Robert Saunders Profile picture
Author of "Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum & Seventies Britain". "A jaw-dislocating page turner"(Andrew Marr). Co-director @MileEndInst, Reader @QMHistory
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Aug 19, 2023 16 tweets 5 min read
The most powerful idea in British politics is "the economy".

Parties promise to "grow", "unleash" or "manage" the economy.

It tops lists of voter concerns.

But what if we had no concept of "the economy"?

Until the C20th, we didn't. And its rise has had major consequences...🧵 Image 1. If you had told Mr Gladstone that "the economy has grown this year", he would not have understood what you meant.

Gladstone was the most financially literate statesman of the C19th.

But the idea of something called "the economy", which could "grow" or "shrink", did not exist Image
Jun 13, 2023 10 tweets 4 min read
There's a hugely important vote in the Lords today, where @GreenJennyJones will attempt to kill a Statutory Instrument changing the law of protest.

The Lords almost never block SIs, so this raises big constitutional qs.

Here's why Labour *should* back the "fatal motion" 🧵... 1. SIs are a form of "secondary legislation": law made directly by ministers, rather than by passing a bill through Parliament.

They are meant to fill in the details of "primary", or parliamentary, legislation.

But this one is being used to *overturn* a decision by Parliament.
Jun 12, 2023 16 tweets 5 min read
I agree with Anthony Seldon about the damage Boris Johnson has done and his unfitness for public office.

But there's a question he doesn't address here, which needs more attention.

It troubled me about his book, too. So let me try to explain... 🧵… 1. If Johnson was so manifestly unsuited to office - if his "deep character flaws" were formed so early - how did he rise to power?

What does that say about our democracy, or the qualities we reward in potential leaders?

And what was the role of the commentariat? Image
Jun 9, 2023 9 tweets 2 min read
This isn't a resignation statement; it's a temper tantrum.

And its central claim is untrue.

Johnson says he was "forced out anti-democratically" by a "kangaroo court".

So let's remind ourselves of the process from which he has chosen to run away... 🧵… 1. Johnson was accused of a serious parliamentary offence: misleading the House.

That triggered a 3-step process.

Step one: an investigation by the Privileges Committee, which has a majority of Tory MPs.

Its chair recused himself, & the taxpayer funded Johnson's legal advice.
Jun 7, 2023 6 tweets 2 min read
I'm a great fan of @lewis_goodall, who argues here for televising the courts.

But respectfully, I don't think the arguments for televising Parliament and televising court cases are analogous.

A few thoughts... 🧵 @lewis_goodall 1. The case for televising Parliament is that voters should know what their elected representatives are saying and doing in their name, so that we can hold them to account at the ballot box.

All those involved are public officials, who are directly responsible to those outside.
Mar 5, 2023 5 tweets 2 min read
"The next war...will leave civilization a smoking ruin and a putrefying charnel house" (Ramsay MacDonald, 19292).

A great find, illustrating a point that's often overlooked in the memory of "appeasement": that "the next war" was widely expected to end European civilization. 1/5 2. For a Conservative example, here's Stanley Baldwin addressing the House of Commons in November 1932:

"When the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be..."…
Mar 3, 2023 7 tweets 3 min read
The Privilege Committee's report on Boris Johnson is quietly devastating.

It's not the final verdict - Johnson will now have the chance to give written and oral evidence - but he's going to need some very good answers. Some excerpts follow...… On the suggestion that Johnson was not aware of the rules:

"Mr Johnson’s knowledge of the rules and guidance is evidenced by the continuous statements he made at press conferences and to the House outlining and reaffirming rules and guidance that were in force." Image
Feb 25, 2023 6 tweets 2 min read
To his credit, Sunak seems to be making a serious effort to fix the problems with Johnson's protocol through negotiation, rather than treaty-breaking or chest-thumping.

His opponents should resist the temptation to make that job harder, for short-term political capital. 1/6 2. The UK's adversarial system incentivises parties to stoke divisive issues, rather than take risks to resolve them.

If Sunak is willing to defy his party's hardliners, to achieve a better outcome for NI & put UK-EU relations on a better footing, he needs some political cover.
Feb 8, 2023 14 tweets 6 min read
I'll be on "In Our Time" tomorrow, with Joan Allen and @EmmaGriffinHist, talking about Chartism - one of the most inspiring, important and innovative movements in British history.

So here's a quick primer...… Chartism took its name from "the People's Charter": a new "Magna Carta" of democratic reforms.

At its peak in the 1830s and 40s, it mobilised millions of working men and women behind the campaign for democracy and the vote - most famously in three colossal "National Petitions". Image
Dec 9, 2022 4 tweets 2 min read
It's curious how people who revere the "centuries of evolution" that formed the UK constitution always seem to oppose any further evolution.

Five Reform Acts, the Parliament Acts, secret voting: a glorious history of change!

Further reform? Sacrilege!… Talk of "evolution" underplays the repeated, disruptive change that shaped the constitution, as if it happened without active human agency.

Victorians like Lord John Russell urged MPs to think like sculptors, constantly working "to alter and vary the form of our institutions".
Nov 29, 2022 4 tweets 2 min read
I enjoyed the @RestIsPolitics over lunch, but was surprised to hear @campbellclaret say that Labour could only force Lords reform through the Upper House if it was in the manifesto.

I think that might be mixing up the "Salisbury Doctrine" with the Parliament Act. 1/2 2.The Salisbury Doctrine is the convention that the Lords don't block manifesto pledges. But the Parliament Act allows the Commons to override the Lords on almost any subject after a year's delay.

It's easier to get manifesto pledges through the Lords, but it can be done without
Nov 15, 2022 4 tweets 2 min read
A reminder that the govt refused to allow a vote or debate in parliament before ratifying the Australia deal. It ended the nominal "scrutiny period" before the select committee could release its report.

Always the same pattern: shut down scrutiny, declare victory, unleash chaos. Ministers refused to extend the "scrutiny period", so the Select Committe could report.

They refused to schedule a parliamentary debate.

And the Secretary of State failed to attend a Committee hearing.

So much for "restoring parliamentary sovereignty".…
Nov 10, 2022 10 tweets 4 min read
"Across the country, this could affect tens of thousands of people, even hundreds of thousands".

As election officials urge government to delay Voter ID, let's remind ourselves who else has advised ministers to pause or rethink their plans. [THREAD]… In 2021, the cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called for the Elections Bill - which imposed Voter ID, allows ministers to direct the Electoral Commission & extends FPTP - to be suspended.

It was ignored.…
Nov 9, 2022 4 tweets 2 min read
"Upon arrival at the police station she was searched again, samples of her DNA, her fingerprints and a mugshot were taken, and she was escorted down to a cell".

In a democracy, journalists should not be handcuffed and arrested for *reporting* on protest.… There have been too many stories like this of late. See also:

"After being handcuffed he asked to show police his press card, but they placed him under caution and put him in a police van anyway".…
Oct 29, 2022 6 tweets 3 min read
Spent yesterday teaching "The Rise of the Labour Party".

This was how one magazine reported Labour's parliamentary breakthrough in 1906, when it returned 29 MPs (roughly 4% of the House of Commons). Ever since the reform acts of 1867 and 1884, MPs had feared that working-class voters would turn to their own working-class party.

The arrival of 29 Labour MPs in 1906 was seen through that prism: a phenomenon political scientists might call "Blofeld Syndrome".
Oct 20, 2022 10 tweets 4 min read
Liz Truss was never a plausible prime minister, but her disastrous tenure was a symptom, not the source of her party's problems.

Changing the leader is not enough. The Tory Party needs a serious reckoning with its recent past, & with the forces that made Truss possible. [THREAD] 1. Truss's premiership was the work of many hands.

She was cheered into office by right-wing media outlets that behave more like a worship band than "newspapers".

They trashed her critics, lauded her budget and turned on her only when it was obvious she could not survive.
Oct 17, 2022 5 tweets 2 min read
This is a peculiar argument.

No post-war govt has changed PM twice in one parliament, with OR without a general election.

There is no precedent either way.

Because there's no precedent for a party with a 70+ majority appointing a leader who cannot command the confidence of MPs 2. Either a PM has a personal mandate from the electorate, or their mandate comes from Parliament.

If they have a personal mandate, it's hard to justify ever changing without an election.

If it comes from Parliament, it's not clear why MPs can replace one leader but not two.
Aug 30, 2022 6 tweets 3 min read
In 1990, Margaret Thatcher suggested Mikhail Gorbachev as "Man of the Century": not Churchill, not Denis, but a Communist who led the Soviet Union. A mark of the impression he made upon the most unlikely allies, and the role he played in ending the Cold War. RIP. Image Thatcher hoped that Gorbachev would be an ally in slowing the reunification of Germany, a course that he wisely declined to follow.

But she remained extremely nervous of anything that might destabilise his leadership - as her annotations in this document suggest. Image
Aug 22, 2022 14 tweets 5 min read
I'm grateful to @DavidGHFrost for responding so constructively to my thread. One of the things I most value about twitter is the opportunity to exchange ideas with people we disagree with.

Just a few points to add - & some places where there might be scope for agreement.[THREAD] (Apologies for the delay: I wrote the first tweet and the internet connection promptly went down. I'm now ensconced in a nearby cafe, so let's try again...)
Aug 20, 2022 8 tweets 3 min read
David Frost is mistaken if he thinks that a "four-nations" view of the United Kingdom is a recent deviation from a "unitary" state.

Indeed, one of the problems with the "muscular Unionism" he espouses is that it shows very little understanding of the history of the Union. THREAD 2. Long before "four nations" rhetoric became fashionable, it was common to talk of "the three kingdoms" that made up the UK.

Even more than the "four nations" idea, this recognised the component parts of the UK as distinct political entities, not just historic associations.
Jul 26, 2022 4 tweets 1 min read
What a goal!!!

(So far, at least, tonight's contest is considerably higher quality than last night's...) #ENGSWE (Wonder where Leah Williamson and Kosovare Asllani stand on tax cuts and the control of inflation?)