A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy

Patrick Hannan
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 1, 2009
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‘A cracking read which... is as relevant, if not more so, than ever.’ – On: Yorkshire

In A Useful Fiction political broadcaster Patrick Hannan provides a punchy commentary on how the mere question of devolution is influencing all areas of political debate. The make-up of Britain has seen far-reaching change in the last ten years. Yet do the British understand these changes? Or rather do the English? Devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has sharply focussed the question there, but in metropolitan England there is only a gradual realisation that the English are affected too.

In his characteristically perceptive yet entertaining style Hannan reviews  the politicians’ love of invoking Britishness, from Major to Brown; the role of newspapers and the broadcast media in telling us what it means to be British; the use of Britishness by nationalist political parties; the effects of devolution on Labour’s ability to govern the country as a whole; who pays to keep the various parts of Britain running?; the place of the royal family(and class) in twentieth century Britain. In total, Hannan asks the question; what principles should underlie the democratic running of Britain and its constituent parts and how should the parliamentary system change as those parts devolve?


Review by Rich Barnett, On: Yorkshire Magazine

Thursday, May 10, 2018

This reviewer has already spoken highly of the late Patrick Hannan’s When Arthur Met Maggie and in A Useful Fiction he lets loose on Britishness and the identities not only of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but England as well.

With separate assemblies covering the Celtic’ nations, Hannan, who wrote this in 2009, was turning the spotlight on an unease felt by many English – if the other three can have their own parliaments, then why can’t we?

Looking not only at Britishness but how the four flags had (and have) their own personalities, the one-time BBC Welsh correspondent doesn’t hold back at knocking the hypocrisy of politicians who shaped Great Britain to how it is today, perhaps lying under a cloud of general unease and nervousness about how those four nations might – or might not – rub along together.

“Exposing the hypocrisy”

Hannan doesn’t hold back when it comes to looking at the faux matiness of Blair and Cameron, their public school/Oxford backgrounds and the friends they surrounded themselves with.

He looks at the role not only of cabinets and shadow cabinets in shaping Britain – he casts around at other elements of the establishment, including not only newspapers (his look at regional and daily newspapers when they were under threat and since the time of this book’s publication, demise is especially poignant) but the BBC as well, and how it has to cater for the four countries (once dubbed ‘regions’) while also meeting a pan-Britain agenda.

The church and the Royal Family don’t get off (no pun intended) scot-free either, Hannan exposing the hypocrisy of both bodies and also the public’s acceptance of discrimination that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

The result is a cracking read which, while almost 10 years old, is as relevant, if not more so, than ever. Beautifully written and lacking the pseudo-intellectual cant too many modern political works have, it’s a fitting tribute to the author.

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