(The Tablet) Towards a new reality–Britain’s changing mood

The novelist Virginia Woolf identified December 1910 as the moment when human character changed. Could the same point 100 years later mark a similar seminal time for Britain? The author of How to Survive the Next World Crisis presents the evidence that the country is entering a new era

Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, now aged 93, is the celebrated author of a history of the nineteenth century of which the third volume is entitled The Age of Empire. He was reputedly asked recently when he thought the Age of Empire had ended. “Let me see,” he is said to have replied, “I think it was last Wednesday.” “Last Wednesday” was the day of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the day, Hobsbawm was pointing out, when a British Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the country could no longer afford the military resources of an imperial power.

The most deeply symbolic image of 2010 was the television shot of a row of past prime ministers and current Cabinet members in Westminster Hall, listening with close attention to the words of a Pope reminding them of moral responsibilities and a moral authority that surpass and outlast kingdoms and empires. Over five centuries, the British Parliament, Church and empire grew out of Henry VIII”s rejection of the authority of Rome and his claim that England was itself “another empire”. If the Empire has gone and the Church is not what it was, we must expect Parliament, too, to be transformed.

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