A journalist and writer

Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler is a broadcaster, journalist, novelist, university chancellor and we are proud to have him as a patron of the Association.

I think our imperial madness is as idiotic as suggesting the British people should abandon the future of electric cars and instead be content to buy ourselves a horse and cart. Or perhaps the British army should abandon assault rifles and retrain with flintlock muskets instead. Or, is there any point in me writing this on my laptop when a quill pen is undoubtedly a serviceable alternative?

The sad truth is that British imperial madness is rooted in a very British idiocy, nostalgic pessimism. There are those – and the British government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is one prominent example – for whom everything in the past was somehow “better” that the present and everything in the future suspected of being inevitably even worse. Rees-Mogg epitomises British nostalgic pessimism. He recently ordered a review into whether imperial measures should be reintroduced in those areas where they have already been phased out.

Google was invented in 1998, and if Mr Rees-Mogg were to Google where imperial measures are currently still used he would find three countries outside the UK. These are the USA, Liberia and Myanmar. But even this is misleading. As someone who lived in the US for many years I can state clearly that an American gallon (and that of Liberia, which takes its cue from the USA) is very different from a British imperial gallon. Indeed the US has always been confused about its own system. For example, the biggest American artillery piece in World War Two was the 240mm howitzer – defined in metric terms. But it fired a 360lb shell up to 25,000 yards. The Americans, in other words, have imperial-style names mixed up with metric names, and, like the British, have not yet committed to join the rest of the world in the 21st century by entirely embracing the far simpler and less confusing metric system. And since the British imperial system remains very different from that of the United States and Liberia, Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to wish in the 21st century Britain should consider adopting a system related to that of Myanmar, a military dictatorship which, undoubtedly, the nostalgic pessimists still call “Burma”.

Those of us who prefer to take Britain forward into the 21st century rather than backwards to Tudor times recognise that only a fully metricated United Kingdom can be fit for the future. As for the nostalgic pessimists, perhaps Mr Rees-Mogg as “Brexit Opportunities Minister” may wish to investigate the trading opportunities with Mesopotamia, Cathay and the Ottomans.

Gavin was born in Glasgow. He is a graduate of the University of Kent (English and American literature) and later completed an MA in Anglo Irish literature at the University of Leeds.

His journalistic career started with the Belfast Telegraph, from which he moved on to become a BBC Northern Ireland reporter and later the BBC’s chief North America correspondent. He has been a presenter and anchor on Newsroom South East, BBC News 24, Dateline London, Four Corners, Film Review and, from January 2003 until January 2014, he was a main presenter on BBC Two’s flagship political analysis programme, Newsnight. He has also presented BBC News at Five on the BBC News Channel. In 2017, he left the BBC to concentrate on his writing activities, but returned later as host of Talking Books.

During his journalistic career he has interviewed a huge range of public figures, including among others Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Dolly Parton, Doris Lessing, Penélope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, V. S. Naipaul, Roger Waters, Vikram Seth and Seamus Heaney.

Gavin’s report on the military build-up in the Aleutian Islands as part of the Reagan administration’s New Maritime Strategy earned him a Royal Television Society award.

His writing career includes five novels and four non-fiction books, the most recent, How Britain Ends – English Nationalism and the Re-birth of Four Nations, was published in February 2021. In it Esler argues that a resurgent English nationalism is pulling the United Kingdom apart.

In 2007 he won a Sony Gold Award for his radio documentary report Letters from Guantanamo on Sami al-Hajj, one of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Following the broadcast, al-Hajj was released from American custody.

Gavin has received two honorary degrees from the University of Kent: an honorary MA was awarded in 1995, followed by an honorary Doctorate in Civil Law in 2005. He has two further honorary doctorates, from the University of York and Glasgow Caledonian University. Since 2014 he has served as the Chancellor of the University of Kent.

Gavin Esler is a man well known for speaking his mind and has been a powerful supporter of many worthy causes. His political engagement included standing for the Change UK party in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Further information

About Gavin: www.gavinesler.com
Twitter: @gavinesler