Politics, leadership and international urban development expert, Max Stafford is becoming a familiar face at Marlborough College Summer School. With 2019 being his fourth summer to tutor with us, we thought it was time to have a chat with Max and discover more about the background to his fascinating new courses and what new and returning students can look forward to.
MCSS: Firstly, please tell us a bit about you. What first sparked your interest in politics?
MS: I am a university lecturer and researcher, and I previously worked as a political advisor and campaigner. I seem to remember having been interested from a young age. I first joined a political party (which I have recently left) at 16 - my mum was very understanding when she found my membership on her credit card!
MCSS: Political Seconds: Five Intimate Portraits (Course 190) and Cities: 21st Century Perspectives (Course 197) are brand new courses for 2019. What can our students expect and which sections are you most looking forward to teaching?
MS: Political Seconds has grown from an existing course that I teach at Summer School (Political Leaders: Five Intimate Portraits). Last year's students suggested they would be interested in hearing more about those who serve as leaders' deputies/ closest advisors, and that's where this course takes us. I am looking forward to discussing, 'powers behind the throne' and whether Thatcher was right that, 'Every prime minister needs a Willie'...!
The course on Cities reflects some of the topic areas that I work on during the rest of the year. Cities are very much taking on new significance (social, cultural, political) in our world today. Worried about climate change? Cities will be the main providers of solutions. Worried about inequality? These are often at their most extreme in cities. Want to discover how art is challenging and changing politics? We'll be looking at that, too, in our discussions. It's fair to say that I'm excited about this one!
MCSS: What makes a good 'Political Second'?
MS: Perhaps not wanting the top job too much! Seconds have to be prepared to take on the role if needed but spend much of their time (if they're being well-behaved...) avoiding the limelight. They should be a unifier and yet be prepared to speak truth unto power. For instance, many commentators suggest that Willie Whitelaw provided exactly this facility to Thatcher and that, once he left Cabinet, she began a downward spiral in her leadership.
MCSS: Why are historical political figures relevant today? What can we gain from studying political history?
MS: I came across a great quote recently (sadly anonymous) that went, 'Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it but those who do study it are doomed to watch others repeat it'. So much can be learnt from studying how previous generations made tough decisions. Churchill, Obama and Merkel all did their history homework before taking office. That isn't to say that they didn't subsequently make mistakes!
MCSS: British Political History: 1945 to 2010 (Course 186) is back for another year. What aspect of the course usually captures the most attention from students and initiates the most debate in class?
MS: Dare I say it? Europe often comes up! However, the course does cover a wide range of topics. From Attlee's Austerity to Cameron's Coalition, we get through a lot of topics and events in the five days. I think students have previously found it useful, as they're able to hear how historians writing a good while afterwards have evaluated the things that some course participants have lived through!
MCSS: If you were Prime Minister, what is one of the first things you would try to do and why?
MS: I think that compulsory afternoon tea would probably go down well with MCSS attendees, wouldn't it?! However, on a more serious note, I would love to see someone really get to grips with both the housing crisis and the poor funding for social care in this country. The two problems so often go together but they're just treated as political footballs at the moment.
MCSS: This will be your fourth year teaching at MCSS. What do you enjoy most about the Summer School experience?
MS: Yes, I started back in 2016 with my course on Contemporary British Political Themes and Issues. I had to rewrite the whole thing about 2 weeks before because of the Brexit result and Cameron resigning! Since then, I've added a fair few new courses and I can honestly say that it's the most rewarding teaching that I get to do all year. Everyone there actively wants to learn and is interested in the subject - which is great from a tutor's perspective. On the down side, I often gain a few pounds over Summer School, as the food is just too flipping good!
To find out more about Max's courses and book a place for yourself in 2019, see:
Course 178 | Political Leaders: Five Intimate Portraits | Week 2 PM | SOLD OUT
Course 186 | British Political History: 1945 to 2010 | Week 3 AM
Course 190 | NEW! Poltical Seconds: Five Intimate Portraits| Week 3 PM
Course 197 | NEW! Cities: 21st Century Perspectives | Week 4 AM
Course 202 | Contemporary British Political Themes and Issues: 2010 to 2019 | Week 4 PM | LIMITED AVAILABILITY