Is history forgiving?

18 August 2017

PA

Rehearsed manner: in Reflections with Peter Hennessy (R4, Thursday of last week), Tony Blair defended the Iraq war

Rehearsed manner: in Reflections with Peter Hennessy (R4, Thursday of last week), Tony Blair defended the Iraq war

POLITICAL veterans — grandees or has-beens, depending on your affiliation — will often give the best interviews. Unshackled by the cur­rent agenda, they can choose to be more nuanced about the past, and more forthright about the present.

Tony Blair has no such luxury. With the Chilcot report barely a year old (News, 8 July 2016), he is giving the same interview he has given for many years. Thus Reflec­tions with Peter Hennessy (R4, Thurs­­day of last week) was designed for those of us who have not yet absorbed all of Mr Blair’s back-story.

One such is the fact that, having stayed up all night reading Isaac Deut­scher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, the future leader of New Labour spent a year as a Trot. More revealing, perhaps, was his admis­sion that his obsession with the media resulted in a press that was emboldened and empowered, rather than cowed and manipulated. He, Alastair Campbell, and Peter Man­del­son had seen what the media had done to Neil Kinnock, and they were determined to change the rela­tionship. The Age of Spin was born.

On Iraq, however, Hennessy was getting nothing new — though Mr Blair’s affected hesitation and half-stutter forever appears to promise some new, long-suppressed truth. The mannerism has lost its charm, and sounds as rehearsed as the an­­swers. He still believes that the over­throw of Saddam was a worthy cause, and that history will judge events differently. He also admitted that he would have preferred to study history than law at university — perhaps because history tends in the end to be more forgiving.

But it is not always. The well-meaning policies of our forebears, from the perspective of modern cul­tural expectations, can appear thor­oughly wicked and barbaric. In Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, Michael Mor­purgo’s novel, dramatised on Radio 2 (Monday to Thursday of last week), we learn of the forced migra­tion of children from England to Australia through the stories of two boys. The school they must endure makes Dotheboys Hall look like the Dorchester, run by a Chris­tian fanatic who has misinter­preted “Suffer the little chil­dren”.

Advertisement

You wouldn’t expect Morpurgo to cut corners in his emotional pre­sentation; and the starry cast give it some welly. You need a strong stom­­ach for theatre-school child act­­ing, and a stronger one still for Dickensian sentiment, but there is no doubting the skill, ambition, and passion of this adaptation.

The summer schedule seems an inhospitable place for a drama with high production values, but with the BBC exploring the opportunities of schedule-free podcasts, we may see more of this. In a similar situation is Radio 5 Live’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt? (Tuesdays), an investigation into the murder of Kathleen Peter­son in North Carolina in 2001, and the conviction of her husband, Michael.

This weekly series sounds to all who know it as a direct copy of Serial, a US podcast which has been wildly popular (Radio, 16 June). If you can forgive the crime of plagiarism, then devotees of the one will soon be hooked by the other.

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Forthcoming Events

16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

Our literary festival with a theological slant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Speakers include Francis Spufford, Ruth Valerio, Eve Poole, Mark Oakley, James Runcie and many others. Find out more

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury. More details coming soon - register your interest here

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.