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September 22, 2008

Sacrificing the Prime Minister - Or what Carl Larsson's Midwinter Sacrifice tells us about the coming demise of Gordon Brown

Posted by Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black contemplates Carl Larsson's Midwinter Sacrifice, a bad summer and the coming demise of Gordon Brown.

The Swedes had the answer, of course. You need only go to the National Museum in Sweden where you will see Carl Larsson's painting Midwinter Sacrifice which depicts King Domalde, a figure from the Edda (Old Norse texts) about to be the victim of a pagan sacrifice at Uppsala intended to seek divine support for better weather. Surely this has a lesson for modern multicultural Britain.

It is true that the sacrifice of leaders is not our way (well at least not in this full-blooded fashion), but should we not set restraint aside? Instead of sending our failures off to act as Euro-commissioners or on other such tainted jollies, we need an approach at once more robust and more culturally acute. Of course we also need to be aware that Larsson's painting, although finished in 1915, was initially rejected for the Museum and indeed not acquired for it until 1997 as it depicted Domalde as naked. So maybe Gordon Brown can wear one of his distinctive ties for the action.

The weather theme is crucial because that is really why much of the country is fed up. This has been an unremitting summer and that makes it difficult for anyone to take a sunny view of events. Underplayed by most political commentators, but crucial.

Labour as a victim of the weather, well and Brown also of course, opens a vista for future politics. Who will the Tories choose for sacrifice to ensure dryish skies? They certainly need to ensure that they do not repeat the trajectory of the last two Tory periods in office which were one-term (Heath) and nearly one-term (Thatcher).

Labour's baleful legacy will not help, but nor will the crazies propagating daft ideas, not least war with a host of possibilities. "We must have war with Iran". "Tell me do you think Sudan can be taken out with 10,000 men?", are just two of the remarks I have heard (the second addressed to me) from those who see themselves as Conservative intellectuals.

Of course, there is a separate and rather more serious problem. As discussed in my Britain since the Seventies, that is that the country is becoming ungovernable, with buttons pressed in London and nothing much happening elsewhere. Cameron is correct to note social crisis, but there is also a political one. It owes much to Labour, but Labour alone is far from responsible. It looks as though the pagan priests will have their work cut out, but coming from Uppsala they will not need work permits anyway.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author - amongst much else - of The Slave Trade (2007), A Short History of Britain (2007), The Holocaust (2008), and The Curse of History (2008).


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