to the question of 'what is history about', it's such an interesting point. Of course we shouldn't look back and say, 'Look, Napier went into Sindh, and therefore wouldn't it be a jolly good idea if China went into North Korea and perhaps on through South Korea'; that is not a lesson we should learn from history as people get more powerful. I think it is difficult and people lived by different standards; but as a general rule, I think the nation-state has stood the time and test of history, and therefore is the best building block for international order. And that borders should be respected, and that the failure to respect them was one of the aberrations of earlier history, rather than something to be modelled on; though there is one great lesson we should learn from 19th century history, and that is never invade Afghanistan. It never goes well.
ANNE MCELVOY: Very last round; I think we're getting a bit tight for time, so short questions. A lady at number two, now I've completely upended all my plans; lady at number two, and then one gentleman from here, if you would be happy with that.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Evelyn, and it's a question coming… I'm a historian of 19th century gender and (INAUDIBLE) 'motion'. It's a question about the way that masculinity is being portrayed through looking at 'The Victorians Who Made Britain'; you see confidence and moral rectitude in this dedication to their cause, whereas I see kind of a level of arrogance that is often stated in a deep-seated anxiety, genuinely quite worried men and women about how society is changing. What your book is glorifying from what I hear is quite a toxic masculinity that doesn't address those very different emotions the victorians felt. They weren't necessarily as confident as you could portray them, and I'm wondering whether you see there is an issue with that. Whether you see an issue with portraying them as confident when they weren't that confident.
AUDIENCE: I'll try to keep it brief. My question is, looking at the 19th century, I have always understood it and studied it from the aspect of the real development of modern markets - whether it be the bond exchange, how Lloyd's of London really came about - the collection of capitalism brought together - not always in terms of regulation, but brought together - and that that allowed it to exploit its strengths, and was a big part of the British economic engine as well. So I was wondering if you two could discuss briefly your views on the development of markets within the 19th century, and how that fits into the Victorian era.
TRISTRAM HUNT: That's why I think Jacob was wrong to dismiss studying Marx; because who is the greatest chronicler, the most perceptive critic, the most beautiful writer on capitalism and the nature of capitalism in all its different forms in the mid 19th century? It's Marx: you cannot read either The Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital without understanding the dynamic of capitalism, and his appreciation of its multiple forms. So even if you disagree with the policy outcome of Marx, I think in the 19th century he's the most gifted chronicler of it. And I agree, it is a period of growing complexity, but also power; and that's where it gets to the question of imperialism as well, because you've got global financial markets intimately connected through systems of colonialism. I think on the gender point, I think it's a very, very powerful and well-made point; what's one of the most important moments in the latter half of the 19th century is the Married Women's Property Act which actually allows the possesions of property for women. To sort of end where I began, that's why I think having a figure like Garrett Anderson - having those broader voices within the books - gives a richer account of the 19th century.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Thank you; I'll answer questions in reverse order. One of the things I'm so interested about Robert Peel - and indeed, his protege Gladstone - is that they're the ones who set up the capitalist system that the Uk follows. That Peel's repeal, but also his Banking Act, give the foundations for effective capitalism; that you've got sound money and you've got free trade, and that is a phenomenal basis for success economically in Victorian England. So those two figures, I think, are very important in that.
In terms of the masculinity of the Victorians and inner uncertainty, that's certainly true. It's very interesting; Napier is often writing in his diary about his concern about what he's doing, so I do accept the point the people who can appear outwardly confident, may be inwardly more troubled than their public act show. But I think confidence in the public sphere is very beneficial; so am I an advocate of the stiff-upper-lip? Yes, I probably am, and I think that this is expressed in the heroes of the book.
ANNE MCELVOY: Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, we're just about to say our goodbyes, but I recognise one glaring omission - which is entirely down to the ignorance of your chair - and that is cricket. At least a hundred have already (INAUDIBLE) 'she didn't ask about the cricket', which is (INAUDIBLE), what he is doing in there doing in there So in a haiku form from both of you, if you are so minded - Tristram first, we'll finish on Jacob - what is the importance of cricket in the Victorian era?
TRISTRAM HUNT: The importance of cricket in the Victorian era for me, goes actually back to those points about masculinity and identity; because the period I'm always interested in is the Great Cricket Tours which Grace is part of, that go out to Australia in the latter half of the nineteenth century. They are test matches, and what they're partly testing is the relationship between the mother country and the colonies; it is an essay in the masculinity and the strength of these different nations between each other, and the ability to kind of break free through cricket, of some of those ties.
JACOB REES-MOGG: Grace is in actually because my oldest son said I ought to have W.G. Grace in; so that was my first reason, and then the more I looked at him, the more absolutely remarkable he is. He is in a different league from all other cricketers of his time; when he scores his first 50 centuries, the next 50 centuries are scored by 13 separate batsmen. So it takes 13 other batsmen to make one Grace; and he's also not at all your image of a po-faced cricketer who was obsessed by the spirit of cricket. He's completely commercial, he's in it for the cash; and he goes out to Australia to make money. He also takes tours to Canada and the United States, which are less economically viable - that's why we don't play test cricket against the U.S and Canada, but we do against Australia - and he is ruthless at winning and gamesmanship. He argues with umpires; he chairs when he's won and practises beforehand - which ruins all the fun, to quote Flanders and Swann - and he's a most phenomenal celebrity. One of his biographers added up all the press cuttings - which must have been a long process - that Grace had against Sarah Bernhardt; he gets more press cuttings than Sarah Bernhardt, to give you an idea of his celebrity, He is so much better than anybody else; and not just that, he spends a whole day batting and then he goes off and runs the 440 yards - two furlong hurdles at the Crystal Palace, which he wins - before being back at the oval the next morning. I mean, he is the most extraordinary successful athletic figure, real phenomenon of celebrity, who plays cricket to make money; and I included him because of his celebrity, because of his motivation, and because of his stunning ability. And of course because Peter told me to, which is good a reason as anything.
JACOB REES-MOGG: But like so many great figures, he did attract stories that weren't actually true; and I'm afraid the one of 'Windy day, umpire!' is not believed to be accurate. I'm sorry to ruin the fun, but-
AUDIENCE: (INAUDIBLE) newspaper for people who could read and not think. Secondly - that's Lord Salisbury, not me - my favourite anecdote; British Foreign Office, 1900, Thomas Anderson, Permanent Undersecretary, has been shouted out by the German Ambassador, (INAUDIBLE). He respond to this attack on British foreign policy, with these words, 'We have no policy. Our business is to have no policy.' Is that relevant today?
ANNE MCELVOY: Thank you to the audience for coming tonight, to Intelligence Squared and to Penguin Live. You can collect signed copies of 'The Victorians' in the foyer; there are also copies on sale, but please do give an even bigger round of applause to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Tristan Hunt; fighting it out over the Victorians and all of us. Thank you so much for coming.
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