The Blunders of our Governments by Anthony King & Ivor Crewe - review by Francis Wheen

Francis Wheen

Unfit to Rule

The Blunders of our Governments


Oneworld 470pp £25 order from our bookshop

In the essays known as the Federalist Papers, published in 1787–8, the American statesman James Madison deplored ‘the blunders of our governments’. What, he asked, ‘are all the repealing, explaining and amending laws, which fill and disgrace our voluminous codes, but so many monuments of deficient wisdom?’ Taking their cue and their title from Madison, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe set out to chronicle the deficient wisdom that has disgraced successive British governments over the past thirty years.

At first I feared that they would pull their punches, as both are honorary life members of the political establishment: King, who rejoices in the title of Millennium Professor of British Government, seems to have been a mainstay of election-night coverage since the days of Gladstone and Disraeli; Crewe, Master of University College, Oxford, was knighted in 2006 after persuading vice-chancellors to support the Labour government’s introduction of top-up fees. ‘One thing this book is not about’, they write in the introduction, ‘is pointing the finger of blame at individuals.’ Their lofty purpose is to

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