For Jacob Rees-Mogg the 19th century was a golden era. It was a time of moral certainty, of a global vision for Great Britain, and a confidence in the essential goodness of our great nation. And it is a period of history that offers us guidance as we collectively seek a way forward for Britain in these confusing times. In a new book Rees-Mogg celebrates twelve prominent figures from the Victorian era, including the statesmen Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone and Disraeli, two military leaders, Napier and Gordon, and of course Victoria herself and her consort Albert. Rees-Mogg salutes the Victorians’ drive and reforming zeal – to lower the cost of food, reform the prison system and abolish the slave trade. They bequeathed us a stable democracy, the rule of law and freedom of speech, which led to the stable and prosperous state we enjoy today, Rees-Mogg argues. There is much that we can emulate in the Victorians’ sense of duty and self-belief.
While few would deny that the modern age owes a debt to the Victorians, many would argue that Rees-Mogg’s vision is a somewhat blinkered one, reflecting his own position as a Conservative MP on the right of the party and an ardent Brexiteer who believes in a post-Brexit global Britain. Joining Rees-Mogg on stage to challenge his views will be Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, former Labour MP and historian of the Victorian era. First of all, Hunt will ask, where are the women in Rees-Mogg’s version of Victorian Britain? Apart from Victoria, every person on Rees-Rees-Mogg’s list of twelve is a man. Where are the reformers such as Sylvia Pankhurst, Octavia Hill and Elizabeth Fry? Where are the artistic giants, such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot and John Ruskin? Where are the Victorians at the wrong end of British imperial power, such as Samuel Sharpe, a slave in Jamaica who led a rebellion which helped bring an end to slavery? And at a time when the morality and legacy of the British Empire is coming under scrutiny as never before, is it not a provocation to include two military commanders who played a part in what are now increasingly viewed as ethically dubious endeavours, such as the Opium Wars and the rapacious expansion of the Empire?
Rees-Mogg believes that if Britain can regain the self-confidence, moral certainty and outward-looking vision of the Victorians, we will thrive. But in the complex, interconnected world of the 21st century, is this vision of Britain not an outdated one? Join us on May 21st to hear Rees-Mogg and Hunt lock horns and make up your own mind.
All tickets include a copy of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s forthcoming book, The Victorians: Twelve Titans who Forged Britain, at the discounted price of £12 (RRP £20). Books can be collected from the venue on the night of the event.
Speakers are subject to change.