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Richard Carr’s detailed study, Veteran MPs and Conservative Politics in the Aftermath of the Great War: The Memory of All That, is a very focused history book. It’s about the interwar period, 1919 to 1940 or thereabouts. It’s about British politics, specifically British Conservative politics, but even more specifically than that, it’s about the British Conservative members of Parliament who had served in the war. So it’s really about 448 Victorian men, who joined the army in 1914, then went into politics immediately after the war, but got out or were voted out in the 1935 election. You have to be very interested in these subjects to want to read this book, but if you are, it is an excellent discussion of the period, the men, the politics, the economics, and the ways that being Conservative changed in the interwar period.
Carr swims buoyantly in statistical waters, and simply revels in the splashy accounts in Hansard of who said what about whom. He relentlessly teases out the detail of how the Tories played politics with the memory of the First World War, and how they appropriated patriotism. He reveals how clever politics can defeat opponents with the weight of their own convictions, in how potential dissent from the working man who had also been an ex-soldier was negated by the Tories’ successful absorption of the veterans’ movement into the Conservative fold.
He gives a cracking good analysis of how Oswald Mosley went wrong in going over so completely to the dark side, and how he might so easily have been a ministerial candidate had he not been so passionate about fascism. Reading this makes the fixations of the Mitford sisters seem a little more intelligible: ‘for much of the period of this study, young Conservatives held more in common with a future fascist than their erstwhile leaders’. But I was most struck in this book by the evidence of Tory manipulation, how they so successfully used the war to sell their political message. Somehow I wasn’t surprised.
However, by being so specific, Carr doesn’t tackle areas on which I was hoping for more detail – on Tory attitudes to government funding of rehabilitation of the war wounded, for example, and on the role of Conservative women. But these are extraneous to his project: my only serious grumble is with the quality of the editing and that’s down to the publisher, or it ought to be.
Unfortunately, this is an Ashgate book, which for those not familiar with their style, means that they seem to skimp on in-house editing and expect the author to do all the copy-editing and index checking themselves. This is not only unreasonable (no author can edit their own work: fact), but also cheapskatery, resulting in an irritatingly patchy text. Some years ago I reviewed an Ashgate book very blackly because of the catastrophic lack of editing that Ashgate ought to have taken in hand, but did not bother with, thus ruining the content. Richard Carr bravely accepts responsibility for errors in his book, but, although they are not catastrophic, there are too many. The index is annoyingly incomplete: as an example, only two page references are given for ‘Buchan, John’ but many more were discovered while reading. This is not the kind of thing that gives a reader confidence, and for an academic history book, the reader needs confidence in the details. But; if you skip the index, and close your ears to the phrases that an editor would have sorted out, this is a well-written and useful history for those who need to know more about this rather specialist subject.
PS (22 May 2013) I should note that after Ashgate read this review, they wrote to thank me for it, and to ask for any details of corrections and missing index references I might still have, so they could make the changes for the forthcoming e-version of the book. That’s what I call a proactive publisher.
Richard Carr, Veteran MPs and Conservative politics in the aftermath of the Great War (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), ISBN 978 1 4094 4103 8
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