Donald Trump and Boris Johnson: Two peas from the same populist pod?

Donald Trump just doesn’t get it, does he? Alternatively, he is in denial. Much more likely, however, is that he knows exactly what he is doing. President Trump simply refuses to accept that his incendiary words on race and ethnicity can lead to truly dire consequences.

Trump’s recent attempts to exploit ‘race’ to mobilise his core base of supporters (with attendees at one rally even chanting ‘send her back, send her back’ about a Muslim congresswoman) have undoubtedly increased divisions and tensions in American society to unprecedented levels, and further inspired those who see the answer to all the country’s problems through explicit xenophobia or, in some cases, simply via the barrel of a gun.

Boris Johnson meets Trump

Depressingly, the UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who clearly admires ‘Trumpian’ tactics, has also had a history of exploiting race and ethnicity for political ends during his career. One of his electoral advisers, Lynton Crosby, encouraged Johnson to use the ‘dead cat’ strategy (the metaphorical equivalent of throwing a dead cat on the table, both to shock everybody and suddenly dominate the news agenda).

He has made good use of this. In 2018, for example, the former Foreign Secretary thrust himself back into the headlines with a burka ‘letter box’ jibe, which many commentators in the UK interpreted as Islamophobic.

Trump seemed very pleased to see Johnson become Prime Minister this year, and claimed that people in the UK call Johnson ‘Britain Trump’ (perhaps he missed an apostrophe, and meant to say ‘Britain’s Trump’?). While there are some significant differences between Trump and Johnson when it comes to their personalities, there are also (to my mind) some striking similarities between the two men, especially when it comes to leadership style, political ideas and tactics. Psychologically, both men have enormous egos and a narcissistic self-regard for their own over-inflated abilities, qualities which appear to fit well with this new age of ‘selfie’ politics and Twitter sound-bites.

More importantly, though, both leaders have been viewed as blatant ‘populists’ by their critics. In fact, the word ‘populism’ has become one of the major buzz-words of recent years. It has increasingly been taken up by historians and political scientists, and is used regularly by various media commentators to try to capture the essence of what they believe has been happening to liberal democracy across the globe, particularly in Europe and the USA.


President Trump and his controversial style of politics probably exemplifies what most observers have in mind when they employ the term ‘populist’. Moreover, the UK’s new Prime Minister, Johnson, has evidently watched and borrowed from the Trump leadership model, and has thus also been labelled as a vulgar ‘populist’ by his critics, especially in his recent self-proclaimed ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit.

However, at the same time, there has also been much debate among scholars about the actual meaning of the word ‘populist’. It constitutes what the Dutch academic Cas Mudde has called an ‘essentially contested concept’. Indeed, there is little consensus as to the precise meaning of the term.

Pinning Down Populism

Helpfully, though, Mudde and other like-minded scholars have gone some way to try to clarify what ‘populism’ is. Unlike some creeds, populism is not a coherent ideology, with a clear or logical set of principles or policies. Instead, it is what some political scientists refer to as a ‘thin ideology’, and tends to make use of ’emotional’ heartfelt appeal rather than considered intellectual reflection.

Nevertheless, populism can still be described as an ideology; it is one that (to quote Mudde) ‘considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups’ i.e. the ‘pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’. It argues that politics should be an expression of the ‘general will’ of the people. While a charismatic leader is not essential to such an approach, the typical populist leader will often claim to represent the virtuous ‘people’ against the scheming and greedy ‘elites’.

Significantly, in their book Populism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2017), Casse Mudde and Cristobel Rovira Kaltwasser have also noted that populism is fundamentally a ‘Manichean’ view of the political world, a simplistic binary approach where everything is divided into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, black or white, mass or elite.

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Rochester, NY

With his incendiary populist rhetoric and the highly stage-managed mass rallies held during his Presidential campaign, Donald Trump often promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of corrupt Washington politics and directly confront the self-serving elites in the name of the people: in other words, he would represent the masses against the ‘dishonest’ elites. It was a classic populist and Manichean approach.

Since becoming President, he has regularly self-identified as a ‘nationalist’ and labelled his opponents as ‘globalists’ in press conferences. Using highly emotive rhetoric about protecting hard-working Americans, he has promised to ‘Build a Wall’ and close the borders to illegal Mexicans, restrict the travelling rights of Muslims into the country, and to ‘make American Great Again’. The ‘elitist’ Democrats in Congress, he claims, seek to subvert and block such policies and are ‘out of touch’. Again, this was nakedly populist politics.

Boris Johnson as PM

Similarly, Boris Johnson tends to employ the same patterns of discourse: he has sought to present pro-Remain advocates in the UK as wrong-headed ‘metropolitans’, liberals who have lost touch with ‘the people’ and are simply the creatures of Brussels. Since becoming PM, as well as saying that he wants to make Britain the ‘Greatest’ nation in the world, Johnson has accused Parliament of being out of touch with the people and too ‘pessimistic’. In some recent comments on Brexit, made during a Facebook ‘People’s PMQs’ broadcast directly from his Downing Street desk, Johnson also indulged in the language of ‘betrayal’ and even ‘collaboration’. He claimed of Westminster’s MPs: ‘There is a terrible kind of collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends’. Just a few days later, he alleged that ‘Remainer’ MPs were ‘dishonest’ and not thinking of the ‘national interest’.

All in all, both Trump and Johnson like to portray themselves as anti-establishment disrupters or rebels who, in the name of ‘ordinary’ people, will take on both the political elites and the dreaded mainstream media, and in the process restore democratic power to the masses. In this sense, both Trump and now Johnson regard elected rival politicians, along with the media and journalists, as a problem standing in the way of their historic message, and are not keen on spontaneous questions being fired at them, or being quizzed or held to account by opposition politicians or journalists.

Trump humiliated his own supporter at a rally

Notoriously, Trump has turned the spotlight (so to speak) on journalists at rallies, and has encouraged his supporters to boo and jeer at media commentators, sometimes to chilling effect. Similarly, Trump has simply refused to answer certain questions at his press conferences, or has petulantly boycotted selected newspaper representatives in revenge for what he claims is their ‘Fake News’. Moreover, the President has cut out the media ‘middle man’ and clearly much prefers to announce policy directly to the public through his Twitter account. He is a frequent user of this form of communication, to the point where some commentators have seen his regular employment of this powerful digital tool as heralding a new form of populist ‘Tweetocracy’.

Tellingly, Boris Johnson is also extremely reluctant to be interviewed live by the UK’s top journalists, and his recent use of a Facebook ‘People’s PMQs’ broadcast, while presented by Downing Street as a genuine question-and-answer session, was in reality a way of filtering out any difficult or really searching questions; this enabled the new PM to bypass the mainstream media, and to carefully control the message he wished to beam directly to ordinary voters about ‘Brexit’.

Boris has learnt much from his Master across the Atlantic. In fact, as Catherine Fieschi has argued in her new book Populocracy (Agenda Publishing, 2019), the now infamous Brexiteer slogan ‘Take Back Control’ embodies the ultimate form of populist myth: ‘the people’ are told power can be returned directly to them, whereas the harsh reality is that it will remain in the hands of rather unaccountable leaders, men who – while claiming to speak on behalf of ‘the people’ – actually view liberal democracy and all forms of democratic assembly with deep suspicion and, perhaps, even contempt.

There are worrying signs that Johnson and his advisers intend to frame the next General Election in Britain as a ‘People’ versus ‘Parliament’ election, where MPs will be painted by Johnson as out-of-touch and rather smug members of a political elite, a semi-detached group that is out to deny the democratic will of the people over the results of the 2016 European Referendum.

No doubt this will be viewed with approval by President Trump, who will see it as further evidence that his own version of politics is now being rolled out by ‘Britain’s Trump’. He may very well be right.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University, London

(All images: Wikimedia)







Posted in American history, British history, European History, Media history, Public History, Research, Teaching, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Cold War’ season continues at the National Archives

Are you looking for somewhere unusual to visit over the Summer? The National Archives (TNA), at Kew in south-west London, has provided details about the latest events in its ongoing ‘Cold War’ season, ‘Britain’s Cold War Revealed’, which started in April, 2019 and lasts until 9th November.

The Cold War, which lasted from approx. 1945-1991, was a 46-year stand-off between the world’s two superpowers, the USA and USSR, a confrontation which was made all the more tense by the haunting threat of a nuclear war breaking out at any moment. The TNA’s season offers a fascinating look into life in Britain during the turbulent Cold War era, and is comprised of an exhibition, ‘Protect and Survive’, together with a varied programme of associated events and talks.

The National Archives

The Cold War season at the National Archives opened with the special exhibition, which is located on the ground-floor of the building and is well worth a visit. The exhibition explores the impact of the Cold War on Britain, such as in the corridors of political power, in the hidden government bunkers, and on daily life in the home. The secret world of espionage and spying is also featured, and there are a range of souvenirs and Cold War-related books on sale in the TNA bookshop right next to the exhibition.

The opening of the exhibition in April helped launch a series of events and talks which have explored the reality of life in a Britain that was under the persistent threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War era. The popular events have also offered some exploration of the secret intelligence war engaged in by East and West, and how this impacted on Britain.

Events in the season still to come include the following:

Friday 16th August (2.00pm): ‘The Legacy of Secrecy: Experiences From The Stasi Records Archive’. This will see Dagmar Hovestadt (head of press at the Stasi Records Archive in Germany) explore how the former East German secret police (the ‘Stasi’) collected extensive information on everyday citizens and their families prior to the final collapse of the Communist dictatorship in 1989, and how the Stasi Archive manages this wealth of top secret material today.

Thursday 5th September (evening: 7.30pm): ‘Oral Histories of the Cold War’. This event will have journalist and BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget Kendall explore the Cold War through the eyes of those who experienced it first-hand, and how in particular it was experienced by ordinary people.

Friday 13th September (2.00pm): ‘On the Trail of Klaus Fuchs, Atomic Spy’. In this session the Cold War exhibition curator Mark Dunton will delve into Security Service (MI5) files to uncover how the British authorities managed to unmask Klaus Fuchs, arguably the most important atomic spy of the 20th century, who had passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

For more details on the Cold War season and information on ticket prices and availability, see:

Facebook: national archives

Twitter: @uknatarchives


The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9-4DU

Nearest tube station: Kew Gardens Station – District Line and London Overground


Cold War chemical suits


Posted in British history, European History, Events, Museums, Public History, The National Archives, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Marisa Linton awarded Professorship by Kingston University

Many congratulations are in order: Dr. Marisa Linton, who is part of the History teaching team at Kingston University, has been made a Professor after achieving success in the recent Professorial round held at the institution.

186Linton, Marisa

Marisa Linton

Steven Spier, Kingston University’s Vice-Chancellor, commended Marisa on her scholarship and her international reputation for superb research, and said he looked forward to her Inaugural Professorial Lecture.

Similarly, Professor Sara Upstone, Head of the School of Arts, Culture and Communication, in offering the School’s congratulations to Marisa, explained: ‘Marisa’s history scholarship is internationally recognised, and her work on the French Revolution in particular has had world-class reach and significance. Her appointment to Professor recognises not only this work, but also Marisa’s outstanding contribution to teaching and learning at Kingston over many years’.

Very recently, for example, Marisa was invited to the University of Melbourne in Australia this July, to speak at an international symposium, ‘Living the French Revolution’, in honour of Professor Peter McPhee. Marisa’s contribution to this saw discussion of two great figures of the French Revolution: Maximilien Robespierre and Antoine Saint-Just, in a talk entitled: ‘The Sea-Green Incorruptible and the Archangel of Death’.

                  Maximilien Robespierre   Saint-Just-French_anon

As well as teaching History at Kingston University, Marisa is a very active researcher and is a leading expert on all aspects of the French Revolution. She has been in strong demand internationally and has given many invited talks on the Revolution, including in the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and Norway.

Marisa’s latest talk drew on material for which she is currently working for a book on Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins and Saint-Just, entitled Saturn’s Children: Leaders of the French Revolution, to be published by Oxford University Press.

Professor Marisa Linton’s publications include the critically-acclaimed Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Marisa MW 1

Marisa with postgraduate students in Norway




Posted in European History, Events, French History, Kingston University, Oxford University Press, Public History, Research, Teaching, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Discharged and Discontented: Ex-Service Men in Richmond in 1918

In a recent blog article I drew attention to some interesting new research in the BBC History magazine on the rather volatile summer of 1919 in Britain, including the unhappiness of former soldiers and the problems such men had felt they faced when they returned back to domestic peacetime life after demobilisation.

WW1 British soldier returning home

The summer of 1919 appeared to bring to the fore simmering discontent among ex-service men that had arguably been building for at least a year or so previously, and research on the leafy town of Richmond-on-Thames in 1918 illustrates this well.

By the early summer of 1918, there were two organisations each competing with one another for the loyalty of ex-servicemen in the town. In late July, 1918, the local press revealed that a branch of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ organisation had opened an office at No.9 Golden Court in George Street in Richmond. Publicity for the new branch informed ex-soldiers in the town that the branch embraced Richmond, Kew, East Sheen, Mortlake and Barnes, and stated: ‘Discharged Service Men and Dependents of  men who have died on Service should call or write when requiring advice or assistance on Pension or other matters’.

In a further advert for the ‘Comrades’ branch placed in the press a week later, additional information was offered on the purpose of the organisation and its key aims. These included a promise to ‘Watch and safeguard the interests of all Ex-members of the Forces, and to take such steps as are necessary to protect them now, during and after demobilisation‘ (emphasised in bold in the advert). The ‘Comrades’ also intended to ‘press the claims of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors to State and Public Employment‘, and also to ‘secure adequate pensions for discharged men, and promote the welfare of women and children left by those who have fallen’.

Wilfrid Ashley

Despite these quite radical-sounding ambitions, most historians regard the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ (CGW) as a relatively conservative organisation, which was founded by former officers at national level to channel and ‘calm down’ some of the growing discontent of discharged and demobilised servicemen, as there were worries that angry soldiers might be attracted to Socialist or more ‘subversive’ revolutionary groups, eager to exploit growing disappointment over the broken promises of Lloyd George’s wartime Coalition Government. The CGW’s national president and leader was the Conservative MP Colonel Wilfred Ashley (1867-1939) (see photo), who was keen to steer ex-soldiers away from what he saw as the seductive propaganda of ‘radical’ ex-service organisations.

Meanwhile, another rival organisation, the ‘National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers’ (founded in April, 1917), also established a presence in Richmond in 1918. Under the auspices of the National Federation, a public meeting was held at the Victoria Working Men’s Club one Friday evening in July, presided over by Mr. H.E. Pike. An address was delivered to the meeting by Mr. T.H. Garside, and those on the platform included Councillor J. Morrison and Mr. T. Smith, who was secretary of the local branch of the Federation.

Often viewed as more outspoken and ‘political’ than the ‘Comrades of the Great War’, the Federation appeared keen to highlight how angry soldiers had become with the authorities. This comes through quite clearly at the meeting held at the Victoria Working Men’s Club. In his speech, reflecting on the reasons for the formation of the Federation, Mr. Garside noted that it was stated by many, ‘especially in the press’, that such a combination of discharged soldiers ‘would mean revolution’. They were told, he continued, that discharged men ‘should trust the Government’. But from this he ‘dissented’, for they had, ‘on the contrary, every reason to mistrust the Government’.

While Garside denied that the Federation was ‘a political organisation’, he nevertheless stated that they were out to ‘protect the rights of discharged men’, especially over the question of pensions and the award of pensions to ex-soldiers. He explained: ‘A man had no right of appeal, and this, in his opinion, was an unequal and iniquitous position in which to place men who had been in uniform. They had every right to be paid money from the coffers of the State, to which they were legally and morally entitled’. Garside also went on to strongly emphasise what he called the ‘meagre allowances’ that the State granted mothers and widows.

Perhaps unsettled by the activities of the Federation in the town, a month later the Comrades of the Great War branch held its first general meeting, at the Greyhound Hotel. The chairman, Captain Warren, in welcoming CGW members, opened with a short review of the inception of the branch two months previously and its subsequent work. He also stated that, at the CGW branch premises at Golden Court, a ‘recreation room’ and lending library were under construction, ‘this being the first step in the social side of the organisation locally’, and the ‘nucleus’ of a Comrades Club in the Richmond Borough.

IWM WW1 image

Dealing with the movement generally, Capt. Warren also revealed to the local Richmond members that were now 388 CGW branches across the country and, on the question of pensions alone, the central organisation had taken up 119 cases directly with the Ministry of Pensions, and had also formed an ’employment and information bureau’.

Interestingly, Warren also referred to ‘the unfortunate friction that had existed between associations formed for discharged soldiers and sailors’, and said that he was pleased ‘to see that a better feeling between these associations was beginning to appear’. He urged all members of the ‘Comrades’ to ‘do their very best to foster this better spirit’.

Nevertheless, despite these calls for cooperation between rival organisations, and the attempts by officers of the ‘Comrades’ to reassure ex-soldiers that the Government was taking their concerns seriously, a careful perusal of further media coverage of both the Federation and the Comrades organisations in Richmond in 1918-19 indicates that some rank-and-file ex-soldiers remained notably angry and disillusioned with the State, and their perception that they were being treated unfairly certainly continued well into 1919.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted in British history, European History, Local History, Media history, Public History, Research, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

History at Kingston University achieves exceptional National Student Survey results

The History undergraduate Degree at Kingston University has done exceptionally well in this year’s recently released National Student Survey (NSS) results. The results were released by the Office for National Students (OfS).


A History research seminar at Kingston University

The University’s overall satisfaction rate this year jumped from 82.2 per cent, rising from 80.5 per cent in 2018. In History, we achieved an overall satisfaction rate of 93.8 per cent. Moreover, there was 100 per cent recorded for 8 of the questions, making History joint top in the University in all of these areas.

Dr. Jeremy Nuttall, Head of the History Undergraduate programme at Kingston in 2018-19, expressed his delight and offered a ‘well done!’ to the hard-working History teaching team. Similarly, Dr. Marisa Linton, Associate Professor of History and part of the team, also said it was ‘excellent news’ and ‘a great tribute’ to the work Kingston’s Historians have put in this year. It has clearly been strongly appreciated by our students.

As Kingston University’s Vice-Chancellor, Steven Spier, commented in his own assessment of the University’s latest NSS results, ‘Every year, the National Student Survey results provide an invaluable insight into our students’ views on both their campus experience and degree studies’.

The study of History at Kingston has certainly met with the approval of our students. Indeed, as part of the effort to keep Kingston at the forefront, Kingston’s History team have been as busy as ever during 2018-19. In November, 2018, for example, there was a large audience of students and the public to hear three KU Historians, Dr. Sue Hawkins, Dr. John Stuart and Dr. Steven Woodbridge, who each contributed a presentation on the end of the First World World War. This was part of the ‘Modern British Identity’ speaker series for the Cultural Histories at Kingston seminar programme. The latter programme has been organised and directed by Dr. Jeremy Nuttall.

Other sessions in the series this academic year have covered, for example, Manners in the 18th Century, the future of Social Democracy, and the mainstreaming of Black power in 1960s America.

IWM WW1 image

Similarly, the University’s marketing team has made use of special news articles written by Dr. Steven Woodbridge on the 100th Anniversary of the 1918 Armistice, the 75th Anniversary of the D-day landings, and also (when a German bomb was discovered in Kingston recently) on the impact of the ‘Blitz’ on Kingston in World War Two.

Moreover, the scholarly expertise on offer from Kingston’s historians remains in both national and international demand. Dr. Rachael Johnson appeared on British TV to share her knowledge of 18th century leisure and pleasure for a documentary, while Dr. Jeremy Nuttall organised a prestigious and highly-successful book launch and symposium on British politics at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last autumn, which was attended by some key politicians from Westminster.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge gave a paper on fascism at an international conference of British and Italian historians held at SOAS, while Dr. Marisa Linton will be speaking at a conference on the French Revolution at the University of Melbourne in Australia this month.

Dr. Sue Hawkins will also be speaking at a special one-day conference later this month on the role of women in the Great War, an event which will be the culmination of Surrey County Council’s four-year ‘Surrey in the Great War’ project (which also saw one of our History students conduct voluntary work on the project in 2018-19 as part of her enrolment on our Worklink module).

John Galsworthy Building

The strong NSS results achieved by History this year is also a reflection of the quality of the student experience enjoyed by our students and the strong loyalty they often retain after graduation. During the last two years, for example, appreciation of the History team’s innovative blogging module has been demonstrated through a substantial financial prize donated by a former History undergraduate, which this year has been shared by three of our undergraduate students.

All in all, the NSS has reflected the cutting-edge quality of History as a subject at Kingston and the hard work of the History team, who have ensured students remain at the heart of all that we do. Congratulations all round!

(All images: Kingston University and Wikimedia Commons).


Posted in Blogging, British history, European History, Events, Fascism, French History, Kingston, Kingston University, Local History, Media history, Public History, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Britain on the Brink? The long summer of unrest in 1919

There has been much talk about the potential damaging economic fallout and possible civil upheaval that might occur if Britain ends up with a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in the autumn.

In fact, the summer of 2019 marks yet another period of intense uncertainty about the UK’s national identity and future, and recent polls and surveys suggest the electorate is increasingly polarised and unhappy, with significant numbers of people in an ‘anti-establishment’ mood.

Yet, in a sense, the country has faced similar periods of acute anxiety after major events during its modern history, including just after the end of the First World War. A century ago, Britain faced great uncertainty and increasing social and industrial unrest, which appeared to reach a climax during the long hot summer of 1919.

Army on duty in Summer 1919

A new article in the monthly BBC History magazine, entitled ‘Britain’s Red Summer’, and penned by the historian Clifford Williamson, tells the dramatic story of a summer when a combination of race riots, mutinies and violent strikes saw politicians very uncertain about how to deal with such disorder.

At the same time, the Government was also haunted by fears of Bolshevism spreading to the colonies and Dominions, or even of Bolshevik revolution breaking out in Britain itself.

Such worries were exacerbated by a number of police strikes across the country. As Williamson notes, for example, in Liverpool three nights of serious rioting had occurred after members of Merseyside police took industrial action and the city had been left in the hands of ‘the hooligan element’. By the time the unrest died down, a thousand soldiers had been drafted in and more than 600 people arrested.

According to Williamson, the Liverpool riot was just one of ‘many instances of violence and disorder to punctuate Britain’s “Red Summer” of 1919’. Glasgow, to give another example, saw considerable unrest in the east end of the city and in the shipyards of the Clyde. In Cardiff in Wales, tensions over lack of jobs for returning demobilised troops resulted in a series of ugly racial attacks on foreign labourers. Local Greek and Chinese businesses were also vandalised, and a gang of white men attacked West Indians or foreign sailors.

Perhaps of greatest concern to the Government was evidence of discontent and mutinous protest over conditions in British military camps and the apparent slowness of demobilisation. In the eyes of the Cabinet, there was a danger that soldiers were becoming ‘politicised’ and susceptible to ‘Communist’ agitation, and great pressure was brought to bear on local authorities to ensure demobilised soldiers regained their old jobs as quickly as possible. This was often bad news for women and ‘foreign’ labourers, who had become instrumental to the economy during the war. Moreover, local employers were not necessarily keen to re-employ large numbers of former soldiers, especially if they were now disabled from battle injuries. Unemployment among ex-service men thus remained high during 1919, and various marches and protests were staged by veterans’ associations, some of which turned disorderly.

My own research work on the period tends to support this analysis of 1919 as a hot and ‘Red’ summer of upheaval and discontent, a time of anxiety which exerted an impact even on the leafy suburbs of Kingston and Surbiton. Earlier in the year the local Surrey Comet in Kingston had already devoted an editorial to what it called ‘A Surge of Strikes’, which, the newspaper claimed, threatened ‘to engulf the whole community’. The Comet had asked: ‘What is afoot? Strike, strike, strike. One would imagine that the whole industrial population had become infected with some virus as deadly in its effect as the bite of a mad dog’.

Sacked police returning their uniforms

By May and June, 1919, the Comet was devoting space to the possibility of a police strike in the Metropolitan Police area of London. Some officers and constables did indeed take action, but the strike collapsed after the government offered better pay and conditions. Police members who did take action were severely punished, often with instant dismissal, and a number were banished from the service for life and blacklisted from other occupations (the photo above shows some dismissed police officers returning their uniforms).

Anxiety over industrial unrest and the seeming rise of ‘Red’ agitation also saw the formation in Kingston of a local branch of the Middle Classes Union (MCU), which had been founded in London in March, 1919. The new local branch held its first meeting in Surbiton Assembly Rooms in July. The object of the MCU was stated to be to protect the ‘middle classes’ from both the rise of labour and the exploitation of rich capitalists, and also to prevent the trade unions from ‘paralysing’ the country.

Similarly, a local branch of the British Empire Union (BEU), which had originally been formed in 1915 as the Anti-German Union, voiced conspiratorial claims that ‘Germans’ and ‘Reds’ were in a secret alliance to undermine the country, as the ‘Hun’ could not accept his defeat in the war.

Significantly, in early August, 1919, the Surrey Comet produced an editorial entitled ‘Drifting Towards Anarchy’, which complained that the striking Yorkshire Miners were now ‘bringing ruin’ upon the industries of England, and claimed that the happenings of the last few days ‘cannot fail to awaken serious misgivings as to the future of our beloved land’. A railway strike on the London and South-West Railway also saw the Comet allege that the striking railway workers had ‘lost the respect of all fair-minded men’.

At national level, as Williamson’s new article ably points out, there was sufficient upheaval across the country during the summer of 1919 to suggest that, at the time, post-war Britain ‘remained a nation at war with itself’.

The new issue of BBC History magazine (July, 2019) is on sale now.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University, London

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)



Posted in British history, Kingston, Local History, Public History, Research, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Marisa Linton to speak at the ‘Living the French Revolution’ symposium in Australia

Dr. Marisa Linton, Associate Professor of History at Kingston University, has been invited to the University of Melbourne this July, where she will speak at a forthcoming international symposium, ‘Living the French Revolution’, in honour of Professor Peter McPhee.

The prestigious event will see Marisa discuss two great figures of the French Revolution: Maximilien Robespierre and Antoine Saint-Just, in a talk entitled: ‘The Sea-Green Incorruptible and the Archangel of Death’.

                  Maximilien Robespierre   Saint-Just-French_anon

As well as teaching History at Kingston University, Marisa is an active researcher and is a leading expert on all aspects of the French Revolution. She is in demand internationally and has given many invited talks on the Revolution, including in the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and Norway.

Her upcoming talk in Australia will look at two leading figures of the French Revolution, Robespierre and Saint-Just (pictured), and how their reputations have been presented in fictionalised narratives: popular histories, literature, theatre and cinema. Such narrative accounts typically present these two revolutionaries as having held strongly contrasting attitudes towards tactics and the ethics of using violence in the cause of sustaining the Revolution.

Saint-Just is frequently portrayed as a pitiless and ruthless proponent of terror, a foil against which to contrast Robespierre’s more conscience-stricken responses. Invariably Saint-Just’s logic wins the argument, whilst Robespierre’s humanity suffers.  Their choices are often depicted in personal as well as political terms, focussing on the pivotal question of whether friendship or commitment to the Revolution was more important, as in the so-called ‘Danton Affair’. Yet in life these men worked closely together and shared many, though not all, attitudes towards policy and tactics.

Marisa’s talk will ask to what extent the narrative of contrasts was part of a ‘mythologisation’ of the nature of the Revolution, intended to show Robespierre’s lingering humanity gradually crushed out of existence when confronted with the inexorable logic of revolutionary politics. Marisa’s talk draws on material for which she is currently working for a book on Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins and Saint-Just, entitled Saturn’s Children: Leaders of the French Revolution, to be published by Oxford University Press.

Marisa Linton’s publications include the critically-acclaimed Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

186Linton, Marisa


Posted in European History, Events, French History, Kingston University, Oxford University Press, Public History, Research, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment