Historians should avoid colourful predictions, however tempting they might seem.
At the moment I’m touring the country with a lecture called Henry VIII And The First Brexit, which compares the king’s eventual clean and triumphant break with the Roman Church with our own messy and humiliating attempts to extricate ourselves from the European Union.
But audiences really want me to talk about the present.
‘What do you think is going to happen?’, they ask. I shrug my shoulders and explain that, since history only works by looking backwards, those historians who pose as prophets are charlatans.
My audiences think I’m copping out, of course – and they are right.
I haven’t always been such a purist. Three years ago, I published a book on Magna Carta to mark the founding document of our Parliamentary constitution, that had been sealed 800 years earlier in 1215.
In holding a medieval king accountable to his subjects – or some of them, at least – Magna Carta was a revolutionary step and is rightly celebrated.
But I ended on a note of caution. All is not well with Britain or our politics, I said. ‘Is it silly to think there is a touch of 1215 – a whiff of revolution – in the air?
And it came true in June 2016, with the decisive referendum vote to reshape our politics once again and leave the European Union.
The referendum was a very British revolution. And it’s been followed by a very British counter-revolution, which shows every sign of succeeding.
Don’t be deceived by the lack of violence or the comparative good manners of those now seizing control. This is a coup, and what is at stake is the nature and legitimacy of Parliament itself.
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