We must confront our past, not continue it,” Tony Blair announced in his Romanes lecture on education (Prospect, February). His history of education is one of state neglect with occasional exceptions (Balfour’s 1902 Act, Butler’s 1944 Act) until Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin speech in 1976. There was then a little progress under the Tories, but basically Labour “inherited a situation too little changed from Callaghan’s day.” The moral is clear: neglect must be succeeded by “national leadership.” Central government must take responsibility for investment in education, raising standards and promoting life-long learning. Then follows the catalogue of “starts” since 1997: more money, especially on primary schools; literacy and numeracy strategies; promotion of information and communications technology, modern languages, music and sport; the creation of specialist schools; a further expansion in post-16 education. Test results have already “improved sharply.” Our mission, Blair ends, “is to mobilise the resolve of this generation to transform Britain into a learning society….”
Is military intervention over Kosovo justified?
3rd May 1999
I have been instinctively against Nato’s bombing of Serbia from the day it started on 24th March. I was-I dare say like you and many others-incredulous that Nato seemed to have no military strategy except to bomb Serbia to smithereens. I could not believe that bombing a defenceless country was the right way to wage “holy war.” But above all I was alarmed by the thought that a new doctrine of international relations was being forged which would make the world a much more dangerous place.
Friday 27th March
Edward (my son) and I board the flight to Moscow at Terminal 4, Heathrow. I am to take part in a conference at Perm, organised by the Moscow School of Political Studies. Perm is on the edge of Siberia; a city of more than 1m people with a cultural past (Diaghilev was born there) and a depressed industrial present. “Experts” are being assembled to advise regional officials and politicians on how to make the most of self-government-an important topic in view of the paralysis of the centre. My most prized possession is a bath plug. I remember from past excursions that outside the western circuit bath plugs are unobtainable.
Review of The New Reckoning: Capitalism, States and Citizens by David Marquand
Polity Press, 1997
David Marquand is an engaging and stylish political thinker, who moves adventurously across academic frontiers and straddles the worlds of scholarship and politics. His main interest is in what may be called the “government of Britain” question; the failure, as he sees it, of Britain to develop into a properly democratic state. His method is one of persuasive argument, conveyed most felicitously in essay form, where thought is not unduly trammelled by the demands of rigour or specificity. His style is that of the seminar rather than the pulpit. He does not try to bludgeon the reader into submission and is too sceptical to admit to “final” beliefs himself.
Perhaps it is time to revive Keynesian policy. The fact that monetary policy in the US and Britain does, in practice, take into account unemployment and growth as well as inflation is taken as a sign that some secret Keynesian demand management is at work. From this point of view, the odd men out are what Anatole Kaletsky calls the “sado-monetarist” central bankers and finance ministers of continental Europe who are wedded to price stability and the Maastricht criteria. I believe that Keynesian policy does have a role to play in improving the performance and stability of economies. But this belief does not warrant either historical or theoretical amnesia; nor should it blind us to the practical difficulties, particularly on the fiscal side, of reinstating even a modest version of Keynesian policy.
Thursday 27 June
I am in St Petersburg both as a tourist and as a British observer of the second round of the Russian presidential elections. The excuse for tourism is that the House of Lords Bridge Club has been invited to play a match against the South African consulate. I fly to St Petersburg with my wife, Augusta and our younger son William (19). Our elder son, Edward (22), joins us from Moscow where he is working. Our leader is Richard Gisborough, who has organised the expedition. On arrival at St Petersburg airport we board a coach with a poster stuck on the front window with the words “House of Lords” written on it. A band strikes up God Save the Queen. I smile radiantly and am about to raise my hand to acknowledge the reception, when the band turns round to face the next coach and starts up the Marseillaise.
There is widespread agreement that the welfare state needs to be drastically reformed, certainly slimmed down. Designed in the 1940s to protect weakened capitalist economies against the assault of revolutionary socialism, it is now under assault itself. Governments all over Europe are busy chipping away at entitlements and benefits built up since the war. Yet even minor cuts in welfare spending face huge political cost as Alain Juppe is discovering in France. The reason is that most people in Europe have come to rely on tax-financed welfare of one kind or other, and governments have failed to discover a political formula which might wean them from this dependence. Only in the US, whose welfare state is underdeveloped by European standards, does an anti-welfare ideology resonate Continue reading “Essay: Welfare without the state”