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Johnson vs Corbyn

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 January 2018, 10.30am

Jan 30th is the anniversary of the killing of the king.

It was on this day that Charles 1st was executed on a scaffold in Whitehall on a freezing day in 1649.

I have written about the remarkable year which led to this impossible royal execution in my historical novel, ‘The soldier, The gaoler, the spy and her lover’.

As Sellars and Yeatman brillaintly put it in ‘1066 and all that’, it was ‘Cavaliers (wrong but romantic) versus Roundheads (right but revolting).

But I’ve also discovered that the battle lines live on in our country today.

When giving talks about the book, I find that everyone, instinctively, is still a Cavalier or a Roundhead…without necessarily knowing why.

Everyone is for Charles 1st or for Cromwell, for Monarchy or Parliament. No one’s in any doubt.

And the tension still exists. The English civil war didn’t settle anything, and neither has the referendum.

The battle lines remain as the Cavalier Boris Johnson slugs it out for the nation’s soul with the Puritan Jeremy Corbyn.

Like Charles 1st, Johnson’s cynicism knows no bounds; this was my strongest impression after interviewing him a while back.

(Note recent support for the NHS…et al.)

And like Oliver Cromwell, Corbyn is locked in a bubble of earnestness, which may present as man-of-the-people humility but is underpinned by arrogance.

(A large majority of his party wish to remain in the single market; he won’t hear of it.)

Charles the aesthete spent huge sums buying European art collections for his palace; Cromwell the puritan was against both Christmas and dancing. 

So once again, the nation and its soul have a choice between cynical or earnest, aesthete or puritan? Knowing full well that the cynical can sometimes tell the truth; and the earnest can assuredly lie.

The axe falls in Whitehall. The crowd gasps. The English have killed their king. How did that happen?

But nothing is settled, the battle lines remain: what do we want?

The cynical or the earnest? Aesthete or Puritan?

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