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Summary

Though published in 1867 when the British Empire was approaching its height, Walter Bagehot’s essay "The English Constitution" is not only one of the great political classics but is also an unquestionably relevant document for our times. 

Despite the passing of more than 150 years, despite huge changes in enfranchisement, in attitudes and in world order, this fascinating document prompts us to re-evaluate the process of government - wherever we live. And what is more, it is written with grace, elegance - and wit! 

Of course, it is a document of its time. 

It appeared just as the working classes of Britain were enfranchised by the Reform Act of 1867, which meant that Bagehot had to bring out another edition with an extended introduction. His comments are shrewd in some cases and will raise 21st-century eyebrows in others. Nevertheless, the body of the book remains a clear and astute look at how the famously ‘unwritten’ English Constitution operates, with all its pros and its cons...a system that emerged over centuries to become a unique constitutional monarchy. 

The work is divided into nine chapters, including "The Cabinet", "The Monarchy", "The House of Lords", "The House of Commons", and "Its Supposed Checks and Balances". Overall, Bagehot (1826-1877) casts an admiring but coolly analytical eye over the whole construction. In a fascinating section, still apposite today, he compares the cabinet government of England with the presidential government of the US, pointing out that in the former, the executive and legislative functions are joined, whereas in the latter they are separated. 

Not surprisingly, Bagehot unequivocally prefers the former. He salutes the political temperance of English constitutional monarchy - though he acknowledges the performance of the individual on the throne can and does vary with the individual. 

When he refers appreciatively to his current monarch - ‘she’ - one could almost be excused for thinking that he is speaking of Queen Elizabeth II! 

This appraisal of the English form of government, which evolved over time rather than being implanted with form and structure complete, is absorbing listening to all who are interested in the governing of societies, politics and England. This is true particularly because of the immense changes and challenges we are experiencing today. A classic commentary on its subject, it is read admirably by Peter Wickham.

Public Domain (P)2020 Ukemi Productions Ltd

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Biiiiig Mistake!

I went into this one with high hopes, but soon lost interest.

The book: a collection of essays largely based on Bagehot's whimsical musings on the political institutions of mid-19th century England. Nothing systematic, nothing really factual or intelligible even. Just waffle.

The man: I gave this book two stars because it offered me a glimpse of just what 19th century English liberalism was like. Bagehot, although he is described in the introduction as a liberal, was a truly bigoted man with no interest in democracy. I often found myself thinking, "If this is what the liberals were like back then, what of the Tories"?

The narration: Now, I don't want to criticise a man for his accent, but this audiobook is 11 hours of the most toffee-nosed pronunciation you'll ever hear. I must be honest though, if it weren't such a bad book (Bagehot's fault) I don't think Wickham's accent would have bothered me that much.