The Death of Consensus
100 Years of British Political Nightmares
From the Great Depression to the pandemic, a new history of British democracy, revealing how politics is transformed through fear.
Over Britain’s first century of mass democracy, politics has lurched from crisis to crisis. How does this history of political agony illuminate our current age of upheaval?
To find out, journalist Phil Tinline takes us back to two past eras when the ruling consensus broke down, and the future filled with ominous possibilities – until, finally, a new settlement was born. How did the Great Depression’s spectres of fascism, bombing and mass unemployment force politicians to think the unthinkable, and pave the way to post-war Britain? How was Thatcher’s road to victory made possible by a decade of nightmares: of hyperinflation, military coups and communist dictatorship? And why, since the Crash in 2008, have new political threats and divisions forced us to change course once again?
Tinline brings to life those times, past and present, when the great compromise holding democracy together has come apart; when the political class has been forced to make a choice of nightmares. This lively, original account of panic and chaos reveals how apparent catastrophes can clear the path to a new era. The Death of Consensus will make you see British democracy differently.
‘At last, an original big history of British politics in the last 100 years.’ — Sir Anthony Seldon, biographer of prime ministers and co-author of The Impossible Office?
‘A fascinating exploration of how politicians come to think the unthinkable, The Death of Consensus is essential reading for our age of permacrisis.’ — Helen Lewis, author of Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights
‘Phil Tinline is exceptionally clever, and this fascinating book makes us rethink the British, our government and how we want to be governed. His grasp of the detail and sweep of politics is astonishing, his central idea completely original. He makes us look at familiar faces and events with new clarity, as though we’ve remembered to clean our glasses. Plus, he makes it fun.’ — Miranda Sawyer, journalist and broadcaster
‘This is an epiphany of a book and everyone should read it, urgently. If you want to understand the state we’re in and how we got here, you’ll find no better guide than Phil Tinline. Intelligent, incredibly well-informed and utterly compelling.’ — Manveen Rana, host of Stories of our Times, Times Radio
‘A bracing and highly accessible account of the three most shape-shifting phases in Britain’s modern political history.’ — David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain; Family Britain; and Modernity Britain
‘A much-needed, nuanced and compelling account. Tinline brilliantly challenges the way we view the past and inspires us to take a fresh look.’ — Steve Richards, author of The Prime Ministers We Never Had
‘An account of modern Britain unlike any other. Tinline’s portrait of people and ideas is witty, affectionate and angry, reintroducing us to a place we thought we knew, but which looks fresh through his eyes.’ — Rana Mitter, historian and Vice-President of the British Academy
‘Admirers of Phil Tinline’s radio programmes are in for a treat. Here in proper portion size is his trademark fast-paced history of political ideas, studded with stories about Barbara Castle and Keith Joseph. Delicious.’ — Aditya Chakrabortty, Senior Economics Commentator, The Guardian
‘This perceptive and sharply insightful book will change how you think about consensus itself–let alone how it is established and retained. It’s a riveting new lens through which to reassess some key moments from the last century.’ — James Ball, Global Editor, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
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 on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, BBC History Magazine and the New Statesman.