Richard Ord: History just isn’t what it used to be

Sir Winston Churchill.
Sir Winston Churchill.
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‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

These were the words I impressed on my son before he headed into the GCSE History exam this week.

They weren’t my words, but Winston Churchill’s, and I think even he nicked them from someone else.

I thought I’d repeat the quote to my 16-year-old son to stoke his fires and get him enthused for the important test ahead. Our Bradley’s words of response were equally as incisive and eloquent as those of Churchill.

He said: “History is boring. I’m not interested. There’s nothing interesting about it. What’s the point? I’m learning stuff I’ll never use again. Unless it comes up in a pub quiz. Yeah, if history is good for anything, it’s good for pub quizzes. But that’s it.”

So I’ll update Churchill’s famous quote.

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it and be left wanting in the pub quiz.”

Feel free to use it when trying to fire up your child before exams.

With the General Election looming, there’s been lots of political quotes and soundbites, most of which will go down in history. We won’t, however, be puffing our chests out and repeating them in years to come, we’ll be cringing with embarrassment.

I particularly like Theresa May’s Tory mantra of “strong and stable.” A very useful phrase … if you’re buying a kitchen table. Outside of buying a kitchen table, the “strong and stable’ mantra needs embellishing upon if it’s to carry any weight. It’s particularly ineffective when shouted from the sidelines when the rest of the party leaders are forcibly arguing their points on a live head-to-head TV debate. “Tell them I’m strong and stable,” doesn’t carry much gravitas when texted to your stand-in from home.

The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have produced the best quotes. Boris Johnson described him as a “mutton-headed old mugwump.” It might have been a brilliant put down, if you had a dictionary to hand. In truth, it said more about the user than the target.

My favourite though is the attack on Labour’s fully-costed manifesto, in which Amber Rudd poured scorn on all Labour’s plans by informing everyone that “there is no magic money tree.”

The magic money tree defence has been trotted out after every plan put forward by Labour. How will they pay for the 10,000 extra police officers? There is no magic money tree. How will they protect the NHS? There is no magic money tree. How can they afford to scrap tuition fees? There is no magic money tree. (On tuition fees, however, couldn’t Labour borrow Scotland’s magic money tree? Seems to work for them.)

But there is a magic money tree, of sorts. Money is a man-made thing. We can’t make gold, or oil, or food, but we can print as much money as we like. Remember quantitative easing? But that only counts when bailing out banks, apparently.

When my truculent 16-year-old son wants cash for another pair of over-priced trainers, however, I won’t mention quantitative easing, but will quote Amber Rudd: “There is no magic money tree.”

If he wants cash, he can use his newly-acquired knowledge of history, and try and win the local pub quiz. Depending on who wins the election, pub quizzes may well be funding his education for years to come.