I have used my break to read a number of books and articles which I have had on my pending list for too long.
Ruth Winstone's Event's, Dear Boy, Events is a wonderful compendium of 20th Century social and political diarists, printed chronologically to provide the reader with a snapshot of political commentary. It begins on 30 January 1921 with an entry from Cabinet Secretary Thomas Jones about being invited to dine at 10 Downing Street and to sing Welsh hymns for David Lloyd George and concludes with our very own Iain Dale writing on Wednesday12 May 2010, "I am basking in the warm afterglow of yesterday, but the press conference taking place at the moment if going incredibly well. Cameron and Clegg seem totally at ease with each other..."
The Editor, Ruth Winstone - who also edited the Tony Benn Diaries and those of Chris Mullen, started and ended her book when she did as "the Con-Lib government which materialised in May 2010 was a mirror-image of the last Lib-Con coalition of 1918."
The arguments throughout the book brought home something I have believed for a long time; almost everything in life if cyclical. Wait long enough and it is almost inevitable that the same issues will come around again - it's just the players on the stage who change. I was amused whilst digging around in the attic at 91 High Street to find Sir John Stanley's original election address - in it he was campaigning for a solution to Aylesford flooding, for better train services to Cannon Street and for a solution to the traffic problems in Tonbridge. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Is there really that much difference between previous attempts for governments to control monetary policy? Does the Gold Standard and the Bretton Woods Agreement really differ that much from the Single Currency? The Great Depression and Hunger Marchers that different to the riots in Greece? Was the fear and intolerance which led to Mosley's East End riots akin to the rise of the BNP a few years ago?
One thing which has struck me of late is a new level of anger from people I know who have never before expressed a single political sentiment. For example my hairdresser, who I have been visiting for ten years, has never voted in her life. Yet she has suddenly started posting "send them back" and "Britain's full, close the doors" on her Facebook page. Another old friend from Hampshire, who has held a view that we are "all as bad as each other" for the 25 years I have known him, has now not only joined UKIP but is training to be a county organiser.
The one thing which struck me throughout reading these political diaries is how, time and again, various pressure groups broke onto the political stage and claimed their 15 minutes of fame, but just as interestingly how, through a mixture of usurping their language and incorporating their concerns, the establishment was able to bring them back into the political mainstream.
The biggest difference between now and then is fading political identity. For much of the 20th century 90% of voters identified as Conservative or Labour. My maternal grandparents didn't have two brass farthings; he was a dock worker and she worked in a cotton mill, yet the never waivered in their support for the Conservative Party. Why? Because they were Protestants and monarchists and could simply vote no other way.
How we bring people back into the mainstream when they have never been part of it is going to be a greater challenge.