Edward Pearce

Edward Pearce is the author of Denis Healey and Reform! The Fight for the 1832 Reform Act.

Spurning at the High: a poet of Chartism

Edward Pearce, 6 November 2003

Will became an ardent public man, working well in those times when reforms were begun with a young hopefulness of immediate good which has been much checked in our days, and getting at last returned to Parliament by a constituency who paid his expenses.


The ‘hopefulness’ being ‘much checked in our days’ speaks the caution of 1867 as against the enthusiasm...

From The Blog
12 September 2014

If the passion of David Cameron, the Saltire flying over Downing Street and the threatened departure from Scotland of major business houses do not between them dissuade Scots from their interesting proposal, what remains of the United Kingdom will require a new name. This would not have been a question a hundred years ago. Conservative politicians and journalists for sure, and many others, rarely if ever spoke of 'Britain' or 'Great Britain', still less of the 'United Kingdom' or 'UK'. It was invariably 'England'.

From The Blog
1 May 2014

It is fascinating to find as spokesman for Ukip a Leopold David Verney, 21st Baron Willoughby de Broke (creation 1491). His grandfather, the 19th baron, Richard Greville Verney, also held vivid views. He talked of 'fighting Irish Home Rule to a finish' if it couldn't be done in a general election. In a letter of 1913 to the Duke of Bedford, who favoured military training for the upper and upper-midddle classes, he wrote: 'I don't think it would be prudent of me to speak in favour of arming the classes against the masses. I am strongly in favour of so doing, I quite admit.'

From The Blog
24 February 2014

Ed Miliband has said with not very much reservation that the idea of getting rid of Prime Minister's Questions is something he 'might be up for'. He would look into it. As political statements go, that is edging on the emphatic. In the same interview he acknowledged public enervation at shouting matches.

From The Blog
30 August 2013

The pitiful defence made this morning by George Osborne, that defeat is not defeat and that in offering Parliament a vote on the principle of military intervention David Cameron was showing statemanship, stands high in the chronicles of absurdity. The whistle was blown, the hoop held out, not very far from the ground, and the good old dog sat on his haunches and slowly shook his head. As one of the admirable Tory opponents, Crispin Blunt, put it, our illusion has been that by instant deference to US wishes we function as a great power when we are not a great power. Blunt, an experienced diplomat, was joined by the likes of Adam Holloway, a former serving officer, in speaking a rational language alien to Labour and Conservative governments alike.

From The Blog
27 March 2013

We have been here before. I blogged unkind things about David Miliband when he was being log-rolled by the Blairite machine, as bathed in the blood of Tony, so brilliant, so cool, so je ne sais quoi as to be very nigh compulsory. The reality, when he didn't get the assured leadership, has been a sulking minimalist in the Commons, above all that low, grinding trouble.

From The Blog
25 January 2013

Steve Hilton’s denunciation of the Civil Service earlier this month should be taken lightly. David Cameron’s former adviser, who in the early days of opposition leadership set his employer on a democratic bike while his shoes travelled behind by Lexus, has made a habit of attacking public servants for standing in the way of government ministers pleasing sectional profit. It is, the argument goes, undemocratic: power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats – the habitual drone of interested parties. This is the language used of the BBC by politicians compliant to the point of servitude with Rupert Murdoch.

From The Blog
16 November 2012

I spoiled my police commisioner ballot in North Yorkshire. I wrote: 'This is a very ill-advised idea borrowed from the US and not wanted by the public.' So the results declare it to have been. The primal fault lies in a belief that voting and democracy are the same thing and that more of one means more of the other.

From The Blog
9 August 2012

There are people, the Independent’s Steve Richards among them, who while deploring individual fatuous remarks will yet proclaim serious admiration for the mayor of London. Can such indulgence survive his call, amid the froth of Olympic rapture, for 'the kind of regime' he 'used to enjoy, compulsory two hours' sport every day'? My recollection of PE at school is of being shouted at and bullied by men in tracksuits – I preferred algebra – and we had only an hour and a half a week.

From The Blog
24 May 2012

When politicians talk about ‘democracy’, what they mostly mean is elections, though they do their best to avoid ones they are likely to lose.

From The Blog
13 January 2012

How does it happen that Scottish Nationalism walks and talks as if it’s able to call terms over an independence referendum which opinion polls suggest it would lose? A major reason for the SNP’s sweep to absolute majority last May was the inadequacy of the Scottish Labour Party. At Devolution, such was Westminster complacency, only one first-rank Labour politician went to Holyrood: Donald Dewar. Since his death in 2000, the party has been led by what Scots call numpties, five of them over eleven years, remembered for the impact they didn't have.

From The Blog
9 November 2011

The late Philip Gould was a man of conviction, but he personified a fundamental political error: insisting on the fighting the last war during the next. The Labour Party lost all its radicalism in the 1990s because influential people like Gould were still armed for battle with Arthur Scargill, the Militant Tendency and Michael Foot's unsuitable overcoat. New Labour moved absurdly far to the right to show that they weren't like that any more. Partly in consequence, we are picking ourselves up from the debris left by Peter Mandelson's ‘filthy rich’.

From The Blog
24 October 2011

Is there a more self-serving verbal alibi than ‘Eurosceptic’? A sceptical person has doubts, is unsure, ponders an issue. The people seeking a referendum on membership of the EU have none of that hesitancy. They stand in the enraged tradition of the men who fought the Reform Act and Irish Home Rule. They talked in the 1990s of ‘a German ramp’ and ‘the Fourth Reich' (they're still at it). They also made prescriptions. Europe, if it had to happen, should be as big as possible to mitigate enemy domination. There must also be no central tax-and-spending power over the eurozone. And now Greece falls and others totter.

From The Blog
2 August 2011

The late Bernard Weatherill told me that between 1964, when he entered the House of Commons, and the late 1980s, his constituency duties increased twentyfold. It's one of the reasons backbenchers spend less time arguing and being difficult in the chamber than they once did. When Tony Blair had a large majority he put Labour members on a rota for extra constituency duties. Reducing the number of MPs will only make the situation worse: David Cameron's Commons-slighting venture cringes to populist prejudice. Yet as the recent Murdoch-grilling showed, a committee of backbench MPs can still make creditable difficulties.

From The Blog
14 July 2011

Worried about careless thinking in all the euphoria yesterday at the shuddering on his plinth of Rupert Murdoch, the undersung Labour MP Graham Allen underlined the problem of volume of ownership, calling for 'a proper legal framework, as well as clarity about how many news and media outlets that one person, or one organisation, can own. Until you resolve those questions in six months time we could be back in exactly the same position.' Murdoch already owns too many newspapers and too much of BSkyB. A law forbidding anyone, directly or through nominees, to hold more than a fixed, low percentage of any or all media would build a barrier against invincibility. Belief in Murdoch's invincibility produced Blair's speech of flatbelly abjection before News Corp employees at Hayman Island in 1995.

From The Blog
21 June 2011

Ed Miliband’s enemies in the Labour Party are indulging in luxury: a pointless, expensive thing that only people with four years to spend can afford. Up to a point, they resemble John Major’s enemies in the Tory Party – a chorus of Viv Nicholsons who spent, spent, spent down to the penury of 165 surviving MPs in 1997. Those Tories had a reason, if an absurd one. They were hung up on the EU as a conspiracy by the heirs of Hitler to abolish England. The other motive for hating Major was devotion (in the High Church sense) to Margaret Thatcher, Queen and Martyr.

From The Blog
6 May 2011

The almost certain victory in the referendum of Conservative self-interest through financial overkill should not be the end of the matter. The retention of First Past the Post has been won by rich men spending deep, as they spent deep at the last election. Why should they be allowed to? Why should the party of the right go into every election with an advantage that wins it all but those to which it comes massively unpopular? The response is simple: a hard, low limit on what may be spent by private individuals and corporations in respect of all votes, electoral or consultative. Avoidance would be pre-empted by very heavy fines for all attempts to subscribe through nominees, individual or corporate. Preventing elections from being bought would make far more difference than changing the voting system.

From The Blog
4 April 2011

'If Ed Miliband doesn't provide more direction for his party and more definition for himself,’ Mary Ann Sieghart writes in today’s Independent, ‘he is in danger of ending up like William Hague.' She doesn’t mean he’ll be foreign secretary one day; rather that he stands no chance of being prime minister unless he manages to ‘project a political personality that engages voters’ imagination’. ‘People want to know what type of person he is and what motivates him,’ she says. Newspaper columnists have been complaining about Miliband along these lines since before he was elected Labour leader. And they couldn’t be more wrong.

From The Blog
7 March 2011

In 1972, the former Home Office minister Dick Taverne was deselected by the Lincoln Constituency Labour Party for being too pro-European. (The party had been out of office since June 1970, and parts of it had drifted as far to the unreal left as others would later move to the amoral right.) Taverne resigned, stood as an independent 'Democratic Labour' candidate and won a smashing victory. He now sits on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords. With the coalition closing down hospital wards, refuge centres, public libraries, lavatories and employment, the Liberal Democrats have suffered a reversal in Barnsley which may be called historic – near total desertion by their former voters. There are plenty of Liberal Democrats, including MPs, for whom accepting the Osborne budget and cuts is a bitter reversal of a lifetime conviction.

From The Blog
18 February 2011

One thing you could say for the Tories over recent decades is that the old delectation for capital and corporal punishment had slipped away. Ted Heath and John Major despised it. Margaret Thatcher, a keen bircher as a backbencher, shrewdly let it go. Suddenly though, the enpurpled spirit of Sir Cyril Osborne has risen from the grave, in response to the Supreme Court's rulings over, first, votes for prisoners, and then the possible removal of some sex offenders' names from the national register. Nobody would think from the squeaking and snarling of Conservative outrage that what was under discussion was an appeal for removal from the list after 15 years of not offending. But already backbenchers are demanding that the UK withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

From The Blog
21 January 2011

Interviewed on PM this afternoon, fresh from giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, Tony Blair spoke scornfully of 'all those people' treating Iran ‘softly', which is to say, not bombing it. Presumably, 'people' means Barack Obama. He was speaking only days after Tunisian public rage rose up against one of those 'Bastions against Muslim Extremism' that replaced the 'Bastions against Communism'. What has happened in Tunisia could happen across the Middle East. As Patrick Cockburn points out in today's Independent, one of Blair's problems is ignorance:

From The Blog
22 December 2010

Let me join the irked multitude queuing to tell Ed Miliband what to say. Never mind the economy. Let the slashing of the NHS do its own injury to the people slashing it. And, above all, let him forget about his ‘vision’. Why do politicians, a this-worldly, nicely calculating, main-chance-surveying lot, keep talking as if they were kin to Bernadette Soubirous? Why, too, do they (and for that matter footballers) endlessly invoke ‘passion’? Better to concentrate quietly on guessing right. To which end, I suggest that Miliband look at foreign policy, and specifically our relationship with the United States.

From The Blog
29 November 2010

Ed Miliband’s well-wishers, his ill-wishers and the press have all made themselves clear: the Labour leader must assemble a bright, coherent and costed programme, as much of it as indelibly precommitted as possible. And Miliband has obliged, telling the party’s national policy forum on Saturday that ‘the strategy that says wait for them to screw it up, simply be a strong opposition, is not a strategy that is going to work for us. We need to do that hard thinking of our own.’

From The Blog
30 September 2010

David Miliband, he of the ‘sad eyes’ after ‘betrayal’, has departed the front bench. He remains in the Commons, but on inactive service and as what? Brooding presence, focus of retribution to the betraying brother? Unencumbered by duty, he can now expect devotion from the Conservative press and offers of lavish employment. Compare him with Denis Healey, who spent six years as defence secretary and five as chancellor before being passed over for Michael Foot – nice man, wrong choice – in 1980.

From The Blog
27 September 2010

There is at least one reason to welcome Ed Miliband's victory: his brother didn't win. David may be both intelligent and rather nice – I remember having fish and chips with him during a Brighton conference pre-97 – but he is by training a follower. He has been cherished, favoured, advanced and made grateful. He is a professional protégé, the candidate of a leader and of the leader's faction. Gratitude would have paralysed him in the future as it did when he voted for the Iraq war, recited its sad rationalisations and, at the FO, followed the Bush line as Blair followed it. He is a man in a conga, a good trooper, not the man to challenge the unrelenting coalition mantra that Labour and Brown are the chief begetters of the deficit, as they are not. Blair deferred to City assumptions.

From The Blog
3 June 2010

A conversation overheard at a meeting of the Parliamentary Double Standards Committee: Newspaper owners of all colours are worried about David Laws. He has had to resign for something about which we really ought to have been more understanding. He took money he wasn't entitled to and didn't declare it. It’s against the new Commons rules and is often called fraudulent conversion. End of argument.

From The Blog
24 May 2010

When I used to cover Liberal Democrat party conferences, the late-night curious journalist could wander the hotel in Harrogate or Torquay, push against a glass door and, at 1.30 in the morning, find a dozen of the delegates in workshop mode, discussing the minutiae of land valuation tax or the single transferable vote. The spirit of earnest still flourishes among them. Their assault on compulsory ID cards and biometric passports lifts the heart. What makes it twitch is Nick Clegg’s invitation to the People to tell the Ministry what reforms it wants. We are getting far too much of ‘the People’ at present.

Sweetly Terminal

Edward Pearce, 5 August 1993

‘What’s all this?’


Edward Pearce, 22 October 1992

Like many another high-toned writer, I started journalistic life on the Express, initially the Sunday in John Junor’s long days, then the Daily under Roy Wright. Beaverbrook had been dead by then for ten years. The amiable son, who touchingly refused the title in a spirit of unaffected and perhaps warranted humility, reigned rather than ruled in his place and was known officially as Sir Max Aitken, unofficially, after his gallant war, as Biggles. He was widely liked, even loved; but though a civilised and kindly boss, he lacked the zest and edge of an ordinarily successful newspaper-owner, never mind the special, bottomless fund of vitality with which his father boiled. Best remembered for his description of the sport of sailing as ‘standing under the shower tearing up ten-pound notes’, he was nevertheless a superior article in every imaginable way to the brutish units of accountancy constituting the present.

Class Traitor

Edward Pearce, 11 June 1992

‘“Bull,” I thought as I put the letter down on my desk. “You’re scared witless, Brenda.” ’ The style and address of Eric Hammond is unmistakable. He is here declining to be scared by a letter from Brenda Dean, ‘the pleasant woman at the helm of SOGAT’, trying to frighten him over EEPTU relations with Eddie Shah and Today.

Rabbit Resartus

Edward Pearce, 8 November 1990

The thought did occur during the Eighties that it wouldn’t do to leave Rabbit Angstrom – Toyota dealer, wife-swapper, gone-to-seed athlete, conservative, citizen of Brewer, Pennsylvania, ex-working man, Scandinavian American and emblematic mess – just where he was after a mere three books. Indeed, although Rabbit, at the end of what is now a tetralogy, looks sick to the terminal rim, I would hesitate to take bets that resurrection is ruled out.’

The Man in White

Edward Pearce, 11 October 1990

How does one write the biography of a legend, a legend who is also a controversy, a writer of some distinction, a commander of irregular troops whose effectiveness is still argued about, a sexual question mark, a film hero, an object of debate and a participant in that running Middle East crisis which has proceeded from imbroglio to mess to prospective calamity; how does one satisfactorily tackle a subject variously seen as gallant paladin, pathological liar and career oddity?


Edward Pearce, 26 July 1990

Two images of Quintin Hogg suggest themselves. Perched upon the horsehair seat known as the Woolsack is the Lord Chancellor, hands clasped at the top of his walking-stick, tricorn hat sitting on his full-bottomed wig. On such a formal occasion he looked totally a man of the 18th century, so much did the face and manner fit the rigout. Most modern men in fancy dress look distressingly like modern men in fancy dress – witness Archbishop Runcie. Hailsham could have been a difficult colleague of Walpole. The other, less flattering image comes from the gathering in the Queen’s Gallery to hear Richard von Weisaecker make an address. The President of West Germany, speaking a crystalline, virtually unaccented English, spoke for about half an hour with restraint, wisdom and the quiet earnest of a man gravely engaged upon serious things. He had been welcomed by Lord Chancellor Hailsham cavorting, playing to the gallery, quoting Latin tags and unwisely launching into German culture to compliment and patronise his guest. We should not forget ‘the contributions made to European civilisation by Can’t and Mendelzone’.’

From The Blog
29 March 2010

Politicians have not stopped being pompous, but these days they are pompous in a faux-bonhomous, sub-Australian way. The minister is now by inflation called the ‘secretary of state’, but on The World at One or PM, he will address Ms Kearney or Mr Mair as 'Martha' or 'Eddie' through every wiggle of the party line, much as a master or mistress would once have spoken to an indoor servant. As for themselves, they want us to call them by first names instanter, but not 'Kenneth' or 'Anthony’. Along with the Greengrocer's Apostrophe, we must now live with the Politician's Diminutive: he is, and must be, 'Ken' or 'Tony’ (or Geoff, or Ed, or Andy...). This chummery affects the best of them. Some glinting PR type has told the useful and rather reputable Mr Cable that 'Vincent' is too formal. So, to the City and the world, he must now be 'Vince’.

From The Blog
10 February 2010

It is all rather much. The press - from Alpha Argus to Epsilon Echo, Guardian to Sport - has engaged all these months in the hurly-burly of backbench peculation only to be rewarded with the deep, deep peace of John Terry’s adultery. Flipped second house succeeds pornographic video, succeeds duck house, all finally garlanded by the invocation of parliamentary privilege. 'Too much' hardly says it. Headline-subs have lived like the bees in Keats’s autumn ‘until they think warm days will never cease’. SHAME, SHAMED, SHAME! the 80 point proclaims. BBC icons turn to the camera with a touch of the Fouquier-Tinvilles. Now, thanks to a Chelsea midfielder or ‘love rat’ doing the usual with a friend’s wife – correction, colleague’s ex-girlfriend – narrow pre-occupation is met by best business practice: diversification.

From The Blog
13 January 2010

The enemies of Gordon Brown are a wonderful company as, God knows, were the enemies of John Major. A government suffers bad shocks, its leader stumbles and attracts a bad press. What government and prime minister do next, over time and rather successfully, may well redeem them with mere voters. But party members in internal opposition at Westminster will have none of it. What follows is suicide bombing – of a genteel and wittering sort.


No, he wasn’t

8 November 2012

Contrary to what Jenny Diski writes in her melancholy article about the Wrotham Hill murder, James Chuter Ede was not an abolitionist any more than Herbert Morrison, his Labour Home Office predecessor, had been (LRB, 8 November). His Criminal Justice Bill of 1947 was widely assailed for its rigidity and he retreated, conceding that all capital sentences should be assessed on their merits. He signed...
What’s wrong with narrative? Only the word itself as used by Richard J. Evans. Why not ‘story’? Children like stories, as does everyone else. Told properly, they make you read on; and having pupils wanting to read on is the forlorn dream of every teacher of anything. To listen to Evans and his supporters, teaching in this attractive and coherent way means rah-rah history with free...

A Serious Man

20 January 2011

Iain Sinclair’s treatment of John Major – ‘a gap-year, work experience prime minister sleepwalking through the job as a profile-raising opportunity’ – is wonderfully imperceptive (LRB, 20 January). I used to say hard things about politicians for a living, but I tried to watch the facts. In 1990, John Major inherited not just membership of the ERM, but the pound’s...
Ian Jack’s review of Andy Beckett’s When the Lights Went Out is marred by a fearful howler (LRB, 27 August). It wasn’t Jack Jones who insisted on goujons of sole at monthly meetings with Treasury ministers, but Hugh Scanlon.Joking apart, the IMF visitation of 1976 is still reliably posted as the ultimate failure of a Labour government. In fact, the IMF-precipitating episode of 1976...

Such Consolation!

7 February 2008

Eamon Duffy has written an eccentric and charmless piece, the point of which seems to be that Mary and her bishops didn’t just burn people to death for being unsound in their religious beliefs (LRB, 7 February). They also preached more spiffing sermons than we thought and won some conversions; no burning alive without a priest at hand preaching sound doctrine. Such consolation!Against a background...
Denis Donoghue handles the desperate writhings of Craig Raine over the primitive anti-semitism of T.S. Eliot with gentle dubiety (LRB, 25 January). Neither Raine nor Eliot deserves it. Dramatic monologues which carry the unchallenged malevolence of ‘Burbank/Bleistein’ and ‘Gerontion’ are no less malevolently anti-semitic for being dramatic monologues.‘The jew is underneath...
John Lloyd’s petulant outburst at Alan Bennett will surprise no one familiar with his petulant outbursts. I recall the time when he took his ball home from the New Statesman, refusing to write further for such pinko subversives and anti-Americans.There is no reason for the capture of Saddam to register heavily with Alan Bennett or anyone else familiar with the essential history. Saddam’s...
Ross McKibbin (LRB, 3 April) makes the mistake of imagining that the Prime Minister shares his own intelligence and serious-mindedness. Also he makes a mistake in speaking of Tony Blair's coming from the Left. Blair's only Left involvement was in the late 1970s when he fought the Beaconsfield by-election. His field of ambition then was the Labour Party; CND, about to define the Party's defence policy,...

No one disputes that the British electoral system before 1832 was a mockery of representation. Members of Parliament did not want or pretend to be representative: the word ‘democracy’...

Read More

The sudden death of Roy Jenkins took us all by surprise. He was over eighty, of course, and with a heart problem that had required major surgery. This latterly gave him a good excuse to sit down...

Read More

Up the avenue

Peter Clarke, 11 June 1992

Don’t be put off by the title, since it’s only a laboured allusion to Cobbett’s Rural Rides, lacking the alliterative euphony of the original. What Edward Pearce of the Guardian...

Read More

What difference did she make?

Eric Hobsbawm, 23 May 1991

The ‘question of leadership’ which is the subject of both these books is the question of how much difference leadership in politics can make. Contrary to what is held by believers in...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences