This year’s Caritas Lecture was aptly timed, given the current turbulent nature of British politics. Our speaker, Sir Anthony Seldon, is one of Britain’s leading contemporary historians and political authors, having written over 40 books which focus on British politicians past and present. He shared his wide, insightful knowledge on the past 300 years of British Prime Ministers, from Robert Walpole to Boris Johnson.
300 years of British politics in under an hour
Sir Anthony took us through a crash-course of our political system, comparing key differences between the structure of parliament in Walpole’s time and at present. He began by discussing how parliament’s power has changed over the last 300 years. Back in Walpole’s time, parliament had relatively little power, much of it still belonging to the crown - in fact, Number 10 was initially known as “The House at the Back
He explained the gradual shift in the balance of power between the crown and parliament, pointing out that it would now be unthinkable for the Queen to step in over politics. He talked through the various technological advancements over the centuries, from the steam train to the internet, and how these have all contributed to the role of the British parliament in local and global matters. Sir Anthony spoke with fervour and wit, letting slip of his *ahem* disapproval of Mr Johnson and the current state of our political system.
It's dangerous to ignore history
Coming from a scientific background, I came into this lecture with an amount of scepticism. However, Sir Anthony’s closing remarks, where he urged politicians to ‘learn history’ so that we can avoid getting into political nightmares, resonated strongly with me. It is dangerous to ignore history as it is of great importance to our society in preventing us from repeating mistakes, and as Sir Anthony pointed out, this has happened many times in modern politics.
There was time for a few questions at the end of the lecture which revolved around Sir Anthony’s opinions on Brexit and the future of our country, unsurprisingly his responses were variations on “I just don’t know.” However, Sir Anthony was optimistic about how our country will pull through, as long as we place great emphasis on the education and development of the young and develop characters rather than simply pushing for good grades. He assured the audience that George Watson’s College is doing just that and that the future is in safe hands.
Matthew Fall (S6)