My latest book, ON THIS DAY IN POLITICS - BRITAIN'S POLITICAL HISTORY IN 365 DAYS is published today, and I am a proud author!
When Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked by a journalist what his greatest challenges were, his reply was very simple. “Events, dear boy, events”. It’s an answer that any of our 55 prime minister could have given, for it summed up how politicians can be blown completely off course by events. Or their names and reputations can be made or lost by a single event that they could never have anticipated. Boris Johnson expected to be the Brexit prime minister, the man who triumphantly took us out of the European Union. Instead, his legacy will probably be defined by his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, or the war in Ukraine. Or by Partygate. Events, dear boy, events.
Back in the late 1980s I bought a book in Foyles called ‘A Chronology of Post War British Politics’ by political academic Geoffrey Foote. It listed all the main events in British politics day by day, month by month from 1945 until June 1987. I was flicking through it and started thinking about key dates in British politics prior to 1945. I started jotting down some examples, like the foundation of the first English Parliament in 1275, the day in 1812 that Spencer Perceval became the first (and only) British prime minister to be assassinated, the day in 1707 when the Act of Union between England and Scotland was proclaimed. And so I went on. Within an hour I had a list of around 30 key events written down, and I realised how little I knew about most of them. I then did a quick Google search and to my absolute astonishment no one had ever written a book called ‘On This Day in Politics’. Dan Snow was about to publish one called ‘On This Day in History’ but surprisingly no one had collated together all the key political events in our political history in one handy volume.
I then started a spreadsheet and started to allocate particular events to dates. It was like putting together a jigsaw. On some days there were five or six events to choose from from different years in history. For others not so much. Indeed, for some days, I really had to scratch around to find anything notable that had happened on that particular day in British political history, but even then, I always discovered something I hadn’t known about before. For example, December 28th proved to be such a day. I eventually discovered that Britain’s first National Park, the Peak District, was declared that day in 1950. Obviously, we all know that the 1945-51 Labour government was famous for creating the NHS, nationalisations and giving India its independence. How many of us know that it also created the National Parks programme? I certainly didn’t, and was oblivious to the fact that the idea had been around since the 1880s. It’s little nuggets like that, that you will find littered throughout this book. I’ve tried to cover all the main events which we all know about, and tried to provide an introduction to some of our most interesting politicians down the centuries.
Each event is covered on a single page in around 365 words. 365 events, 365 pages, 365 words on each. Well, actually, that’s a bit of a lie, as it would have been invidious to ignore events on February 29th, so it’s actually 366 days.
When planning this book I was conscious that I needed to achieve a balance. That meant not just including events we are all familiar with that occurred in the last two or three decades, but also including events from the early 1900, the 1800s and even before. When I counted up the entries, there are 31 entries before 1800 and 40 in the 19th century itself. The most entries for any particular is eight, in 1990, the year of Margaret Thatcher’s defenestration and the first Gulf War. There were 7 in 1963, 1967 and 1981. Since World War II there are only four years in which there are no entries in this book - 1953, 1959, 2004 and 2006.
I also thought it would be interesting to see if there was an equal share of events for the seven days of the week. There wasn’t. Unsurprisingly, there are fewest entries on Saturdays (35) and Sundays (29). Forty-two events took place on Mondays and Tuesday proved to be the most eventful day with 73 events, just ahead of Thursdays with 71. On Wednesdays there were 56 events and Friday 60.
This book is not meant to encompass a complete political history of the last 1000, or even 200 years. What I hope it achieves is for your interest in different subjects to be piqued, and to encourage you to read more widely about events that I can only briefly describe. My original intent was for this book to be primarily aimed at people with a mild but not obsessive interest in current affairs and our political history. However, it soon became clear that it ought to appeal to political geeks too. People like me. When I started writing, I imagined that I would be able to write about a third of the entries off the top of my head, with no research. That proved not to be the case. In the end, I probably only wrote about ten of the entries straight off the bat. I discovered things I didn’t know even when writing about contemporary events with which I am very familiar.
I would like to thank the following friends and colleagues who helped in the research and drafting process for this book. Catriona Beck, Mark Fox, Corey Froggatt, Robbie Hawkins, Mathew Hulbert, Sarah Mackinlay, and Jakub Szweda have gone way beyond the call of duty, but I must make particular mention also of Noah Keate and Robert Waller.
Noah is a politics student and a devout listener to my For the Many podcast, and has spent hours and hours helping me with both the research and drafting of many of the entries you have read. I honestly could not have delivered this book on time without him. He has a fine future ahead of him in the political and journalism world.
I first got to know Robert Waller around 20 years ago when I was running Politico’s Bookshop in Westminster. He was the co-editor of the Almanac of British Politics. As a history teacher, his intimate knowledge of British politics is, I think, unsurpassed. He has corrected many errors, as well as contributed to the drafting of many of the political stories and events mentioned in the book. He has contributed to my books THE PRIME MINISTERS and THE PRESIDENTS, and I could not be more grateful for his work in assisting me with ON THIS DAY.
Thanks also to Ed Faulkner and Karen Duffy at Allen & Unwin, and my agent Martin Redfern at Northbank Talent Management.
This is not a book you necessarily read from cover to cover, and maybe it's too big to be a loo book, but it certainly makes a good Christmas present for anyone remotely interested in political history, and it's the sort of book that the 16 year old me would have loved to have received.
So do me a huge honour and order your signed copy HERE.
PS The audiobook will be published in early November.