So Leonard and Garnett have done us a real service in providing a lucid and readable account of one of our least explored political eras. As a sitting MP I was particularly struck by two things. Britain was as obsessed with being Europe’s saviour then as now, and despite the reactionary timbre of the monarch, our constitutional settlement continued to unfurl. Lord North’s letter to George III when he resigned as prime minister because the Commons no longer supported his policy of continuing the war with America seems especially apposite today. “The Parliament have altered their sentiments”, he wrote, “and as their sentiments whether just or erroneous must ultimately prevail, Your Majesty … can lose no honour if you yield at length … to the opinion and wishes of the House of Commons.” The Executive today could learn a lesson from Pitt vs Fox.
For 22 years, Fox and Pitt eyeballed each other across the despatch box, the only place they ever cared to meet, given their shared animosity. The resulting book is a standard, sometimes pedestrian account of a life-long duel — with one significant difference. In foregrounding “the fluid nature of partisan allegiances,” which reached a climax during the Regency Crisis, the authors recast Fox and Pitt as remarkable compromisers and persuaders — titanic parliamentarians whose agility and oratory sustained their careers and bears galling contrast with the dearth of frontbench talent on display today... While sometimes leaning upon unnecessary lengthy quotations from other historians, Titans finds a timely relevance in the present parliamentary logjam.