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Insiders and Outsiders

John Miller considers 20th-century political insiders and outsiders through the eyes of today's historians on radio.

Mosley was authoritarian but I don't think he was intrinsically more authoritarian than many other political leaders. I wouldn't have thought he was more authoritarian than Margaret Thatcher who was perfectly able to stay within a conventional political system. (Robert Skidelsky)

If Dalton had been Foreign Secretary a lot of things would have been different, I think, after 1945. It's an interesting example of the way in which a very momentary decision of an almost casual kind can change the way in which a nation's development or indeed international developments can continue for a subsequent period of years. (Ben Pimlott)

The biographers of Oswald Mosley and Hugh Dalton were my first two interviewees for the new Radio 4 series of 'Conversations with Historians', currently being broadcast by the BBC. Once again producer John Knight and I were delighted that all our first six choices agreed to take part. This time they seemed to fall naturally into complementary pairings by subject-matter and approach – Arthur Schlesinger Jnr. and Stephen Ambrose as biographers of Democratic and Republican presidents respectively; David Cannadine and Linda Colley analysing different aspects of what has formed the character of the British nation; and Ben Pimlott and Lord Skidelsky on some of the most controversial and influential figures of the British political scene in this century.

The latter two were recorded within a week of each other and, although I had necessarily prepared for each encounter separately, their joint interest in the same period of study meant that their reflective paths crossed in a most illuminating way. Each programme stands as a self- contained entity, but those listeners who make a point of hearing both will gain more than a double insight into what, and who, shaped those mistaken policies of the post- First World War period, which produced such economic misery and diplomatic disaster.

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