Political Reflections

I recently stumbled across for the first time a Radio 4 program titled “Reflections with Peter Hennessy” where senior political figures, who are now retired or at least no longer in the political limelight, are interviewed about their life and times. As some know, I am an unashamed fan of Radio 4 and a regular listener to programs like “The Archers”, “Test Match Special”, “Desert Island Discs” and “In Our Time”. What was so refreshing about this new addition to my portfolio was that on two occasions I happened to switch on the car radio when the program was being aired and given I was so fascinated by what I was hearing, having reached my destination rather than get out of my car I carried on listening to the end.

While my political campaigning career (and in those days it was for the Labour Party) was cut short in my teens when I got religion, I have always been fascinated by politics, especially latterly, and ever since Harold Wilson came to power in 1964 I have followed the fortunes, key personalities, events, arguments etc. in every government since then until the present day. While some being interviewed could go back even before Wilson, most of their reflections related to after Wilson became Prime Minister and a good deal of what they said I could identify with as I was around at the time but as well I became intrigued by the things that were shared that I only had limited inkling concerning or no knowledge at all, not being part of the “inner circle” that then existed.

I have just finished listening to the last of the interviews by virtue of BBC iPlayer, those interviewed being:

  1. Neil Kinnock
  2. Norman Tebbit
  3. Jack Straw
  4. Shirley Williams
  5. Margaret Beckett
  6. David Steel
  7. Roy Hattersley
  8. John Major
  9. Clare Short
  10. Nigel Lawson
  11. David Owen

All are for me larger than life figures that have contributed much to British politics and, while some interviews were more compelling than others, all the interviews were well worth listening to. Funnily enough, while there was always a temptation to form an opinion and prefer some politicians over others based on what each stood for and their characters, I found in every case I learned something new about them. Perhaps more surprisingly, given my natural skepticism when it comes to motivation, I found I could not dislike any of them and despite seeing things different I now understand better why.  It filled many gaps in my knowledge. As a result, I can reflect on the happenings in the Wilson and beyond era (as well as before that) in a new light. Some credit must go to the interviewer, Peter Hennessey, himself a distinguished historian that has reflected in depth on political history but also personally acquainted with those being interviewed, drawing from them matters of interest and relevance by intelligent, sympathetic and incisive questioning.

I have sometimes been asked whether I would like to get more involved politically. My answer is no, for at least three good reasons. Firstly, I am getting old and I no longer have the stamina, even if I do have the wisdom. Secondly, having reflected deeply on which each political party is about, I cannot in all conscience throw in my lot with anyone of them. Having said that, I see a role for good, principled people entering politics and am happy to offer and sometimes do my services as a critical friend. Thirdly, in the few years left while I have my health and marbles, I feel more drawn into being a community activist, cultural commentator and Gospel preacher and even then there is not enough time to do all I want, especially when it comes to providing pastoral support. I am grateful to the BBC, Peter Hennessy and his guests for reminding me why some of these things are so important, and for sharing as they did.

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