George Brandis pompously pontificates yet again

Just recently our former High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, pontificated in his regular Age column that Oliver Cromwell was ‘boring until he wasn’t’.

It was apropos Labour Leader and next UK Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer. For those not aware BTW – Starmer didn’t seek a knighthood as many have done with generous donations to party funds throughout English political history right up until today– it just went with his job as DPP.

As a Life Member of the Cromwell Association, possessor of most of the Cromwell biographies, many books on the Civil Wars as well as both the Abott and Carlyle editions of Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, plus the recent History of Parliament volumes on the Civil War era the concept that Cromwell was ever boring is puzzling.

A letter to the editor to the Age in response to the piece was initially rejected because Brandis was apparently referring to Cromwell before he did other things. A revised version of the letter outlining Cromwell’s exploits from his earliest days at Cambridge got no response. This revised letter pointed out that at Cambridge he was known for his enthusiasm for cudgelling, wrestling and ball games.

He was well read in Greek and Latin history and excelled in mathematics. It is reported that at one stage he jumped from the first-floor window of a College room onto a horse standing outside. This, however, may be apocryphal and a later invention, like many things about Cromwell, including his role in Ireland. Dreadful yes, but less dreadful than some of his predecessors and successors.

Nevertheless, he was a fine horseman and cavalry commander as he showed during the Civil War. Indeed, he is arguably the most successful cavalry commander in British history and the British could have done rather better if he’d been in the Crimea.

Elected as an MP he was involved in the debates about national grievances in the 1628 and 1640 Parliaments and was associated initially with John Pym. He commanded troops – if not the army as a whole – from the start of the Civil War and played a key role in some of the most significant battles of that war.

If Brandis is ascribing being boring to the manifestations of Cromwell’s devout religious feelings, then almost everyone in British public life at the time was boring. If he is describing his pre-military career as boring, he is being ahistorical and should read one of the many Cromwell biographies and the sections on both his early as well as his later life.

In a 2002 BBC poll Cromwell was voted the tenth most important person in British history by the public. He followed Churchill, Brunel, Diana, Darwin, Shakespeare, Newton, Elizabeth I, Lennon, and Nelson. A strange list admittedly but none of them would be regarded as boring. Cromwell was – along with others – a regicide but it is also significant that his statue has stood outside the Parliament since the 19th century.

His head was severed from his body after the Restoration when his corpse was dug up and placed on London Bridge. It later disappeared but it is an open secret that it has been buried somewhere in Cambridge’s Sussex College.

Now, even accepting the Letters Editor’s view that Brandis’ comments were OK because they were a before and after comparison, it is obvious that it is really just an ignorant quip which the author uses in an attempt to be seen as historically informed and worthy of witty dinner table conversation at an Oxbridge College dinner.

It is consistent with the fact that over decades George Brandis’ opinions and behaviour have demonstrated that he is arguably among Australian politics most pompous figures. This faux Cromwell allusion is simply an example of that.

Penny Wong called him ‘a pompous git’ in Parliament in 2013 and was sadly forced to withdraw it. Whether the git or the pompous word were unparliamentary or not is unclear.

Moreover, given his Ministerial performance his opinions on politics also need to be taken with a fair amount of scepticism. When Arts Minister he ripped $105 million out of the Australia Council funding and set up a new body in which he – not experts or arts peers – made the decisions.

He also planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act claiming that “people have a right to be bigots”.

Both the young and older Oliver Cromwell would probably have found him boring and politically useless.

Brandis’ column’s content is, in itself, not an important issue. It is just one of those Age brainwaves designed to make the newspaper look balanced. Most Age readers probably pass over it – much as they do with most of The Age comment except for Greg Baum, Tony Wright and the incomparable Ross Gittins.

But it is also symptomatic of the broader problems facing The Age and SMH. A good first step in remedying them would be getting a replacement for Brandis. There are other Liberals who are better writers and more insightful.

STOP PRESS: Media gets it wrong again

 The media gets it wrong again. India’s Modi was going to win an overwhelming majority according to almost all the media outlets around the world. Instead, he ended up with a minority. This may, of course, make him even more dangerous.