The Death of Consensus
100 Years of British Political Nightmares
From the Great Depression to the pandemic, a new history of British politics, revealing UK democracy’s ritual building and breaking of shared national outlooks.
Over Britain’s first century of mass democracy, politics lurched from crisis to crisis. How does this history of broken consensus and political agony illuminate our current age of upheaval?
Historians usually focus on the dawn of a new consensus—postwar Keynesianism, or Thatcherite neoliberalism. Yet journalist Phil Tinline argues that we should be more interested in the periods of turmoil and misery in between. How did the Great Depression’s spectres of fascism, bombing and mass unemployment force politicians to think the unthinkable? Why do we only remember Thatcher’s triumph, and not the decade-long nightmares of hyperinflation, military coups and communist dictatorship that made it possible? And how, since 2008, have we and our leaders come to be paralysed and deeply divided once again?
Tinline brings to life two previous moments when the great compromise holding democracy together began to crumble; when the political class could agree only that the old era was dead, and imagine nothing but the ominous and the unacceptable. This lively, original account of panic, torpor and chaos reveals the birth pains of a new political settlement, giving hope that fresh ideas might yet take hold. The Death of Consensus will make you see British democracy differently.
Phil Tinline works for BBC Radio; he has made and presented many acclaimed documentaries about how political history shapes our lives. Formerly executive producer of Radio 4’s award-winning investigative history series, Document, he has written for The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, BBC History Magazine and the New Statesman.