Robert Tombs

Robert Tombs

Robert Tombs is an emeritus professor in history at the University of Cambridge and the author of This Sovereign Isle: Britain in and out of Europe (Allen Lane, 2021). He also edits the History Reclaimed website

How the Tories changed Britain

The late Roger Scruton (whose wrongful sacking as a housing adviser by a Tory minister in 2019 was a sign that things were badly wrong) defined the fundamental issue: ‘There can be no democracy without a demos, a “we” united by a shared sense of belonging.’ How has the demos changed over 14 years of Conservative government?

The astonishing achievement of D-Day

Today we are commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day – ‘Operation OVERLORD’ – with fitting ceremony and reverence, though, some polls suggest, without much understanding. Some confusion in the public mind about the precise meaning and importance of the Normandy landings is surely understandable. D-Day itself, 6 June, however vital, was the culmination of a long

Has the C of E got its reparations bill all wrong?

Reparations have a troubled history, and rightly. The word itself, in its familiar sense, seems to have been a euphemism thought up by lawyers after the first world war. President Woodrow Wilson had promised a peace ‘without indemnities’. So no indemnities: ‘reparations’ instead. It sounded less objectionable. It was further agreed that liability should cover

What Kemi Badenoch gets right about colonialism

Kemi Badenoch has developed a habit of truth telling. This is risky in our climate of rigid cultural orthodoxy, for whose guardians ‘Truth is what you and people like you believe, and can compel others to accept,’ as the philosopher John Gray puts it. Those who tell truths that ‘you and people like you’ deny

The endless myth of British decline

The former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, recently compared the British economy with that of Argentina. This was typical of those Remainers who cannot imagine that a country ignoring them could possibly succeed, and who often seem to will it to fail. That Carney’s sneer did not merely provoke laughter is because

Spectator Out Loud: Robert Tombs, Jamie Blackett and Tanya Gold

22 min listen

This episode of Spectator Out Loud features Professor Robert Tombs on Canada’s willingness to believe anything bad about its own history (00:55); the farmer Jamie Blackett on the harms of wild camping (12:10); and Tanya Gold on the reopening of Claridge’s Restaurant. Presented and produced by Cindy Yu.

The rise of conspiracy history

Readers would doubtless find it hard to believe that the late Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh kidnapped and killed indigenous children while on a state visit to Canada in 1964. Yet this story circulated for years in Canada along with other horror stories of the rape, torture and murder of indigenous children at the

Harry’s crusade: the Prince vs the press

31 min listen

This week:  Prince Harry has taken the stand to give evidence in the Mirror Group phone hacking trial which The Spectator’s deputy editor Freddy Gray talks about in his cover piece for the magazine. He is joined by Patrick Jephson, former private secretary to Princess Diana, to discuss whether Harry’s ‘suicide mission’ against the press is ill-advised.

The trouble with returning the Benin Bronzes

Once, museum curators saw their job as collecting, conserving and displaying to the public works of art or humbler objects that were beautiful, interesting and representative of a time and a place. Now many of them want to get rid of, or at least hide away, objects that they pronounce shameful. Cambridge University, under its

The mystical power of the coronation spoon

A spoon may seem too homely for grand ceremony. It might even, in this sceptical and utilitarian age, seem slightly ridiculous. This prompts the question of how, or whether, we value ancient traditions and ceremonies whose original meanings and power are largely lost to us. And if we do value them, why? This particular spoon,

Remainers should be honest about the costs of Brexit

Those opposed to leaving the European Union repeatedly accuse Brexit of being based on ignorance fed by lies. The ‘lie’ they invariably refer to is the £350 million on the side of the Boris bus. In reality, it was the Remain campaign, and its interminable Rejoiner sequel, that was and is based on systematic distortions

Did the Suffragettes really win women the vote?

I suppose most people regard the Suffragettes as the exemplary vindication of the right to carry out illegal direct action in a righteous cause. Speaking in support of Extinction Rebellion, Helen Pankhurst, a descendant of the Suffragette leader, said that both movements were equally ‘socially marginalised, made fun of, considered to be extremists, and legally

Christmas Special

65 min listen

Welcome to the special Christmas episode of The Edition! Up first: What a year in politics it has been. 2022 has seen five education secretaries, four chancellors, three prime ministers and two monarchs. But there is only one political team that can make sense of it all. The Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson, deputy political editor Katy Balls

England vs France is far more than a football match

When England play France tonight, more will be involved than just a game of football.  We all know why. Even those with an enviable indifference to history will have vague notions about Agincourt, Joan of Arc, Waterloo, Napoleon and General de Gaulle. When I first went to France decades ago I was surprised to be asked fairly

The new vandals

31 min listen

This week: In his cover piece Douglas Murray writes that museums are turning against their own collections. He is joined by the historian Robert Tombs to discuss whether a culture of self-flagellation is harming British museums (00:56). Also this week: For the magazine The Spectator’s assistant editor Cindy Yu writes that the tune is changing in China.

These polemics against Brexit both fall into the same trap

It is good for historians to take the plunge into political writing, using their knowledge where they can to illuminate our present predicament. I declare an interest: I have tried it myself, on the other side of the debate. One has to be open with the reader as to one’s intentions and willing to expose

What Netflix’s RRR gets wrong about the British Raj

Netflix is promoting a new pseudo-historical blockbuster. RRR, which stands for Rise, Roar, Revolt, is an Indian film which has been playing to packed houses at home. Those expecting the usual Indian crowd-pleaser featuring magic, romance, stiff-upper-lip male heroism, and improbably gory violence will not be disappointed. RRR is set in the 1920s, when India was

Backing Badenoch is a risk the Tories should take

Whoever is chosen to lead the Conservative party will be plunged into a storm of problems needing rapid and decisive action. This will require a fresh mind, boundless energy and courage. In short, the attributes of youth. This puts Kemi Badenoch and Rishi Sunak – both 42 years of age – at an advantage. Sunak, the current frontrunner, came

Why is St Paul’s Cathedral commemorating a Benin slave trader?

The Church of England is rightly sensitive to the evils of slavery and racism. It has announced energetic measures to combat racism within its membership and to remove flagrant commemorations of slave owners in its churches. Following the Black Lives Matter protests, Archbishop Justin Welby remarked that: ‘Some (statues and monuments) will have to come