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‘Historians’ like Jacob Rees-Mogg only have one character in mind: themselves

6 54 0
17.05.2019

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,” Winston Churchill is widely, and wrongly, believed to have said. He said something similar, though, and it’s a notion that has been enthusiastically taken up by the politicians of today.

For the most part, they do so in their well-indexed, mostly unread and soon-remaindered memoirs, all of which bear the invisible subtitle I Told You I Was Right. We can confidently expect David Cameron’s For the Record – whose publication has been announced for September – to be such a one. But the craftier among them – those for whom naked self-justification would look a bit, well, naked – turn instead to writing proper books. You know, substantial works of history that show off their hinterland, their intellectual range, their bottom, and which also invite the reader to draw flattering parallels with the career of the author. These are the fancy book-length equivalents, you could say, of Mark Francois’ yapping interventions on what we can learn about Brexit from the second world war.

It has given many of us great satisfaction, then, to see Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book in this vein kicked mercilessly about the park by reviewers. AN Wilson, in The Times, wrote that Rees-Mogg’s “staggeringly silly” The Victorians consists of “a dozen clumsily written pompous schoolboy compositions about 19th-century characters”, which “claims to be a work of history, but is in fact yet another bit of self-promotion by a highly motivated modern politician”.

Wilson’s prime complaint was that the past is clumsily conscripted to serve the present: “Peel’s........

© The Guardian