As even the most casual reader of British political literature knows, whether it's the weekly opinion journals like The...

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AMBITIONS AND REALITIES: British Politics 1964-1970

As even the most casual reader of British political literature knows, whether it's the weekly opinion journals like The Economist or New Statesman or the heftier retrospective monographs, the English have an especially fine talent for incisive analysis of national politics, not only the issues and logic but the inner emotion which fires the machinery. And Robert Rhodes James is among the best. His previous works -- including Lord Randolph Churchill (1959), Rosebery (1963), and Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939 (1970) -- have received an enthusiastic critical press, and there is no reason to believe that Ambitions and Realities will be treated otherwise. As the subtitle indicates, the book covers the most recent period of Labour Party power; in addition James reviews the regrouping of the Tories under Edward Heath and concludes with a penetrating assessment of the 1970 General Election which unexpectedly ousted Labour and Harold Wilson. There is also a longish chapter dissecting the racist M.P. Enoch Powell's catalytic role in shaping the politics of the late '60's and the election. James' central analytic principle is that political developments, to be fully understood, must be viewed as all of a piece, as a continuing process and not as episodic phenomena. Applying this touchstone, James asserts that during the period of Labour's rule both parties ""were dominated by small issues, while the great ones slipped noiselessly by"" -- Wilson talking mumblejumblebumble about Sterling, Rhodesia, the British presence East of Suez, the EEC, and so forth while Heath was busy trying to establish his leadership capabilities and dealing with the consensus-cracking Powell. ""It was a decade in which so many hopeful indications of the late 1950s proved false,"" the Labour years continuing the drift toward ""insularity, introspection, and parochialism""; indeed the drift was ""dismally accelerated."" A clear, resolute commentary on England's declining ambitions and discomforting realities.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1972

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972